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How to Smooth the Transition from a Walker to a Wheelchair

by Thomas Brown(more info)

listed in movement, originally published in issue 289 - September 2023

 

In case the elderly are facing increasing difficulties with using a walker, it may be time to consider a wheelchair. Wheelchairs offer improved stability and mobility compared to walkers, significantly improving the quality of life for seniors with limited mobility. This article delves into the different facets of this transition and offers advice on how to facilitate it seamlessly.

 

Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Courtesy of Annie Spratt on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/A2bvXVD5qgo

https://unsplash.com/photos/A2bvXVD5qgo

 

Understanding the Transition

Switching from using a walker to a wheelchair becomes necessary when an individual's mobility declines to a point where a walker no longer offers adequate support. This can occur due to progressive conditions like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease[1] or acute injuries that result in long-term mobility limitations.

There are various typical factors that lead senior adults to transition from using a walker to relying on a wheelchair. These factors encompass heightened challenges with walking or maintaining balance, persistent pain, fatigue, decreased endurance, and the necessity for augmented stability and support. Moreover, a wheelchair can offer amplified autonomy and mobility in diverse settings.

The common signs that the elderly need a wheelchair[2] include:

  • Frequent falling;
  • Difficulty with balance;
  • Limited motion range;
  • Decline in muscle strength;
  • Neurological issues;
  • Increased fatigue while walking;
  • Increased reliance on walls and furniture for support;
  • Relying on others to assist with daily tasks.

In case any of the signs occur, it is advisable to seek help from medical experts and specialists to evaluate the necessity of a new mobility aid. This will help to identify the most appropriate wheelchair type tailored to the patient’s needs.

Preparing for the Transition

Prior to making the transition to a wheelchair, it is crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of the various wheelchair options accessible. These options encompass manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, and mobility scooters. Each category offers distinct benefits and factors to consider, with the selection process relying on individual mobility requirements, lifestyle, and physical capabilities.

  1. Manual wheelchairs are powered by the user and thus, require more energy expenditure compared to power mobility chairs. This type of wheelchair allows seniors to navigate tight spaces with ease due to their smaller size and lighter weight. A manual wheelchair is recommended for those who need additional mobility but can still propel themselves with moderate effort;
  2. Power wheelchairs are prescribed for those who experience difficulty with propelling themselves in a manual wheelchair. This type of mobility vehicle is powered by an electric motor and can be handled via a joystick or other controls. It also offers the ability to traverse long distances with ease, making it ideal for elderly users who need more range in their mobility;
  3. Mobility scooters are steered using handlebars and offer a comfortable seat. For seniors with limited strength or range of motion, this option provides the opportunity for independence while minimizing energy expenditure.

When choosing the appropriate wheelchair, it is important to take into account various aspects, including comfort, functionality, user-friendliness, maneuverability, and adjustability. Collaborating with a healthcare expert like an occupational therapist or wheelchair specialist is crucial to ensure that mobility aid aligns with the individual's unique requirements and personal preferences.

Modifications to the Home Environment

Modifying the home environment is essential to ease the shift from using a walker to relying on a wheelchair. These changes promote accessibility, improve safety, and empower individuals to navigate their living spaces autonomously.

The following alterations can be considered:

  • Prioritize the entryway and bathrooms. Such spaces must be readily accessible and devoid of any obstructions. Install handrails in the bathroom, as well as a shower seat or tub that is wheelchair-friendly;
  • Rearrange furniture. There should be unobstructed pathways to provide convenient wheelchair access. Maximize floor space to allow wheelchair users to move freely in any direction with ease;
  • Install ramps. Ramps offer a secure and convenient way to enter the home, ensuring safety and comfort. Enhance accessibility by considering the investment in adjustable or permanent ramps;
  • Upgrade flooring. Enhance the safety of hard floors by adding non-slip carpets or rugs to minimize the chances of slipping and falling. Likewise, consider using low-pile carpets to facilitate smooth movement for wheelchair users.

