Mobility devices (wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, canes, walking sticks, rollators, knee scooters) provide great physical assistance to those with limited walking capabilities. These devices open new opportunities for family and business interactions, travel, shopping and just having more independence. However, these devices must be used carefully in order to avoid injury to the user. It is important to follow user guide instructions, as well as common sense, to ensure safe operation. Additionally, all such devices should be inspected on a regular basis for wear, damage or loose parts that could affect the safe operation of the devices. Usually, this can be accomplished quickly.
There are over 47,000 injuries annually in the USA related to mobility devices (87.3% with walkers, 12.3% with canes) and the number is increasing as the population ages. The majority of mobility device users are geriatric (65 years plus). Those using mobility devices are justifiably concerned about falling. Mobility users, because of their specific disabilities, already are at a disadvantage and susceptible to falling, compared to the able bodied. The disabled usually have reduced reaction times if they are falling or have to catch themselves. Additionally, it is not uncommon for the disabled to drag their feet during transit, which can induce a fall. Some medications can also contribute to unsteadiness. Therefore, the mobility device user must be careful in their strides and cadences when using a mobility device. The user's pathway must be cleared of obstructions such as children's toys, messy conditions, loose rugs, or oversized and damaged furniture. Keeping the pathway clear is very important to the safety of the device user.
Training of device usage by a professional physical therapist is of paramount importance to the safe operation of the device. Practice can also reduce the probability of injury. For example, practice opening and closing doors or pushing in a chair to the table while using the mobility device can make the user more comfortable with daily tasks. Transitional situations (getting in and out of a car, or getting in and out of bed) should also be practiced. Secondary aids, such as hand holds in confined spaces like bathrooms can reduce the risks of falling.
Some research indicates that the usage of a walking stick or staff improved the balance and the independence level while reducing the risk of falling.
For all of the injury risks associated with mobility devices, their usage significantly improves the quality of life of the user, providing independent living, freedom of movement, and a general feeling of comfort. Risks of injury can be reduced. Just take care when using a mobility device and remember, most of us are not spring chickens anymore! Enjoy the independence your mobility device provides.