Obtaining a Mobility Aid and What One to Choose
Last updated: September 2022
A mobility aid is a piece of equipment or device designed to help you walk when your mobility is impaired, temporarily or permanently or to provide other means of mobility. They are designed to help people with mobility difficulties enjoy more independence.
For some of us, life may have thrown us a major curve ball and we may need to consider other means of mobility than the "natural" or "normal" way. Yes, I know it’s always better to try and maintain your independence, which includes walking. However, some of us may eventually need to start thinking about our next option due to circumstances beyond our control.
There are many mobility products available to meet everyone's needs. What I’ll be covering is only the tip of the iceberg.
Obtaining a handicap placard
Before considering what mobility aid is right for you, you may want to consider obtaining a handicap placard or license plate.
When you are feeling well, you don’t have to utilize the placard or license plate, but you’ll have it for those days when you do need it. You can utilize a placard or license plate whether you get fatigued walking, use a mobility aid, or wheelchair. So don’t think that just because you aren’t in a wheelchair you won’t qualify.
The information to getting a placard or license may be found at your county clerk’s office or your state/county DMV. You can usually find the correct place to apply by checking online or with your county clerk or DVM.
Steps to mobility freedom
When you begin looking for a mobility aid, first consider what you expect your activity to be like. Will this aid help you enough to be included in events you want to attend? I’m not talking about climbing a mountain, but normal activity. If not, identify an aid that will allow you to do the things you want and need to do.
Discuss your limitations and prognosis with your neurologist and research the best aids that will meet your mobility needs. Aids for walking can include crutches, canes, rollators, and walkers.
Crutches and canes
Crutches are primarily used for injuries where you may be required to keep all or some of your weight off a foot or leg. It’s rarely used long term. Canes however, are mainly used for balance and a little support.
Upper body strength, especially the arms, is required with both canes and crutches. If you are having issues with extremity weakness or balance, these devices may not be for you. It isn’t necessary to keep all weight off the foot or leg with a cane, but you should not put all of your weight on it. Both canes and crutches have a height and weight capacity.
Canes have anywhere from one tip that touches the floor to several for gripping the floor at the same or separate times. Because both crutches and canes require some amount of strength, neither maybe right for you.
Be careful about which hand you put the cane handle in. For safety, the correct way to use it is in the opposite hand of your weaker leg. Someone that works in physical therapy, the office nurse, or someone from where you purchased your aid can show you how to use either aid.
Both devices need a rubber stopper on the tip for traction. You should also have a pad or grip made just for the hand grips and the crutches have a pad for the axilla. Caution when using crutches, never put weight from your axilla/arm pit on the crutch. The nerves under the arms could be severely damaged. This caution should be practiced by anyone and everyone using crutches.
Rollators and walkers
Rollator walkers will have 2 or 4 wheels. The wheels are generally used help you walk when you need just a little help with balance or stability. They are for people that do not need to bear weight on it.
Many will heave seats on them, should you tire, you can sit down. Under the seat you'll usually find a basket or pouch for carrying things. It has hand brakes, which should always be used before sitting down on the seat. They rolls very easily, so you could end up sitting on the floor or ground if it isn't locked first.
They are easy to steer and you don’t have to lift them when you walk. There are also accessories you can get, if needed. Ask what is available and what models they will fit on.
Walkers have no wheels and can be a safer alternative to the rollator walker. Instead of wheels, they have four legs that touch the floor. It usually has three sides, with the fourth side generally open for the patient. It is better for stabilizing, providing balance, and allowing the patient to walk with adequate support.
You’ve probably seen many senior citizens using these products. Don’t be fooled, thinking they are only for the elderly! Many people use them when recovering from an injury or surgery. They are for anyone physically challenged to allow more freedom and independence.
If your back is weak, but your arms are stable, an upright posture walker may be what you need. There are also accessories you can get, if needed. Ask what is available and what models they will fit on.
What one is right for me?
Decide with your neurologist what type of aid is for you. You usually don’t need a physician order for mobility aids, but if you want insurance to pay anything, you will!
You will need to ascertain what medical equipment companies are included in your insurance plan. Yes, some insurance companies will have a list of those you can purchase you mobility aids from. Check with your insurance if you aren't sure if your policy includes those products or companies.
Check with your insurance provider to see if your plan includes durable medical equipment. If so, how much of the cost will they pay and how much will you need to pay? In my experience, my insurance company has covered 80 percent, leaving 20 percent of the cost for me. Be sure to ask the mobility company to give you a written estimate and discuss payment plans.
Some insurance companies may cover a portion of the costs, but they tend to also have a maximum amount they are willing to pay. If you go for a very expensive piece of equipment and the cost is over their maximum, you may have to pay out-of-pocket for anything above what their maximum. These are questions you should clarify with your insurance company so you don’t get any surprises later.
What if I can't afford it?
If you can’t afford this equipment, some non-profit organizations may be able to provide help. Sometimes, the Muscular Dystrophy Association or the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America will help with some or all of the cost.
It never hurts to check with them. Just remember though, they tend to help the more critical or needy first, so you may need to look to local organizations, such as churches, other non-profit organizations, or organized groups.
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