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

Participating in physical therapy and rehabilitation programs can be crucial in preparing for the transition. These programs primarily concentrate on preserving or enhancing strength, flexibility, balance, and overall physical function. Personalized exercises and techniques are provided by physical therapists, ensuring a seamless transition to a wheelchair.

The Role of Healthcare Providers

Incorporating healthcare providers is crucial throughout the transition process. Their specialized knowledge and extensive experience enable them to navigate elderly people through each stage of the transition, addressing their unique medical requirements and concerns. Healthcare providers offer invaluable guidance, resources, and unwavering support.

Medical professionals have a vital role in evaluating an individual's health, prescribing suitable medications, and overseeing their overall well-being. Caregivers, whether they are family members or professional caregivers, offer essential aid and emotional support during the transition, assisting individuals in adapting to the use of a wheelchair and handling daily tasks.

Every person's journey from walking to using a wheelchair is distinct, necessitating a tailored transition strategy. Healthcare professionals can create a comprehensive plan that covers medical factors, assistive technologies, physical therapy, emotional assistance, and lifestyle modifications. A personalized approach facilitates a seamless transition and effectively addresses individual requirements.

Addressing Emotional Concerns

Switching a mobility aid may bring up various emotions, such as loss, frustration, and fear[3]. It is crucial to recognize and deal with these emotions during the transition. Healthcare professionals should establish a secure and encouraging atmosphere where seniors can freely express their feelings. Open and honest communication plays a vital role in assisting individuals to manage their emotions in a productive manner. Using coping strategies can assist older adults in effectively handling the emotional difficulties connected to the transition. These approaches encompass relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, personal writing, participating in enjoyable hobbies or activities, and seeking emotional support from loved ones, friends, or support communities. Collaborating with mental health experts can also offer valuable insights into managing emotional concerns.

Developing and upholding a robust support system is vital throughout the transition. Emotional support, motivation, and practical aid can be found through friends, family, and support groups. Interacting with individuals who have encountered similar experiences can offer valuable perspectives, guidance, and reassurance, alleviating feelings of seclusion and fostering a sense of inclusion.

Managing Physical Changes

Adapting to using a wheelchair may necessitate patience and perseverance. It is crucial for senior people to undergo comprehensive training on appropriate wheelchair usage, encompassing techniques for maneuvering, transferring to and from the wheelchair, and navigating diverse terrains. Occupational therapists can offer valuable guidance on daily activities like dressing, bathing, and eating, fostering self-assurance and autonomy in embracing this newfound mobility aid.

It is also important to maintain physical strength and mobility throughout and following the transition. Individuals can benefit from personalized physical therapy and exercise programs that focus on their specific abilities. These programs aim to build strength, enhance cardiovascular health, and improve overall physical function. Examples of exercises may include resistance training, stretching, and seated cardiovascular activities.

Transitioning to using a wheelchair may require accepting and adapting to specific physical limitations. Rather than fixating on these limitations, it is vital to concentrate on what is still achievable. Occupational therapists can offer strategies and assistive devices to overcome obstacles and preserve independence in daily activities. Adaptive equipment, such as reachers, dressing aids, or modified utensils, can empower seniors to continue participating in activities they find enjoyable.

People undergoing the transition to using a wheelchair may encounter pain and discomfort associated with their condition or prolonged periods of sitting. Healthcare professionals have the ability to recommend pain management techniques, including medication, physical therapy methods, or assistive equipment like cushions or pressure-relieving wheelchair seating. Regular communication with healthcare providers can help ensure that any pain or discomfort is adequately addressed.

Building Independence

Maintaining independence is a crucial element of a successful transition. Wheelchairs offer individuals enhanced mobility and freedom, enabling them to actively participate in activities, engage with their communities, and preserve a sense of autonomy. Encouraging and supporting independence empowers individuals to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives without compromising authenticity or originality. Gaining knowledge and honing abilities for self-sufficiency is crucial during the transitional phase. These abilities may encompass transferring onto a wheelchair, maneuvering through public areas, utilizing accessible transportation, managing personal care duties, and asserting one's needs. Occupational therapists can deliver instruction and tactics to cultivate and amplify these proficiencies, fostering autonomy and self-assurance.

