Cycling away the dialysis hours now an option for P.E.I. patients

·4 min read
Cycling away the dialysis hours now an option for P.E.I. patients
Kevin Douillette, a master's student with UPEI Kinesiology, says he's proud to have had a part in implementing a hemodialysis exercise program for Island dialysis patients.  (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC  - image credit)
Kevin Douillette, a master's student with UPEI Kinesiology, says he's proud to have had a part in implementing a hemodialysis exercise program for Island dialysis patients. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)

Dialysis treatments at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, P.E.I., are a little less stationary these days, now that kidney patients have the option to exercise while the equipment filters their blood.

The idea came from the University of Prince Edward Island's department of kinesiology. Staff and students had seen stationary pedal exercise machines used by dialysis patients in other jurisdictions, and wanted to launch a dialysis exercise program here on the Island.

"It's the same benefits that you or I would get from exercise," said UPEI kinesiology master's student Kevin Douillette. He led the pilot project and helped get three stationary pedal sets into the QEH hemodialysis unit in the fall of 2020.

The benefits? "A better mood, there's mental health benefits, and there's obviously some physical health benefits that would help this patient population."

Kevin Douillette, a master's student with UPEI Kinesiology, says he's proud to have had a part in implementing a hemodialysis exercise program for Island dialysis patients.
Kevin Douillette, a master's student with UPEI Kinesiology, says he's proud to have had a part in implementing a hemodialysis exercise program for Island dialysis patients. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

Dialysis treatments take about four hours, and are generally needed several times per week.

Improves quality and efficiency of treatment

Douillette said pedalling during treatment isn't just a bonus for the patient's mental and physical health, it improves the quality and efficiency of the dialysis treatment.

"When you're sedentary, fluid doesn't really move in your body," said Douilette, who said an hour of cycling is equivalent to about 20 minutes of dialysis, in terms of benefit to a patient's body.

"And so when you exercise, when you move your body, fluid starts to move within your body. So some of the solutes that are in your tissues, go into the bloodstream, into the dialyser to get cleaned."

Dialysis patient David MacAulay says he got involved in the pilot project to improve his fitness — and says he's noticed a difference in the strength in his legs and his ability to walk.
Dialysis patient David MacAulay says he got involved in the pilot project to improve his fitness — and says he's noticed a difference in the strength in his legs and his ability to walk. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Dialysis patient David MacAulay has been part of the initiative since the pilot launched last fall. He wanted to improve his fitness and was one of three initial participants.

"At that time, my legs weren't that strong, and trying to walk was a big thing," said MacAulay, who started at about 10 minutes of cycling per session, and has worked his way up to almost an hour and a half of pedalling during his treatment.

'There's a big difference'

"So after we got biking, my legs are just … there's a really big difference," he said. "Even my wife says I'm walking better."

The pilot phase wrapped up at the end of 2020, and the foot cycles are now available to all dialysis patients at the QEH.

Maria Becker, nurse manager in the QEH hemodialysis unit, said more and more patients are taking advantage of the option —and feedback on the program has been positive.

Maria Becker, nurse manager of the hemodialysis unit at the QEH, says time pedalling has improved everything from leg strength, to blood pressure, to cardiac function in dialysis patients.
Maria Becker, nurse manager of the hemodialysis unit at the QEH, says time pedalling has improved everything from leg strength, to blood pressure, to cardiac function in dialysis patients. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC News)

"The biggest thing that I think we've noticed is the patients themselves have improved psychological health," said Becker.

"They feel better themselves. They're seeing improved mobility and improved leg strength. Their efficiency on dialysis is much better. We're seeing improvements in blood pressure control and cardiac function and just overall wellbeing. And it's less sedentary time while they're sitting here on the dialysis. They're making good use of their time."

Will be available soon in dialysis units across P.E.I.

The sets of pedals cost $200-$300 each, along with accessory parts to be able to attach them to the patient's chair. Three more sets are now being configured for use within the unit — with 22 more on order. In the coming months, cycling will be available to dialysis patients in Souris, Summerside, and Alberton as well.

"It's exciting to be part of such a good health promotion activity," said Becker.

"Many programs across Canada have been doing this in their dialysis units for a while. So I'm excited that little P.E.I. is going to be doing something to keep up with the rest of Canada."

MacAulay says over the past few months he's worked his way from short spurts of cycling to almost 80 minutes during his dialysis treatments.
MacAulay says over the past few months he's worked his way from short spurts of cycling to almost 80 minutes during his dialysis treatments. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

For Douillette, it's a joy to see the hemodialysis exercise program now established at the QEH, and about to expand to support patients in hospitals across the Island.

"It makes me feel very proud that I'm able to give them the chance to be active and lead an active, healthier lifestyle. That's all I ever wanted, was to help people," said Douilette, who said 75 per cent of dialysis patients at the QEH are now opting to bike during treatment.

"So it makes me really happy to be able to effect change like that."

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