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Mobility Issues and the Elderly

How to select the appropriate mobility device

Limited mobility. It is something that often comes with age or debilitating joint diseases, such as arthritis, osteoporosis or neurological diseases. It was not too long ago that limited mobility felt like a jail sentence to many seniors. Not so anymore. There are many assistive devices and mobility products that have been introduced that are allowing the elderly to get out and enjoy life almost as well as they did in their youth. Dr. Stephen Stricker, rehabilitation specialist with University of Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital says, "Wheelchairs and other mobility products have come a long way in being able to help patients achieve independence. It is always our goal to help people become as independent as possible for doing activities of daily living, of getting from one place to another, being able to turn the household appliances, being able to reach the objects in the upper cabinets." Moblity products are key in doing this.

"Medicare usually pays up to 80% of the cost of a mobility device with a doctor's approval." — AARP

Mobility devices run the gamut, from simple walking canes and walkers and rollators to sophisticated scooters and electric wheelchairs. How do you determine which mobility product is right for you?

Canes and walkers are used to provide a person with increased stability and support. Canes and walkers are often prescribed to a person after an injury, but more often than not, they are used for the elderly to prevent an injury due to a fall. The elderly also use canes and walkers to relieve pressure on painful joints such as the knees or hips due to arthritis or other degenerative joint diseases.

When selecting a cane, make sure the handle or grip is comfortable, and the cane is the right length. To measure the correct length, you should stand normally wearing your usual shoes. Bend your elbow on the side of your body where you will hold the cane with your hand held at a comfortable height, as if you were holding the cane. Your hand should be at around the top of your hipbone. Have a second person measure straight up from the floor to your wrist with a measuring tape. This is the length your cane should be. Wooden canes come in precut common lengths, or can be custom cut by the manufacturer. Many aluminum canes are adjustable to different heights.

Walkers come in many styles; the most basic walker is an aluminum folding walker. If the person is not strong enough to lift the walker and move it along in front of them, wheels can be added to the front of this type of walker, with some kind of glide mechanism in the back. The most popular type of wheeled walker today is the three-wheeled walker. Three-wheeled walkers fold in half for easy travel, and are usually equipped with a hand brake and basket. There are four-wheeled walkers that are often equipped with seats. Check with your doctor or your physical therapist to determine which walker is best for you.

Scooters and wheelchairs

If you are unable to walk, have limited upper body strength and are unable to use a walker or push yourself in a manual wheelchair, an electric wheelchair or mobility scooter may be the right option for you. The main difference between these two mobility products is their maneuverability. Electric wheelchairs tend to be more maneuverable than scooters because the smaller size affords the wheelchair a smaller turning radius. This makes navigating indoors and around tight areas like bathrooms and hallways easy. In addition, if you have difficulty "transferring," that is getting in and out of bed or the bathtub, a wheelchair allows you to get in much closer than a scooter. An electric wheelchair also allows you to "pull in" to work spaces and tables easier than a scooter, because you do not have the front end, or tiller, of the scooter between you and the table.

And finally because of their ruggedness and maneuverability, powered wheelchairs are designed to be used both indoors and outdoors while mobility scooters are primarily intended for use outdoors.

Mobility device and health insurance

Medicare usually pays up to 80% of the cost of a mobility device with a doctor's approval. If you have supplemental Medicare insurance, that may cover the remainder.