Two years ago, Terry Hayes started feeling off-balance.
“I started stumbling and I would have to lean against the wall to walk around the house. And I thought ‘well it will get better in a little while’. And it didn’t. It progressively got worse,” says Hayes.
Hayes has a rare disease that affects the part of the brain, which controls muscle and balance. By the time she got to physical therapy she was completely unstable.
“She couldn’t sit up without support. She wasn't able to walk without holding on to my arm,” says Dawn Root, physical therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.
Balance therapy yielded little help, so Hayes sought a new option; something untried locally - a specially designed, weighted balance vest.
“When I first had the vest on, I was able to sit for a few seconds where before I immediately smacked back on my head,” says Hayes.
These weights make a world of difference. At a quarter and a half pound they’re relatively small but can make an impact much greater than their size.
“We put them on this vest on their torso in different positions to essentially counter balance where those weaknesses are. The theory is, it increasing what they call proprioception, which is the body’s sense of where it is in space,” says Root.
Many patients believe it ‘grounds’ them. This is Hayes with three half-pound weights across her mid-section. Walking with no help, she is unstoppable.
“One day I did 17,750 steps. In one day, which was a good day,” says Hayes.
Balance therapists with Lee Memorial Health System have outfitted several more patients.
“We’ve seen patients that just have sporadic weakness. We’ve seen neurologic patients where they had Parkinson’s disease – multiple sclerosis. They’re able to do things now they weren’t able to do before. They’re not falling anymore,” says Root.
Like lifting a huge burden, the weighted vest is offering some people a new sense of control.