myasthenia gravis mobility devices and snow safety

Preparing for Winter with a Power Chair

Last updated: October 2023

As we prepare for colder weather, it’s time to think about winterizing our outdoor living spaces. It’s bad enough to manage walking on wet or icy surfaces - but what if you have mobility challenges with myasthenia gravis (MG)? Those living with MG may need to consider how to get around in the yard and into the house, what items need to be brought into the house, garage, storage building, and more.

Powerchairs and cold weather

Winter months can be difficult for anyone to navigate. However, it can be especially difficult, if not dangerous, for those of us with impaired mobility.

One thing I found with the 2 power chairs I’ve had is that the batteries do not last as long when it’s very cold outside. They tend not to have as much power either. Going up inclines sometimes makes me wonder if I’m going to make it.

It’s even worse if the ground is soft or soggy due to rain or snow. Soft soil will drain the battery quickly. And mud? When I get mud on the tires, I might as well figure I’ll have it tracked all over the house until the tires are all cleaned out. Even washing them doesn’t get to all the mud and debris out.

My first winter in my power chair was rather uneventful, since I spent little time outside. Thankfully, the house we had then had a huge paved area and a large cemented area around the pool, so I rarely had to worry about mud. I had a better power chair then than I have now, so the batteries lasted much longer.

I didn’t have to do much to winterize the backyard, since I had 2 of our 4 children living on the property. They and my husband winterized the pool and all the outdoor furniture for me. It was nice having a lot of help around then. I sure miss it now!

Snow safety

To ensure safety in the snow, we need to keep our mobility surfaces clear. If you live in an area that receives snow, sleet, or ice, consider how you are going to clear it so you can get into and out of the house. Outdoor wheelchair lifts or ramps generally provide a safe, accessible way to enter or exit buildings, including our home. However, in winter months, they may become more difficult to keep cleared and safe.

Some areas have ordinances that only allow a certain number of hours in which to clear walkways, so you need to have your solutions ready to go. Therefore, it is critical to make sure outdoor surfaces are clear as soon as possible. But where can you get help in clearing your outdoor surfaces?

Help with shoveling

Shoveling can cause strain on the heart and back. For those of us with MG, that strain is compounded. If you don’t already have someone to help clear the surfaces, there are organizations in most locales that will help.

Check with local churches – or your church. Local charities, youth groups, and other community groups are often willing to help where needed. Sometimes a neighbor is willing to help while they are doing their own snow removal.

Your local government office may have a list of special programs that will help with snow removal. Another way to get your surfaces cleared is to hire someone to remove the snow. Just be cautious, as there are many scammers that seem to take pride in taking advantage of others. Be sure to check with local, state, and where applicable national Better Business Bureaus. Yes, I found out the hard way, there are more than one!

Personally, I can shovel and sweep some snow, but if we get a lot, I have to rely on my husband. However, this year, I may be finding out just how good I’ll be at shoveling. He’s had multiple health issues for the last 3 and half years, but this last year has him off his feet. Otherwise, I may have to rely on a neighbor or hire someone, as my stamina isn’t great right now.

Ice removal

The biggest problem I have is ice! Ice and rain are why I sometimes need someone to push me up the ramp. Because rain and ice usually makes surfaces slick, my power chair sometimes will fishtail and it really frightens me.

My first power chair had a 4-inch tire width and 13-inch diameter drive-wheel/tire, so the traction was fairly good. However, the chair I have now has a 2-inch width and 14-inch diameter, which provides very little traction. I need more help with this chair. In fact, I hate the chair I have now, but that’s another story.

So, what products are available to remove sleet, ice, or snow from porch, ramp, lift, or sidewalk surfaces? Depending on the type of surface you have, use a wire broom or snow shovel. While using a shovel seems like an obvious choice for metal, it could scratch the finish, possibly causing it to eventually rust. If you have a ramp made of wood like mine, a snow shovel or regular straw broom works great for snow removal.

Many local hardware stores carry a product called Ice Melt. When applied to the surface before a winter storm, it makes a brine once it begins to snow. It may not always melt all the snow, but it will be much easier to remove the ice and snow, if you use it.

We have used this product many times and found it works very well to remove ice off my ramp. My husband usually applies it sometime before we plan to leave. By the time I’m going down the ramp, the surface is wet, but no longer slick. It also makes it safe for others.

In addition to Ice Melt: There are other products that may be effective in creating grit and traction on walks/ramps, including:

  • coffee grounds
  • Sand
  • kitty litter

Be sure you check the labels on all chemicals to assure the product you will be using is safe around people, animals, and various materials.

Snow-melting mats

Snow-melting mats are heated and slip-proof. Some come with a remote control, so you don’t even have to go outside to turn it on. Just have someone place them for you and they can remain in place all winter.

Other winter preparation

I am so thankful my husband keeps up with clearing our porch, ramp, and sidewalk. However, as we age, we may need to start thinking about other alternatives.

When preparing for the winter months, we don’t stop at getting ready for ice. We also prepare for the cold in other ways. A lot of these things, I can help with even from my power chair. I drain the garden hoses and wind them up on the hose reel. We put a bucket that we have insulated with plant material over water faucets to prevent freezing. Many of my plants I don’t want to freeze. I can put them on the footplate of my power chair and bring into the house.

I can’t cover the patio furniture very easily, but I can sure help my husband. We clean and store our garden tools and equipment. This way they are ready to go in the spring. This is also something I can and do help with.

Needing down-time

When I do things like this to help my husband, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I feel better when I feel useful and can help others. There is a huge difference emotionally, when I feel good about myself versus when I don’t feel very well and just want to go to bed, because I’m so exhausted. The things I do to help my husband and family is good for my mental health, so I don’t intend to completely stop until I just cannot do those tasks any longer.

However, usually I try not to let things get to me, but sometimes, they do. I have much more patience when I’m not exhausted or in a lot of pain. Right now, I’ve been so busy trying to keep up while my husband is unable to help, I’m totally physically and mentally exhausted. I have no "me" time and haven’t for over 3 years. I am ok with helping others, I just need some down-time to take care of myself.

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