A niche within a niche, gait trainers share some functional similarities with other types of assistive technology, namely standers.
But gait trainers do have a range of specific purposes, says Mary Boegel, president of Prime Engineering.
“A gait device is for an individual who has some level of weight-bearing capability on their own and therefore would be a candidate for a gait program,” Boegel explains. “Standers, on the other hand, are most frequently for folks who do not have the ability to bear any level of weight on their legs on their own power.
“A classic candidate for gait devices are kids with cerebral palsy,” she adds. “Many of those kiddos have the ability to stand on their own two legs. They just need a device to guide them and give them a little bit of support — varying degrees of support — and really allow the therapeutic entity to work with them to improve their gait patterns, their length of time up on their feet, and their productivity.”
Gait training can also help children who could eventually walk on their own, but are expected to be delayed in achieving that milestone due to physical and/or cognitive conditions.
“In our experience, that’s a smaller population,” Boegel says, “but there is a population that is true for.”
Ultimately, trying to preserve a developmental timeline is only one factor in determining the appropriateness of gait training for a child. But giving a child the chance to be more mobile can make a big developmental difference.
“There is a certain element of lose it or lose it in a young person’s developing life,” Boegel says. “It’s true for all kids, whether they have a disability or not. From birth to 5, 6, 7 years old is a really important time to allow the child to explore the environment and develop their cognitive and social skills.”
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