A to Z Challenge: Letter M for Mobility

Mobility – did you know that being able to move around is part of the definition of a living being? It’s one of the things that distinguishes us from plants and minerals. When it is altered, disabled or gone we have problems.

So many of the issues we, as caregivers, deal with are mobility issues. When our family member/client can’t walk, or perform the activities of daily living it becomes our role to substitute our own effort and energy to make tasks possible and safe.

Sometimes we turn to equipment (See post on letter E) to provide mobility. Wheelchairs, walkers, lifts of various kinds, and braces are all useful, so it is good to know the general principles of how to use those things. As a caregiver for a quadriplegic woman, I appreciated this equipment and got to be pretty good at taking things apart and fixing them. Yes, like any piece of equipment, these things break and need maintenance regularly, but they do make moving possible for your person and less physically taxing for the caregiver.

But other times, less assistance is needed – enter the principles of body mechanics. Knowing how to help someone get out of or into a bed, or a chair, without hurting yourself is critical. Many times accidents and falls at home can be prevented by learning transfer techniques, a transfer belt, and preparation of the environment (taking up rugs and objects that could trip). Caregivers can learn all this useful stuff by going to occupational therapy or physical therapy with their person. These therapies are almost always available and prescribed by doctors for their patients.

My husband, like many people with Lewy Body dementia or Parkinson’s Disease, has trouble with his balance and compensates by moving slowly and carefully. He has fallen a number of times. He has a shuffling gait when walking and that was part of what led us to seek a diagnosis. One time when walking, his muscles locked up completely and I had to go for a wheelchair so he could sit and be wheeled back home. He also has a cane for times when he feels especially unsteady.

We were out on a walk and he needed a rest.

It’s so unfortunate that people with mobility problems are often also tired, weak, and unmotivated to exercise. Caregivers need to be cheerleaders (yes, another hat to wear). Encouraging your family member or client to do the activities that he/she can is how you help them to stay functional. My husband adopted an exercise routine that could be done to music. He calls it his “dance”, and it’s something he can do with other people when they don’t mind getting a little silly.

Movement, however minimal, also helps attitude and stimulates healing and recovery for some.

A to Z Challenge: Letter E for Equipment

Equipment. I feel like saying “don’t get me started!” The truth is there is a piece of equipment to make almost every job easier. Yes, it’s true. If you are a caretaker, make your life easier by becoming a student of what’s out there.

My most memorable piece of equipment was a 400 lb. electric wheelchair owned by a quadriplegic friend (and client) of mine. It was in the price range of an expensive car and was customized to her needs with joystick, recline features, etc… One of my tasks, in addition to nursing, was to wrap this wheelchair so it could go in the cargo hold of a plane when we traveled. Several egg crate mattresses for padding, rolls of duct tape, and warning signs plastered all over it – that was just the beginning. We also had a smaller regular wheelchair, and a hoyer lift to disassemble and carry along. I remember sitting in the window seat watching the baggage handlers try to get the big chair into the cargo hold, and trying not to let my client see. Keeping track of, and guarding, all that equipment was… an interesting challenge.

There are other, much more common pieces of equipment, that I’m often surprised that clients don’t think about until I suggest them. Are you helping someone who needs to use the bathroom often, and can’t move very fast? Portable commodes are a favorite piece of equipment. Time in the bathroom can also be made a lot safer and easier by toilet seat risers, shower benches, and grab bars, grab bars and more grab bars. You probably can’t have too many of those. (Toilet seat risers are tricky. I thought I was getting the right thing, but no. I have two and neither one is being used… a story that won’t get told here.)

It’s so nice not to have to carry things when you’re feeling a bit unbalanced.

Keeping my people mobile as much as possible is important to me. A simple pair of hiking sticks is what Mom uses outside. Those extra points of balance are all she needs. Inside she has a shiny, red walker which she uses to transport small items (and her coffee cup) because it has an attached basket and a seat, and brakes to keep it from moving when she doesn’t want it to. Walkers and wheelchairs have come a long way in design and there’s one out there for every level of mobility.

Occupational therapists are so helpful when it comes to equipment for the things that need to be done every day. There are gadgets to help pull on socks, extend your reach, open jars, and button and zip garments. For people with low vision or blindness there are a lot of useful tools as well. There are special plates and flatware for food, clocks that speak the time and identifiers that can be placed on surfaces like the microwave control panel.

Seriously, these things work! Who uses them? Me.

Do you have a medical equipment store that you can visit? It’s a good practice to go there and look – at everything. You might not need it now but knowing what is available will make you feel very smart.

The world of equipment is large and varied. There is something for all ages and all situations. Some of it is mysterious (computers and smartphones) and even a bit controversial, like our Alexa (she’s always listening…). My husband loves this internet lady and asks her all kinds of questions. She plays any kind of music he wants and reads to him. And that brings up the equipment needed for safety too. Life alert buttons that are worn on the body can be lifesavers. And how about special locks for limiting access to doors and drawers? These can be useful for children and for elderly with dementia.

You get the idea? If you have a caretaking problem, take it to an internet search, a catalog, a medical supply store or a professional who can point you to equipment that will help. We need all the help equipment can give us.