Wheelchairs, Walkers and Canes
We crawl and then we walk. We walk and then we run. We go from
here to there without even thinking about it. Mobility is more than
a symbol of freedom; it is an act of freedom. But while mobility
helps give us independence, it doesnít always last a lifetime. When
an accident or a disease chips away at a loved oneís mobility or
takes a sudden swipe at it, itís hard on both the caregiver and the
A parent may be forced to admit that he or she is getting old
and there will be an end. An adult child can no longer deny whatís
happening to Mom or Dad.
Obviously, the best way for your loved one to stay moving is to
simply stay moving. The adage of ďUse it or lose itĒ remains true
here. Itís so much harder to go through physical therapy and make a
comeback than it is to remain in relatively good shape. But thatís
not always possible. A person can be hobbled by any number of
problems: an arthritic hip; a neurologically impaired foot; a leg,
or two legs, that must be amputated because of complications brought
on by diabetes; an entire side that is frozen by a stroke; and so
Here are some things to remember when caring for a loved one
who has problems with mobility:
--Your care-receiver may intensely resist mobility aids.
Your husband may deny any help is needed. He might ďforgetĒ a cane
or walker and refuse to use a device in public. Heís frightened,
discouraged, and angry. Who wouldnít be? Coming face-to-face with a
brace, a cane, a walker, crutches, or a wheelchair is hard.
--You need to encourage and you need to support, but you are
not helping if you step in and do it all. Let Mom complete the
task, even if it takes her longer. Be patient and let her do as much
as possible. Keep in mind that in this situation, as in so many, you
may find yourself performing a balancing act: your mom needs your
help, but she also needs to be in control. Finding the proper
balance can be difficult.
--Itís hard to see someone you love struggle. Remember
that many times a person has to work hard to gain new skills and new
Here are some ways to help a loved one who canít get around
like he or she used to:
--When walking with your care-receiver, be sure to slow your
pace. Hurrying will only lead to falls and frustration.
--Solicit the support of doctors, physical therapists, and
other health-care professionals. Your loved one might be more
likely to listen to advice when it comes from more than one person.
--Make sure your care-receiver has the right equipment and
that itís properly fitted. He or she must understand how to use
the equipment, as well as the correct posture, rhythm, and speed to
adopt when using it. A physical therapist can make this easier. Make
sure your loved one understands why the equipment is necessary.
--Take the training along with him or her. That way
youíll know which leg goes where and where the cane needs to be when
you come to a curb. Youíll know how to get a wheelchair down a ramp.
Youíll know how to help him or her get into and out of a car. Youíll
learn new skills together
--Give your loved one time to adjust. The skills needed
to use a device canít be learned in an afternoon. He or she may need
time to practice at home before stepping back out into the world.
--If your care-receiver is recuperating after a loss in
mobility, remember that things may never be the way they were
before, but they can be much, much better than they are right now.
Wheelchairs, Walkers, and Canes
A wheelchair, walker, or cane can seem like a mixed blessing to the
person who uses it. On the one hand, it offers security. On the
other, itís a constant reminder of a disability.
Whether your loved one needs to use a wheelchair, walker, or
cane only temporarily following surgery or an accident or has to
depend on one permanently, there are things you can do to help make
the transition easier for both of you.
--Get the piece of equipment that best suits your
care-receiverís need. These days the variety is incredible: a
cane can have a four-footed base or be lightweight and adjustable; a
walker can have small wheels at the ends of two of its legs or be
easy to pick up and maneuver; and wheelchairs can be electric or
manual. Find out from your loved oneís doctor or physical therapist
what will work best for your care-receiver andóif thereís
optionsóask your care-receiver which style he or she would prefer.
--Donít let cost make the decision for you. The most
expensive option might not be whatís right for your loved one. The
cheapest might not get the job done. See what equipment your
care-receiverís insurance will pay for. Check out what Medicare
covers. Look into renting equipment or getting it on loan from the
hospital or your local senior center. Renting or borrowing can make
a lot of sense if the device is going to be used only temporarily,
while your loved one regains the ability to walk unassisted.
--Make sure the equipment fits. Canes, walkers, and
wheelchairs have to be the right size to offer the support a patient
needs. The doctor or physical therapist can tell you if a particular
device needs to be adjusted or if it simply canít be used in your
loved oneís case.
--Prepare the house for the new equipment. This might
include building a ramp or replacing a textured carpet with one
thatís easier to walk on. It might be necessary to move or remove
some furniture to make more space for maneuvering.
--Help your loved one get comfortable riding in a
wheelchair. If youíre helping your care-receiver in a
wheelchair, tell him or her what youíre going to do before you do
it. ďIím going to turn you around so . . .Ē ďI have to tip back the
chair to . . .Ē This will help your loved one build trust in you and
--Keep in mind that both you and your care-receiver need to
learn how to properly use the equipment.
--Go slowly. Itís going to take time for your loved one
to become used to this new method of getting around. Often sadness,
a sense of loss, comes with the realization that a wheelchair,
walker, or cane is needed. And it can be frustrating, too. What used
to be done so easily, without even thinking, nowófor a time at
leastótakes hard work and concentration.
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