We’ve heard a lot about electrical stimulation for foot drop. So when Karen, a caregiver for her husband Mike, gave a review of a Bioness Foot Drop System that her husband was using, I thought it might be of interest to you.
Review by Karen G.:
It occurred to me that this info might help someone out there, so just for the record, I’ll report on my husband Mike’s experience with the Bioness device for the leg. Mike is two years post-stroke, right side affected. He is now 53 years old. He walks very slowly with a cane. He can do stairs if there is a handrail on the appropriate side of the stairs (so the affected leg can always be downhill).
Mike got into a study at our state Med school using the Bioness for foot drop. He just completed the study a month ago and they gave him the device to own — sweet deal! It’s not a cure-all. But it does work to bring up the toes and prevent foot-drop-scraping.
- It raises the toes when he walks. Works great at this.
- When he’s wearing the device, his gait is more normal — less swinging the leg out to the side.
- It increases his walking pace by about 50%. But he’s so slow to begin with that this is not a significant practical factor. The study staff were thrilled by it, though.
- Over the course of the study (10 months), his ankle has become stronger. He can now walk a very short distance, though very carefully and attentively indeed, with only his neoprene sleeping boot rather than the hard plastic AFO.
- Also related to ankle strength, he is less dangerous when walking on uneven surfaces. He can walk across the grass between our house and our neighbors without that impending sense of falling.
- He is trying to walk without the cane inside the house. Mostly in the dining/kitchen area. He will clear his own dishes from the table to the kitchen counter, which of course means not using the cane since his affected arm has no function whatsoever. Very slow and mentally painful kind of walking (about 4 steps), but he is working on it and it is getting a little better. Personally, I believe this effort on Mike’s part is a result of seeing the improvement that the Bioness made for his ankle strength and sparking a renewed interest in him toward “getting bettter.”
- It is a fussy electronic device. If you’re not into gadgets, you might not like it. Mike’s PT told him that most of her study patients just couldn’t handle the small adjustments/gadgety angle of the thing. For example, if you sit down for a time, you need to turn it off and then turn it on just before you stand up again. Also, it sometimes messes up electronically. For instance, once in awhile, Mike tries to step forward, but the device just doesn’t work — usually it’s because he has shifted his weight oddly and the sensor in the shoe has gotten confused, so he has to reset it. It only takes a moment, but it’s a new level of awareness that was really frustrating in the beginning.
- You need to have specially trained people set it up for you and train you in its use. Since Mike was in a study, this was all part of the study protocol.
- You need to have ongoing access to a specially-trained PT for help with major adjustments and suchlike. There are a couple in our state, but we have not contacted them yet.
- Putting the leg cuff on is fussy business. You have to get it positioned so that the two electrodes are just over your personal nerve points. Mike has me mark his shin with a Sharpie marker to help him line up the cuff properly.
- You probably can’t just put it on in the morning and wear it all day. Mike tried this, but got skin irritation. It’s the electricity. He has to take it off for a couple of hours in midday to let the skin breathe.
- The battery needs nightly charging. It will only last one day. Forget to plug it in and you’re stuck with the AFO the next day.
- Replacement parts are expensive. Our insurance does not cover anything on it. The electrode pads need frequent replacing.
- It only addresses the foot drop issue. Mike also has major problems with the hip flexor and the hamstring muscles. So while his gait is better, Bioness doesn’t make it normal.
Overall, we’re glad Mike got in the study and got the Bioness. He continues to use it daily, though not always all day. He tends to use it more when he leaves the house; it’s a lot of hassle for the benefit when he’s just staying home. But he says it does make walking feel better and easier. And I’m hoping the ankle strength will continue to improve and Mike will be able to try more things in the future.
It has really proven the point to us that the six month or one year limit on physical recovery that we all have heard from doctors and nurses is a myth. Improvement can continue after those time frames, though it certainly is much harder and slower to come.
This is Kathy again…I’d like to thank Karen for that great review and I hope that answers some of your questions. Go to Bioness Foot Drop System to learn more.