10 Mobility Aids to Support Independent Living
Written by Caroline Jones
There are many contributing factors that can negatively impact mobility and function, the most common being age, injury and illness. While some difficulties completing your Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) may only be temporary, some deficits may be more long-term and if not addressed, may lead to further functional decline.
With the right mobility device you can maintain your independence, prevent falls and increase your activity levels all of which go a long way in contributing to you being able to stay in your own home, looking after yourself.
Here's our guide to 10 useful mobility aids that support independent living...
1. Wheelie Walker
One of the most commonly prescribed mobility aids, wheelie walkers (sometimes referred to as 4 Wheel Walkers, seat walkers or rollators) have many benefits:
- Providing stability for those suffering from decreased balance, helping to prevent falls
- Extra support for those who become short of breath while walking
- Most come with seats, providing a surface to rest on if required
- Maintain and improve community access, even if just for outdoor mobility
- A basket to hold items g. shopping or handbags
- Help to further the distance walked, increasing exercise tolerance
- Easy to use safety brakes
When choosing a wheelie walker, make sure it’s measured to the right height. Most are adjustable but they also come in different sizes so consider this when choosing the right one.
They also can have different wheels depending on what surface you will be navigating e.g. outdoor mobility, especially over curbs. Some are quite sturdy whereas others are more lightweight which is helpful if you’re needing to lift it up into the boot of a car.
2. Over Toilet Frame
Toilets are notorious for being difficult to stand up from. The low height of the seat and the absence of anything to hold/push up from mean they’re a fall waiting to happen. As people age, they lose muscle strength, especially in the thigh muscles, which are imperative for standing up. In addition, hip and knee joints may have restricted movement limiting the amount of bend. An over toilet frame increases the height of the surface as well as providing arm rests to push up from. They are adjustable, can be fitted for all heights and are especially beneficial for patients who have had hip replacements or spine surgery and are unable to bend their hip beyond 90 degrees.
3. Shower Stool
Showering can be an incredibly taxing activity. The combination of warm water, bending over and washing yourself can be very tiring. Add in wet, slippery bathroom floors and it’s no wonder so many falls happen in the bathroom. By sitting down to shower, not only are you conserving energy but also staying safe, and making it easier to dry your feet and legs, as well as getting dressed. Shower stools also have arms to push up from, just be careful that it’s place on level ground so it doesn’t tip. They can either have a back or a more-simple perching stool design depending on the amount of support needed.
4. Wheeled Shower Commode
This ultimate triple-threat in mobility aids, a wheeled shower commode can be used as a commode, over toilet frame and a shower chair. For people who can’t mobilise into the bathroom but still want a proper shower, they can transfer onto the chair, be wheeled over the toilet and then into the shower. It has brakes for safety so won’t move when you’re sitting down/standing up and also a back on it to lean back, making it a move supportive choice than a perching shower stool.
5. Pick-up Reacher / Grabber
This nifty gadget eliminates the need to bend over for items such as a rogue shoe or water bottle. The movements of bending, reaching and grabbing can be difficult due to hip pain, back pain, restricted shoulder movement, finger arthritis, balance issues or vertigo. With the easy grab handle you don’t need to lean over into precarious positions just to pick up the TV remote that fell on the floor, it makes the perfect helping hand.
6. Bedside Commode
Most falls happen when going to the toilet, especially overnight. Rushing to get there in time, perhaps in a dark room and being half asleep leads to an increase risk of falls. Having a commode by the bedside can assist with overnight toileting, eliminating the need to make the trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night, while still being able to walk to the bathroom during the day if able. Bladder frequency is a common concern with age, using a commode can help with energy conservation for those with significant shortness of breath or leg pain.
7. Grab Rails
Most commonly found in the shower, next to the toilet or perhaps alongside any stairs, grab rails provide a little bit of extra support, balance and confidence. Be careful not to pull up using the rails e.g. when standing up from the toilet, they should only be used as a support aid. Also, make sure they are correctly installed and won’t be pulled off the wall, as this could make them more of a hazard than a help.
It might seem drastic for some people who can still walk short distances, but a wheelchair can mean the difference between being house bound and being able to attend family functions, spectate at grandchildrens’ football games or even head to the local shopping centre. Wheelchairs help with energy conservation and also allow those with knee or hip pain to continue to access the community despite their walking potentially being restricted.
Feet can fluctuate in size over the course of a day, depending on many factors including fluid consumption and while loose comfy slippers may be an easy choice to get on your feet, they don’t offer much support and can contribute to falls. It might seem like such a small device, but a shoehorn can make a big difference to independent dressing. By holding the heel of the shoe out and allowing the foot to slip in easily, it saves the user from bending over and potentially getting their finger stuck under their heel.
10. Pendant alarm
One of the big fears had by people living alone is that if something were to happen such as a fall or a medical event, no one would know. Having a pendant alarm around your neck or wrist means you can alert a central call centre who will then contact your family or nominated emergency contact. This means that if you fall while in the bathroom, you can call for help even if you left your mobile phone charging in the kitchen!
This list is far from exhaustive but demonstrates how a few smart purchases can help you manage and function at home.
About the Author
Caroline Jones is an experienced physiotherapist and personal trainer based in Brisbane, QLD. She has over 14 years experience in a variety of roles.