Staying mobile & staying independent
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There are many kinds of mobility aids that keep you staying mobile & staying independent.
There are many kinds of mobility aids. Your healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist, will know what is most suitable for a particular condition. The type of mobility aid prescribed will depend on the individual’s level of mobility, and aimed at keeping you staying mobile and independent. Typically people who have disabilities or injuries, or older adults who are at increased risk of falling, choose to use mobility aids. These devices provide several benefits to users, including more independence, reduced pain, and increased confidence and self-esteem. A range of mobility devices is available to meet people’s needs – from canes and crutches to wheelchairs and stair lifts.
Canes are similar to crutches in that they support the body’s weight and help transmit the load from the legs to the upper body. However, they take less weight off the lower body than crutches and place greater pressure on the hands and wrists. Assistive canes are useful for people who have problems balancing and who are at risk of falling. In the United States (U.S.), it is estimated that 1 in every 10 adults over the age of 65 uses a cane. Common types of canes include:
- White canes. These are designed specifically for assisting people who are visually impaired. White canes are longer and thinner than traditional canes and enable the user to detect objects in their path. They also inform other people that the user is blind or visually impaired.
- Quad canes. These have four feet at the end of the cane, providing a wider base and greater stability.
- Forearm canes. Offering extra forearm support, these canes allow greater weight to be distributed from the wrist to the arm.
- Other canes. Some canes are adjustable or foldable. Canes which are used for non-medical purposes, such as by hikers, are known as walking sticks.
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Crutches help to transfer weight from the legs to the upper body. They can be used singly or in pairs. Crutches help keep a person upright and may be used by those with short-term injuries or permanent disabilities. There are many different types of crutches, including:
- Axillary (underarm) crutches. One part of an axillary crutch is placed against the ribcage under the armpits, while users hold onto the hand grip. These crutches are typically used by those with short-term injuries.
- Lofstrand (forearm) crutches. This type of crutch involves placing the arm into a metal or plastic cuff and holding a hand grip. Forearm crutches are more commonly used by people with long-term disabilities.
- Platform crutches. With platform crutches, the hand holds a grip while the forearm rests on a horizontal platform. Platform crutches are not commonly used, except by people with a weak hand grip due to conditions such as arthritis or cerebral palsy.
Walkers, also known as Zimmer frames, are made up of a metal framework with four legs that provide stability and support to the user. These very stable mobility aids are used by 4.6 percent of adults in the U.S. over 65. Basic walkers have a 3-sided frame that surrounds the user. Users lift the frame and place it further in front of them, they then step forward to meet it, before repeating the process. Some walkers have wheels or glides on the base of the legs, which means the user can slide the walker rather than lift it. This is especially helpful for people with limited arm strength. Types of walkers beyond the basic model include:
- Rollators. This common style of walker consists of a frame with four wheels, handlebars, and seat so the user can rest as needed. Rollators also include hand breaks as a safety feature.
- Knee walkers. Similar to a rollator, this device allows the user to rest their knee on a padded cushion while propelling themselves forward with their stronger leg.
- Walker-cane hybrids. A cross between a cane and a walker, this mobility aid has two legs rather than a full frame. It can be used with one or both hands and provides greater support than a standard cane.
Wheelchairs are used by people who should not put weight on their lower limbs or who are unable to walk. They can be more suitable than walkers for people with severe disabilities or when travel over greater distances is required. Wheelchairs can be manually propelled by the user, pushed by someone else, or electrically powered. A wheelchair that can be propelled by neural impulses was designed in 2016. Examples of specialized types of wheelchairs include standing wheelchairs, where users are supported in an almost upright position, and sports wheelchairs, which have been developed for use during specific sports.
Similar to a wheelchair, these devices have a seat set on top of either 3, 4, or 5 wheels. The user’s feet rest on foot plates, and there are handlebars or steering wheels to control direction. They are typically battery powered. Mobility scooters are beneficial for those without the upper body strength or flexibility to use a manual wheelchair. Many scooter users report a positive impact on their lives due to their choice of mobility aid. Rules for the use of mobility scooters on sidewalks and roads vary by location. Training is usually available for people wanting to use a mobility scooter for the first time.
An obstacle that often causes seniors to abruptly move from their home is the stairs. Whether forced due to a fall or the fear itself, many make the transition in retirement to a one-story home or install a bathroom on the first floor as a way to avoid taking the stairs throughout the day. However, often these decisions are made without realizing that there are additional options such as a stairlift that can be installed quickly and without modification to their home while providing a safe and comfortable solution of getting up and down the stairs each day. Moreover, stairlifts can be installed inside and outside and all types of staircases, including multiple flights. If a washer and dryer is in the basement and your shower is on the second floor, there’s nothing preventing you from moving appliances or having to do a major remodel to continue living safely and independently at home.
Who benefits from mobility aids?
Anyone who has a mobility issue, either temporary or long-term, can benefit from mobility aids. The type of mobility aid used will depend on the needs of the individual. Mobility aids may be beneficial for people with:
- cerebral palsy
- developmental disabilities
- diabetic ulcers and wounds
- difficulties maintaining balance
- fractures or broken bones in the lower limbs
- heart or lung issues
- injury to the legs, feet, or back
- spina bifida
- sprains and strains
- walking impairment due to brain injury or stroke
- visual impairment or blindness
Older adults, people who have had an amputation, and those recovering from surgery also benefit from the use of mobility aids.
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