mobility

Wheelchair challenge – should you get one with turbo charge?

6 questions to ask before buying a scooter or wheelchair

For most of us, walking a few hundred metres is no big deal. We do it all the time. But for a lot of older adults, that’s simply not the case. Mobility is crucial for even the simplest of tasks.

For them, a trip to the corner shop, traipsing from one end of the supermarket to the other or even just going down the road to visit a neighbour can be painful, dangerous or simply inconceivable. According to the US National Institute of Health, 28 percent of adults aged 65-plus have difficulty walking 500m and 17 percent find it impossible.

So what to do when your ageing parent’s chronic condition such as back pain, loss of leg strength or arthritis makes it harder and harder to get around on his or her own steam? It might be time to consider a motorised mobility device.

A scooter or wheelchair can help your parent remain active, self-sufficient and connected to family and friends — all keys to preventing isolation and helping them live life to the full.

Shopping for a scooter or wheelchair can be overwhelming, so it’s important to know your options. Here are six questions to consider before buying:

Scooter or wheelchair?

First, you need to decide whether a scooter or wheelchair is most suitable for your parent.

Scooters tend to be cheaper, and that’s because they have more limitations. Operating one requires a certain amount of stamina, torso strength and arm and shoulder flexibility. Scooters don’t fit on all kinds of lifts, and they’re not designed for transferring patients in and out of bed or in and out of the shower. In addition, scooters aren’t designed for easy access to sinks and door handles.

If your parent can walk several steps and sit upright without support, a scooter is probably a good choice. If on the other hand, your mum or dad has trouble sitting up without support, a wheelchair is probably the way to go. If you have any doubts, talk through this decision with your parent’s doctor.

If you’ve decided on a scooter, you’re ready to move on to the next question.

How big?

Is your mum tiny? Is your dad huge? The weight of the person who will be using the scooter is a key consideration. Your parent’s weight — along with considering what he or she is likely to carry on the scooter — will help you narrow your list of choices.

Weight isn’t the only thing to think about. Smaller scooters tend to have less leg room, so if your mum or dad is tall, you might want to think bigger as well. A good rule of thumb is that those taller than 5-foot-5-inches should opt for a scooter that’s longer than 42 inches to ensure plenty of leg room.

How far will your parent go?

Smaller scooters tend to be easier to transport because they fit in a car trunk and manoeuvre well, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right choice.

Smaller scooters typically have cruising ranges of 10 miles. If your mum or dad is an on-the-go type, go for a larger scooter with a cruising range of up to 30 miles. And if your parent requires a larger scooter of the medium- or heavyweight variety, you’ll probably also need a car lift to move it from place to place.

What about wheels?

If your mum or dad is an outdoorsy type, consider a four-wheeler with rear-wheel drive, which provides more power and more stability over uneven terrain. Front-wheel-drive three-wheelers aren’t as stable, but they’re easier to navigate through smaller spaces because they have a smaller turning radius. Be sure to consider not only the turning radius but also the length, width and ground clearance of the scooters you’re scouting to make sure your parent will be able to navigate the environment easily.

Which mobility accessories?

A basket for groceries? A reacher for picking things up or flipping light switches? Mirrors? A way to accommodate an oxygen tank? Most scooters can be fitted with all sorts of accessories that emphasise accessibility. If you’ve done a thorough job of understanding how your parent will use his or her mobility device, accessorising should be easy.

Is it comfortable?

Once you know what you want, you’re ready to shop. Start online to find the vendors and stores in your area that carry the scooters that meet your criteria. Then it’s time to test drive.

At this point, the main consideration is comfort. In other words, don’t skimp on the seat, make sure the controls are easy for your parent to use and that the scooter is stable. If you take time to truly understand your parent’s needs, you’ll make a good choice. The last thing you want is to invest in a scooter that doesn’t get used — or worse, tips over or causes pressure sores because of poor padding. You’ll know you’ve found the right ride when your parent feels confident, comfortable and ready to hit the road.

Have you got experience of finding the right wheels for your parent or friend? Do you have any tips to share? Please join the conversation in Age Space Forum.