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Student/Faculty Research Team Studies Wheelchair Seat Pressure

Genesis Rehab Services contacted the University of Hartford, Center for Health, Care, and Well-being to find the answer to a clinical question that has been vexing the rehabilitation staff at Genesis for some time now.  The problem is that many patients require the use of a sling to be transferred from one location to another and it is unknown if health is negatively impacted by requiring patients to sit on the nylon slings all day long once the transfer has been completed.

Specifically, therapists specializing in wheelchair seating believe that sitting on this nylon sling may significantly compromise or increase the interface pressure at the buttocks, thus increasing the risk of pressure ulcers.  However, nursing staff are very busy. If removing the mechanical lift sling from each and every patient is not necessary, then it would be a waste of resources to spend time removing lift slings from patients.  Unfortunately, there is very little research on this topic.

Experimental set to map seat-interface pressures and posture in a wheelchair with and without a sling.

This problem was posed to Barbara Crane, an associate professor in the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions' Department of Physical Therapy.  Dr. Crane agreed to lead six enthusiastic physical therapy students to undertake the challenge of discovering if mechanical lift slings increase pressure in the seated position.

Over the course of the spring semester of 2011, student researchers visited several different Genesis facilities to collect data from 20 to 25 individuals under two seating conditions – with and without a mechanical lift sling.  Preliminary data indicates an increase in pressure with the mechanical lift sling in place. However further analysis will be necessary to determine the potential significance of this finding.  Once all data have been analyzed, the research group will report the results back to the Genesis facilities. 

The project will directly impact clinical practice by informing clinicians about the benefits of removing the mechanical lift sling from patients.  The project typifies the type of translational research that often occurs in physical therapy departments.  Specifically, a community need was brought to an experienced faculty member at the Center who led a student research project to answer the clinical questions and report findings back to the community.

Crane and her students, who are all second year doctor doctoral students in physical therapy, worked collaboratively with Estelle Strydom OTR/L, Clinical Specialist of Education, Genesis Rehab Services, Territory 1- New England States and Florida and Jan Hulse, PT/PM, Genesis Rehab Services, Program Manager, Bel Aire Center,VT.  They utilized several clinical sites for their research study: Heritage Hall East, Heritage Hall West, Heritage Hall South (all located in Agawam, MA), Monsignor Bojnowski Manor (New Britain, CT), Kimberly Hall North, Kimberly Hall South (both located in South Windsor, CT).

Pictured below: physical therapy research team: back row (l-r) Peter Barone, Jennifer Corbett, Caitlin O’Meara, front row: (l-r) Alyssa Itzkowitz, Associate Professor Barbara Crane, Ryan Powell

Physical Therapy Research Team
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