Innovation for Independence

Posted by Ken Paulus

The United States population is aging, and will continue to age significantly in the next several years. This means that an increasing elderly population might face more health and mobility challenges, so more tools need to be developed in order to help them maintain more independence. Recently, StandUp Walker inventor, Howard Liles, had the pleasure of joining Dr. Mara Karpel on her radio show, “Your Golden Years”. Howard talked about how he developed the StandUp Walker, a stand-assist device that can address mobility issues, discussed the desire for independence amongst seniors, and gave advice for innovators who hope to turn their ideas into reality.

Designing a stand-assist walker to help older individuals

While studying at MIT, Howard had to come up with an innovative device that can help other individuals for his senior design course. His team went out to the local community to interview seniors and discuss their needs. Many residents in assisted living facilities said that maintaining their independence was very important, and they didn’t want to have to rely on others to help them. One lady demonstrated how she would get up from a seated position, by getting on her knees and using a nearby coffee table to climb up to a standing position. They saw that there was a real desire for independence amongst seniors. They considered this when they designed the initial prototype of the walker, which received a lot of great feedback on their presentation.

How a life event inspired the further development of the StandUp Walker

While Howard was in graduate school, his grandmother had a huge accident, where she fell and injured her hip. This was a huge setback for her because she likes being independent and doing everything as much as she can for herself. The doctors wanted her up and standing as soon as possible after she had her surgery. While sitting in the hospital room, Howard saw how his grandmother was struggling to get up. She tried grabbing on to the bed rail, pushing off the soft mattress, and even tried to reach for the IV stand during her attempts to stand on her own. That’s when Howard realized that the walker he had initially worked as an undergrad could’ve really helped her at that moment. This sparked a motivation for him to revisit the walker, work on it and improve it, and try to make it into a product that people can use.

StandUp Walker vs. other walkers

What sets the StandUp Walker apart from other walkers is that it helps people rise from a seated position, making the transition from sitting to standing easier. This is especially useful for people who are trying to get up from a surface with a significant incline, such as a soft couch or a soft bed. The arms of the walker can be adjusted to the perfect height that will allow the user to easily propel themselves up into a standing position. There is no need for electric batteries or great upper body strength, and the best part is, there is no need to ask for help getting up.

Taking the idea to the next level

Turning the design to an actual product that people can buy was an interesting learning experience for Howard. This was possible due to the help of Dr. Stephen Sprigle and Edison Nation Medical. Dr. Sprigle, a professor of Georgia Tech, works for The Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access, where they work on different technologies to help people with disabilities or mobility issues. Howard was able to get advice and feedback from Dr. Sprigle, as well as help in acquiring a federal grant while he was trying to develop the device. After that, Howard was contacted by Edison Nation Medical, which is a company that works with innovators who submit their ideas. They evaluate these ideas through their internal review process, and then take it to the next level by connecting with other companies and putting the actual products on the market.

Feedback from others

During the initial development, Howard spoke with several physical therapists and occupational therapists. They were blown away by the StandUp Walker’s simplicity and how intuitive it is to use. And, it was able to address an actual need in the community. This allows people to maintain their independence, because they can use it on their own. This also provides support that people need to keep on going and retaining mobility.

The desire for independence amongst seniors

Dr. Mara Karpel mentioned the “Silver Tsunami”, and how the population of seniors is growing, both in the United States and internationally. There hasn’t been much preparation to serve the needs of the people living longer and the population moving into the senior age group. It really changes people’s lives to not be able to do simple things such as getting up and down from a chair, and innovations like this help people to remain independent. Most people want to maintain as much independence, even in the assistive environment, as it contribute to better quality of life.


Advice for other young innovators who want to address needs

  • Talk with the population you are trying to help. Don’t assume that you know the answer and actually get feedback from them by going to them and asking them questions.

  • Then, try to distill this information into the core principles. From there, let your imagination go wild and see what you can come up with to try to potentially address that need.

  • There are several setbacks you will have to deal with, and you need a certain level of patience and persistence to get through that.

  • In addition, a key part is also networking with other individuals who you can work with to get it to the next step.

  • It’s going to take a bit of work to get things to work. Recognizing that up front and not getting discouraged, I think this information can help young designers a lot.>

Here is the link to listen to the full podcast!

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