Assistive technology and devices have a paramount role in promoting independence. They include wheelchair accessories like ramps, grab bars, and wheelchair-mounted trays. As well as technology-based solutions such as voice-activated systems and environmental controls. These tools enhance daily activities, communication, and accessibility. Collaborating with healthcare providers and assistive technology specialists ensures the selection of suitable devices tailored to individual needs.

Maintaining a Positive Outlook

Moving from a walker to a wheelchair opens up possibilities for better mobility, greater independence, and improved quality of life.[4] It's important to concentrate on the positive aspects of this transition and the advantages that come with using a wheelchair. These benefits may include easier movement, access to more activities and environments, increased social interactions, and the ability to conserve energy for enjoyable pursuits. By shifting our mindset towards the benefits of this transition, we can maintain a positive perspective.

Transitioning to a wheelchair should not be seen as abandoning goals, dreams, or personal aspirations. It is crucial for seniors to explore and uncover fresh paths of purpose and significance in their lives. This might entail pursuing hobbies, engaging in creative expressions, volunteering, or advocating for disability rights and accessibility causes. Recognizing and nurturing personal passions can greatly contribute to a sense of fulfillment and well-being.

Maintaining a vibrant social life and taking part in community activities are fundamental for general well-being and a positive mindset. The elderly who use wheelchairs can participate in support groups, community organizations, or recreational clubs that cater to their specific interests. Engaging in social and community activities nurtures connections, diminishes feelings of isolation, and cultivates a sense of belonging and inclusivity.

Conclusion

The transition from using a walker to relying on a wheelchair can be a demanding and significant life adjustment. However, by comprehending the reasons for this transition, preparing effectively, and involving healthcare professionals, seniors can facilitate the transition process. Transitioning to a new mobility device does not equate to relinquishing a fulfilling and meaningful life. With proper support, adaptive strategies, and an optimistic mindset, older adults can embrace their new mobility aid and continue to lead active, autonomous, and purpose-driven lives.

References

  1. Kader M, Jonasson SB, Iwarsson S, Odin P, Nilsson MH. Mobility device use in people with Parkinson's disease: A 3-year follow-up study. Acta Neurol Scand. 2018 Jul;138(1):70-77. doi: 10.1111/ane.12942. Epub 2018 Apr 16. PMID: 29658981. Website https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29658981/
  2. Alex Vander Poel. (2022). 7 Signs You Need a Wheelchair: Tips for a Smooth Transition. Website https://marcsmobility.com/blog/7-signs-you-need-wheelchair-tips-smooth-transition
  3. Cahill, S. E., & Eggleston, R. (1994). Managing Emotions in Public: The Case of Wheelchair Users. Social Psychology Quarterly, 57(4), 300–312. https://doi.org/10.2307/2787157
  4. Rajgopal Nidamboor. (2023). Age is Just a Number: How to Live Long and Healthy. Website https://www.positivehealth.com/article/ageing/age-is-just-a-number-how-to-live-long-and-healthy

Credit Acknowledgement Citation

Image courtesy of Annie Spratt on Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/A2bvXVD5qgo)

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About Thomas Brown

Thomas Brown is a writer, project manager, and a self-starter with a keen eye for detail and thorough expertise in developing educational content for the equestrian blog Horsezz.com. When Tom is out of the office, he’s likely hitting the trails on his horse Charlie. New adventures inspire Tom to create fresh stories and broaden his horizons.

Thomas is also an experienced expert in the field of mobility solutions. With an unwavering passion for empowering individuals with limited mobility, Thomas has dedicated his life to improving accessibility and independence for those in need. Nowadays, Thomas works closely with Marc's Mobility, helping customers find the perfect mobility solutions tailored to their unique needs. His insightful writings and comprehensive knowledge have helped people broaden their horizons in the industry.

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