By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A modernized version of the world's first bicycle could help some people with emphysema get around more easily, a small pilot study suggests.
The study, published in the journal Chest, looked at the effects of a walking aid dubbed the "modern draisine." The draisine, which was invented in 1817, was a pedal-free prototype for today's bicycle.
Some manufacturers are now making a draisine-like device as a walking aid for people with mobility problems: They sit on the seat and hold the handlebars while using their feet on the ground to propel themselves along.
There are already walking aids for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) -- a group of lung diseases that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
One of those is the "rollator" -- a four-wheeled frame with handles that people push in front of them as they walk. The frame also has a basket so COPD patients can carry their portable oxygen tanks.
But people can be self-conscious about using the rollator. One small study found that 48 percent of COPD patients using a rollator said they felt "embarrassed" while using the device.
So for the new study, researchers tested the draisine device against a rollator among 21 COPD patients who had difficulty getting around on their own.
They found that the patients did a bit better on an indoor walking test when they used the bike-like device. They covered an average of 466 meters (1,529 feet) in 6 minutes, compared with 383 meters (1,257 feet) while using the rollator.
The study participants also seemed less self-conscious about the draisine: 10 percent said they felt embarrassed using it, while 19 percent said the same about the rollator.
Because the draisine has a seat, it may take some of the "load" off COPD patients' legs, according to lead researcher Anouk W. Vaes of CIRO, a Horn, Netherlands-based center that specializes in treating chronic organ failure.
In an email, Vaes said the draisine also seems to give users a more "fixed center of gravity," and possibly a more effective walking pattern, than the rollator.
But whether the draisine will take over as COPD patients' walking aid of choice remains to be seen.
Even though patients in this study were less likely to say the bike-like device embarrassed them, they were actually more willing to use the rollator in their daily lives. Of the 21 patients, 16 said they would use the rollator day-to-day, but only eight said they would use the draisine.
One problem, Vaes said, was that some people felt less balanced and secure on the two-wheeled draisine versus the four-wheeled rollator.
"This may improve after patients have used it for a longer period," Vaes noted, "but that remains currently unknown."
Right now, the draisine is not widely used among COPD patients, according to Vaes. But there are several models of the walking aid available in the Netherlands.
A major downside of the device is its cost -- which is roughly five times that of a typical rollator, according to the researchers.
The draisine used in this study retails for 520 euros, or about $680.
Vaes said that larger studies are needed to confirm the better walk performance seen with the draisine. She and her colleagues are also testing the draisine against the rollator in outdoor settings, where people would actually use them in real life.
None of the researchers reports any financial interests in the work.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/vQrIO8 Chest, online November 23, 2011.