Choosing the right mobility device for your needs

Mobility aids wheelchair scooter

The choice of the right mobility device to move around is the key to living independently. While some people have successfully managed to live with a single mobility device, others have multiple devices for different environments.  One may use a crutch at home and a manual wheelchair while at the office.    Here is a basic breakdown of what should be considered while choosing the right mobility device:

  1. Mobility needs and your environment:  Your device should be easy to use for its intended purpose.  A careful consideration of what things you want to do and where you want to do it will help you zero in on a decision for the right mobility device.  Stick to what is considered necessary.   Think about your mobility in the various environments you will be in, such as your home, school, office, recreational places and the community.  Will your powered wheelchair or scooter fit through doorways where you spend the most time?  Do you need to move up and down stairs frequently?  How do you want to travel in the community?  Does a manual wheelchair make you too tired while going to a nearby store or to visit friends?  Does your neighbourhood have sidewalks or curbs, or do you have to move on the road itself?
  2. Transportation: Your transportation options will have a big impact on your choice of device.  Fitting your wheeled mobility device in a car will need to be figured out.  How much space you have in the trunk or within your car to fit the chair?  Will you need your device to be foldable? If you use public transportation, is it wheelchair or scooter accessible in your area?  Many wheeled mobility users find it useful to own a van or a minivan adapted with a ramp or a lift for easier access.
  3. Professional advice: With your functional needs listed, work with an occupational or physiotherapist to review your goals and to understand how each mobility device will help you reach your goals and improve your independence.  The therapist will evaluate your environment and fit you for your device.  They can also check for your physical and mental readiness for the device.   A seating and positioning evaluation will ensure that the measurements and configurations of your equipment is correct to help avoid further complications like pressure ulcers, back pain and rotator cuff injuries.  The top priority for your use of the device is your safety.
  4. Mobility Devices:   Mobility devices come in different forms, the options are:
    1. Assistive devices for ambulation: These items help when walking and they are:
      • Canes and crutches: As the simplest mobility aid, a cane is designed to help with balance only. A cane is ideal for a user who has better balance and can shift weight from one leg to another without any weight bearing concerns.  Canes allow for added balance and strength and makes mobility more fluid.  They come as single tip, quad canes and forearm canes.  Crutches are designed to keep the weight off an injured leg and require significant upper body strength and balance.  They come in two forms – under the arm or cuffed to the forearm.  The key is to get these devices fitted to be the right height.
      • Walkers:  Walkers are larger than canes, as they have four legs and are typically made of metal. Walkers help with enhanced mobility for a person who needs both hands to balance or who has significant weight bearing or transfer issues.  A walking frame is a type of walker that needs to be picked up and moved with each step. It also comes as a two wheeled option which is good for those who can walk comfortably on even terrain.  A Rollator (4 wheeled) is ideal for those who need or like to go on longer walks and do not require stoppers for added support. They come with the option of baskets, seats and stand assist bars.
    2. Wheeled Mobility: A variety of manually-pushed and battery-powered devices provide wheeled mobility for those who need it. They are:
      • Manual Wheelchairs: They are designed to either be pushed by self or by someone other than the user.  A manual wheelchair is an ideal choice for those who have balance problems, limited or no lower body mobility but have sufficient upper body strength to be able to propel the wheelchair.  They are lightweight, easy to transport and have low maintenance cost.  Since this type of wheelchair does not require charging, they provide an unlimited range without worrying when the battery will run out.
      • Power Wheelchairs: A power wheelchair propels the user through the use of motors and batteries and is operated by a joystick typically on the armrest. It is ideal for those who lack upper body function, postural stability or stamina to use a manual wheelchair.  They are capable of working on a variety of terrain.  A powered wheelchair also helps a person conserve their energy which is especially important for those with conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and many more. Power wheelchairs are customizable and have many options for suitable seating based on the needs of the user.
      • Mobility Scooters: Scooters are either a 3 wheeled or 4 wheeled device which is operated with handlebars for steering.  It is ideal for those with mild mobility issues or for occasional outdoor assistance. They are problematic to use due to the frontal obstruction which makes sitting at an office desk or dinner table very difficult. They require a lot of space to manoeuvre so may not suitable for the indoors.  Scooters do not have supporting eating systems and cannot be adjusted and reconfigured based on the users changing physical needs.

There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding to invest in a mobility device best suited for your needs.  A physiotherapist, occupational therapist or an assistive technology professional from a medical equipment supplier will determine what device will match your medical, social and functional needs.

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