Mobility Equipment

Basic types of equipment used to facilitate mobility.

A growing number of individuals rely on mobility equipment to move around daily. Whereas multiple types of assitive devices exist, the most common of these devices include canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. Following are some important facts about each type of device.

Canes

  • Range in price from $5 to $100
  • Can be purchased without professional help, but professional help is recommended for proper fitting
  • Should not be used on stairs without the use of handrail or another individual to ensure balance
  • Include four pieces: (1) handle, (2) shaft, (3) base, and (4) tip
    1. Cane handles come in various shapes (i.e., ball-topped, crooked, straight, shovel, or pistol)—individuals should choose the most comfortable
    2. Cane shafts can be constructed from: wood or aluminum and often have height adjustment buttons to ensure proper fit
    3. Cane bases are often narrow or wide and can sometimes have multiple legs
    4. Cane tips can include suction grips (for slippery floors) or stabilizers made of metal or rubber (especially important for snow or ice)
  • Wrist straps can be added to the cane so that an individual’s hands can be free without putting the cane down
  • Forearm cuffs or platforms help individuals with limited hand or wrist strength to use a cane

Walkers

  • Range in price from $30 to $600
  • Are more stable than canes
  • Can support up to 50% of a person’s weight
    Should be fitted by a professional
  • Should be at a height that allows the individual’s shoulders to be level and the arms bent at a 20-30 degree angle
  • Can cause side effects such as stooped posture
  • Should be used only when wearing proper footwear (rubber soled shoes)
  • Should not be used on loose carpeting or rugs or on stairs
  • Come in styles, including rigid, side, folding, and wheeled (3 or 4 wheels)
  • Can be accessorized with detachable baskets, seats, trays, and extra bars

Wheelchairs

  • Most common are manual chairs, which usually weigh approximately 40 pounds, but also are available in lightweight (30 lb) models, have handles at the attendant’s hip level, and have a tipping lever that allows the chair to navigate curbs
  • Also includes power chairs, which have heavy power systems, batteries, and controls. These chairs do not fold easily and are wider and differ in speed, climbing ability, and battery life
  • Three-wheelers or scooters help individuals travel farther distances on indoor or outdoor surfaces. These include a platform on three wheels and a control (handlebar, steering wheel, joystick, or push-button)
  • Can be accessorized by adding arm trays, brake lock extensions, caddies, mounting clamps for lights, pushing gloves, safety flags, seatbelts, shopping bags, or wooden or plastic lap trays,

For all of these mobility devices, it is also important to investigate the types of ramps and wall guards that are available for assisting navigation.

Finally, regardless of what type of mobility device your loved one needs, it is important to be a smart consumer when looking at mobility devices. Be sure to:

  • Shop around
  • Ask others for a referral
  • Check to ensure that local medical supply stores and repair shops (bicycle) service the kind of mobility device that you are purchasing
  • Read the Medicare regulations prior to buying the device if you intend to request reimbursement for the item
  • Consider buying a used mobility device
  • Obtain a written contract for the item and all additional services/products, especially from in-home salespeople

By investigating the range of products available, selecting the product that is right for your loved one, and keeping the product in good working condition, you can help your loved one maintain his or her mobility and achieve a greater sense of independence.

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