Mobility aids for seniors help to maintain independence and ensure safe movements. As we age, disease and injury can affect our balance and mobility, putting us at risk for injury, disability and social isolation.
In this guide we provide you with information about mobility aids. We discuss why they are important, the best way to go about acquiring a mobility aid and the range of products that are available today to meet different needs.
Why Look Into Mobility Aids for Seniors?
Maintaining balance becomes a problem as we age. Muscles and joints become weaker and stiff, vision is reduced and there could even be degeneration of the balance centre in the inner ear. Diseases, medication or injury can also cause dizziness, unsteadiness or loss of mobility.
Both loss of balance and impaired mobility greatly increase the risk of falls. Research shows that about 30% of people over the age of 65 fall at least once a year. About 1 in 10 of these falls results in an injury that is serious enough to require hospitalization. The healing process becomes slower with age and a bad fall can result in permanent disability.
Falls are also one of the most common reasons why the elderly have to be admitted to an assisted living facility. After a serious fall, the elderly person could also be afraid that they might fall again and become reluctant to move about. This will further impair their overall health and wellness.
For whatever reason, many seniors prefer to ignore their limitations and refuse to use a walking aid. However, once you experience dizziness or unsteadiness, it is wise to start using a mobility aids for seniors to maintain balance and to prevent a fall. It can make the difference between remaining independent or needing others to provide for your basic needs.
Initially the answer might be something as simple as a cane to keep steady while walking about. You might also need a mobility aid only while recovering from surgery or an illness. There are various different devices and it is important that you get the right one to meet your needs.
Selecting a Mobility Aid
Mobility aids are not one size fits all, so it is not recommended that you just order something online or even use what is passed on by a well-meaning friend or relative.
People come in all shapes and sizes and have different strengths and weaknesses. An incorrect device, and not knowing how to use it correctly, can cause more harm than good.
Once you need more than a simple cane, you should ideally obtain professional help in selecting the right mobility aid. Start by discussing your needs with your medical practitioner who will then refer you to an occupational or physical therapist.
The therapist will conduct a complete mobility assessment which includes taking a full history, testing your muscle strength, and checking your balance and gait. The findings will show what type of mobility aid will be the best for your needs. The therapist will then teach you how to use the device correctly and safely, including how to negotiate different terrains and staircases.
Another important reason for going the professional route is that medical insurance will only pay for a mobility device on a doctor’s recommendation. Furthermore, they will also only pay for the minimal level of mobility aid that is required.
Types of Mobility Aids
Since we talked about how people come in different body types, this means their body has different needs too. This is why we outline the different types of mobility aids for seniors, so you can see which one is right for you.
Canes are the traditional and most popular walking aid for seniors. They are ideal if you experience minimal unsteadiness or if one leg is much weaker than the other.
A person needs a fairly strong upper body and hands to use a cane. It must be the correct length, or it can cause incorrect posture, and even muscular pain. It must be strong enough to support about 25% of body weight.
The top of the cane should reach to the crease at the inside of the wrist when the person is standing up straight with shoes on. Their elbow should be bent at a 20-degree angle when holding the cane. Apart from the standard cane, there are also those with four feet which provide a larger support base and are less likely to slip.
A walker, also known as a Zimmer frame, can be used for support by those who experience significant unsteadiness while walking but still have reasonable upper body strength. Walkers support up to 50% of upper body weight.
Standard walkers have four legs and a frame, which should fit around the front and sides of the user’s body. As for canes, a walker should reach up to the level of the person’s wrist.
Walkers need to be lifted and repositioned with each step. This does present some challenges when there are obstacles in the way, or the ground is uneven.
Rollators are wheeled walkers, with four wheels and handlebars. Rollators are ideal for those with more severe stability issues and limited upper body strength. They are easier to maneuver than standard walkers and they are also less tiring.
Rollators come in various designs; some are lighter than others. They are usually fitted with a handbrake for additional safety and might have a holder for carrying things. They may even have a seat for when the user needs a rest.
There are also rollators in the form of a knee scooter for those that have only one weak or injured leg. There is a padded cushion to rest one knee on while the other leg powers the scooter.
Power or Motorized Scooters
These mobility aids are mainly for outdoor use by those who can no longer walk long distances, although some are designed for use indoors. Power scooters require stamina and good upper body control as the user needs to sit up with their arms extended for a long time and they need to be able to use the throttle, steering and brakes.
Power scooters come in many different models, from lightweight to heavy duty, that can be used on rugged terrain.
Medical insurance will generally not cover this mobility aid, as they will only pay for what the senior needs to maintain independence in their home environment.
Wheelchairs are for people who can no longer walk or carry any weight with their legs. Indicators that a person needs a wheelchair is when they are not longer able to sit upright, have difficulty getting up from a chair, get very tired and unsteady while moving about, or have already experienced falls.
Wheelchairs come in many different designs and with a variety of features. Standard models are relatively heavy and have few added features. Medical insurance will only cover a lightweight model if the person does not have enough strength in their arms to propel a standard wheelchair. You might be able to make arrangements to pay for added features yourself.
Power wheelchairs come in a large variety of models and sizes. They are very maneuverable and can be used both indoors and outdoors. Buying a power wheelchair is much like buying a car; you would consider color, special features, suspension and whether you prefer front or back wheel drive.
You might buy a power model for the convenience for an elderly person who is wheelchair bound. However, medical insurance will only cover this mobility aid for people with severely limited mobility in both their arms and their legs.
The right mobility aid for seniors allows them to remain more independent and can prevent serious falls.
However, the elderly should not progress to the next level of a mobility aids for seniors until they really need it. For example, using a wheelchair while they are still able to get around with a rollator. This will further reduce their level of activity, which will have a negative impact on their overall health and wellness.
Remaining active and exercising regularly remains the best way to maintain and even improve balance, muscle strength and joint mobility.