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Walking Speed May Signal Decline in Health

A drop in walking speed may signal a decline in overall health for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according a recent study presented at the 2011 American Thoracic Society International Conference in Denver. The study, which examined 2,110 patients, found that people with moderate to severe COPD who couldn’t walk at least 357 meters in six minutes were at higher risk for hospitalization.

Doctors typically use the six-minute walk test to see if a heart or lung disease patient has improved on a given therapy. Several studies have suggested that the distance a patient can walk in six minutes may be an important indicator of overall health. While less is known about where the danger zones may lie for people who take the test, this study suggests that participants who couldn’t walk at least 334 meters within the timeframe were at increased risk of death over the three-year study period.

However, experts who were not involved with the research say that patients and doctors shouldn’t be too concerned with specific distances. Others believe that the importance of this study is not necessarily the distance one can walk; rather it is a reminder that COPD is a systemic disease and affects health beyond the lungs. Patients in the study, who were mostly men in their 60s, saw a steady decline in their walking speed each year.

Researchers note that walking speed can increase, however, especially if COPD patients participate in rehabilitation.

“The treatment gains following exercise-based pulmonary rehabilitation programs, including aerobic and strengthening exercises, showed a mean improvement of 50 meters per year,” said one researcher, adding that those gains greatly outweigh the average declines.

Click Here to Access the Full Story From WebMD.com

Special Bike Helps Emphysema Patients Increase Mobility

An updated version of the world’s first bicycle may help some people with emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) get around more easily. That is according to a recent pilot study published in the journal Chest.

The study looked at the effects of a walking aid referred to as the “modern draisine” because of its similarities to the pedal-free prototype of today’s bicycle, known as the draisine. The walking aid, which researchers believe will improve COPD patients’ mobility, has a seat for patients to sit on and handlebars to hold while they use their feet on the ground to propel themselves along.

This walking device was built in response to a recent study that indicated that 48 percent of COPD patients are embarrassed to use the current COPD-designated walking device—the rollator. Unlike the draisine, the rollator dons a four-wheeled frame with handles that people push in front of them as they walk. Patients are also provided with a basket to carry their portable oxygen tanks.

As part of the new study, researchers tested the draisine against the rollator among 21 COPD patients who had difficulty getting around on their own. Research found that patients who used the bike-like device did a better job of getting around during an indoor walking test. Patients covered an average of 466 meters in 6 minutes, compared with 383 meters while using the rollator.

Further, only 10 percent of study participants said that they felt embarrassed while using the device, while 19 percent indicated that they felt embarrassed while using the rollator. However, while patients were less likely to say the draisine embarrassed them, 16 of the 21 patients said that they would use the rollator on a day-to-day basis, compared to only 8 who indicated that they would use the draisine.

Currently, the draisine is not widely used among COPD patients, but several models are available in the Netherlands. A major downside to the device is cost, which is roughly five times that of the rollator at around $680.

Click Here to Access the Full Study from the Journal Chest.

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