The inventor has gone into debt launching this company, but he says that giving people the ability to walk again, and seeing them embrace their freedom, makes the effort worth more than words can say.
Rob Karlovich’s vision for a revolutionary new walking aide was inspired by a news story about disabled veterans returning from Afghanistan. These service people, who were once able to move with agility, were now struggling just to walk safely with the traditional walkers available to them.
As a lifelong technology innovator, Rob knew he could help. The San Jose, California designer recognized that available mobility devices all had two fundamental problems.
First, they threw people off their center of gravity by forcing them to lean forward, which made them unstable and more likely to fall. Second, they required using your hands to operate them, limiting daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, dancing and even hugging.
To solve these problems, he flipped the traditional walker concept upside-down—or backward, to be exact.
Solving the balance problem by working backward
Traditional walkers position the device in front of you, which forces you to hunch over to hang on to the grip bars. This promotes poor posture, throws off your balance and occupies your hands. Instead, the LifeGlider is positioned behind the body. It secures you with a belt at the pelvis, which has two benefits. You can be hands-free, and you’re held up at your center of gravity—a concept in physics that explains how ice skaters and ballet dancers can hoist a person in the air while moving, without falling.
“It’s is a major safety issue for people at risk for falling,” said Dr. Bruce Adornato, Adjunct Clinical Professor, Neurology and Neurological Sciences, Stanford School of Medicine. “Anyone using a walker today is a candidate for this device, but you have to have the coordination to put on the belt and tighten it up properly or someone who can help.”
Following five years of real-world trials by over 2,000 users, the LifeGlider was officially launched in the fall of 2020.
Though inspired by veterans, the idea of being able to walk safely, upright and hands-free has attracted all kinds of people who have suffered mobility loss.
Personal stories demonstrate the impact
Josie Ingber, who worked in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley, was one of the first to try the LifeGlider.
She had been getting increasingly unstable on her feet due to multiple sclerosis, and her cane wasn’t doing enough for her. She had fallen a couple of times and was starting to think she had no choice but to get a walker or use a wheelchair.
“I chose not to go out or accept social invitations since I always had to depend on someone’s arm to hold on to. I was starting to feel very isolated,” Josie said.
But LifeGlider was nothing like the walker experience she was dreading. It allowed her to keep working until she was ready to retire.
“I have been able to do so much more by myself,” Josie said. “This device has changed my life.”
Nancy Troger also had a life-changing experience with the LifeGlider. She broke her back 12 years ago and endured difficult physical therapy to be able to walk with a cane. But Nancy wanted more stability than a cane could offer—and she longed to work in her garden again.
The LifeGlider, which is FDA approved as a mobility device, not only made gardening possible for Nancy. She was finally able to enjoy a daily walk.
Her neighbor told Nancy that as she watched her walk down to the pier using the LifeGlider, she was able to see the person Nancy must have been before the accident.
“When I walk like that, my brain remembers how I used to walk,” Nancy said. “It’s hard to explain the feeling of that memory, but it’s like putting on your favorite clothing. It just feels right.”
Margaret Fisk didn’t appear to have a disability, but as a sufferer from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the over-flexibility of her joints made walking painful and dangerous.
Not any more. Recounting her first time walking without having to focus on not falling, Margaret said, “I was speaking more coherently, I was engaged with things. I was walking with confidence for the first time in at least two years without every step being ultimate torture.”
“Life-changing is not overstating it,” she said. “Being locked in my house without nature is a nightmare. The LifeGlider gave that back to me.”
Whether the cause is a neurological disorder, injury, or simply aging, we don’t have to accept mobility limits any more.