Parkwood physiotherapists use vest to help brain injury patients
Jan Sims, CTV London
Published Monday, December 30, 2013 2:55PM EST
Parkwood Hospital is breaking new ground with a special vest that was developed by the hospital's therapists that helps people with mild brain injuries regain their balance - and their confidence.
Linda DeGroot admits she sometimes gets funny looks when she wears the weighted compression vest, but she says it's worth it.
"If you can imagine the strongest person in the world holding you, and for me it's God. He's the strongest person I know, he's holding on to me and he will not let me fall."
DeGroot suffered a concussion that left her with life-altering challenges.
"I was so fearful of falling again. I got fearful in parking lots that cars were trying to hit me, people with grocery carts were actually trying to come up behind me and ram me."
But she felt immediate benefits once she wore the vest. It's made of neoprene with velcro straps and pockets for the weights.
"I wore the vest and it was like night and day...I was running up stairs, I could actually run quickly down the stairs so it was quite significant for me...In terms of quality of life for me, it wasn't just about the balance it was about being able to do the things that were so normal to me before my accident."
The vest was developed by physiotherapists at Parkwood Hospital, including Shannon McGuire.
"It increases their awareness of where their body is. It adds increased input into your joint receptors that tells your brain this is where I am...so instead of feeling uncertain and like they don't know where the ground is underneath their feet, they're much more grounded and they can move more easily through the environment."
Similar vests have been used for conditions like ADHD, but Parkwood is the first place to use it for people with mild brain injuries.
"We have channels where they can put weights in. We sort of use anywhere from four pounds to 10 pounds depending on the size of the patient," McGuire says. "Any area where they have difficulties with their balance or the anxiety, they can put it on and see if that makes a difference."
Before and after images show the impact of the vest, and McGuire adds "You can see an immediate change in how they stand, you can see an immediate change in how they walk up and down the stairs. They walk faster."
At first DeGroot wore the vest whenever she left the house, but now it's only once in a while
"On average I'd say I wear it maybe once every three months now...if I go to a London Knights game or something that's very noisy and a high-level environment, a lot of stimulation I will wear it because my anxiety will get high."
The vest has undergone some design modifications based on patient feedback - things like adding a zipper to make it easier to get on and off and moving the weights from the top to the bottom so it feels less bulky.
Further tests are planned looking at areas such as the optimal use of weights.