ProtoStar’s high-tech medical walker, the LifeWalker Upright, provides more than mobility

February 14, 2016
John Quinn

From the iconoclastic VW Beetle to the swanky Mercedes-Benz, the vehicle of choice for baby boomers has followed the arc of their lives. As members of that generation edge into elderhood, they’re increasingly adopting another mobility device: a medical walker.

Boomers are twice as likely to use walkers and other ambulatory devices than the previous generation — 6.9% versus 3.3% — according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The global market for these devices is projected to nearly double in size from 2013 to 2020, to $8 billion annually. And medical equipment manufacturers are trying to offer an array of options, including walkers, crutches, canes, wheelchairs, scooters, “rollators” and more.

One new entrant to the market is San Diego company ProtoStar. Its product, the LifeWalker Upright, is marketed as not only providing mobility and protection from falls but also something precious to people as they age: dignity.

The LifeWalker makes it easier for users to look straight ahead at other people, not down at the pavement, said David Purcell, the founder and chief executive of ProtoStar. The adjustable, wheeled walker fits around the user on three sides, enabling it and the person to travel together. Its special characteristics, including shock absorbers, caliper brakes and arm rests, are designed to offer comfort and impart confidence in walking.

Purcell said he and other investors are filling an unmet need for products designed with the user in mind, based on scientific principles governing human locomotion.

ProtoStar faces an uphill struggle because of the competition in an established market, said mobility researcher James Lenker, an associate professor in the department of rehabilitation science at the University at Buffalo. The LifeWalker Upright’s price point of nearly $1,800 is also a deterrent.

“In the U.S., people with disabilities are among the lowest incomes, as a group, of any demographic,” he said. “So this is clearly a product targeting wealthy people. It’s not going to be something that the average 80-year-old with degenerative joint disease or arthritis or recovering from a stroke will typically be able to afford.”

Even consumers who can afford that price might find it more attractive to buy a powered scooter, Lenker said. That would provide superior mobility to get around the community and perform everyday tasks like shopping.

To read the rest of this article, published in the LA Times, please click here.

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