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Family Members, Friends, and Caring for People with Mobility Disabilities

  • Synopsis: Published: 2011-09-06 - Ways people can help family members who have a permanent or temporary disability involving mobility impairment - Wendy Taormina-Weiss.

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Issues involving mobility may present serious consequences for people, many times affecting their quality of life.

Approximately two-thirds of all accidents related to mobility issues involve falls and are the fifth leading cause of death among those who experience difficulty with mobility. Falls can be caused by mobility issues, bringing up a number of questions in the minds of not only those who have the potential to fall, but their family members and friends.

One of the most common questions that arise involves ways people can help a family member who has a temporary disability involving a mobility impairment.

People who experience a temporary form of mobility impairment, such as a broken leg, may want to recover at the home of a family member until they regain full-mobility. If the temporary mobility impairment is longer lasting, the person might want to hire a home health aide who can help them with things such as cleaning, shopping, cooking or other activities of daily living until they regain mobility.

People who are older who have a temporary form of mobility impairment may choose to enter an assisted living or long-term care facility while they heal. Others might decide to live with a family member until they regain their mobility. Still others choose to hire a home health aide to assist with activities of daily living and transportation services as needed.

The question of what devices may help a person with a mobility disability is perhaps best answered by a physician or an occupational therapist. Medical professionals who are educated about mobility aids can give the appropriate suggestions. Mobility aids are devices that can help a person to move around with more ease.

The aids can include items such as:

  • Canes
  • Walkers
  • Wheelchairs
  • Swivel seat cushions for the car
  • Risers - similar to a booster chair, for couches or chairs
  • Transfer discs or boards to help a person slide into or out of bed

When a person with a mobility impairment uses a wheelchair, family members often wonder if there are changes they can make to their homes to accommodate their loved one's wheelchair. There are a number of ways a home can be modified to make it more accessible for a person who uses a wheelchair. For example; ramps can be installed at entrances to homes instead of stairs.

Other modifications that can be made to homes to make them more accessible to a person using a wheelchair can include widening hallways to make it easier to navigate them. Showers can be modified so a wheelchair can roll into them, making sure they are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and ensuring there are grab bars in the shower as well. Raised toilets are more accessible, and making sure there are grab bars by the toilet makes them more accessible. Counters and sinks can be modified so they are at levels a person using a wheelchair can reach. Doorways in a home can be widened, and door handles instead of doorknobs that are easier to use can also be installed.

Another thing that can help a person with a mobility disability is a disability parking permit or license plate.

A disability parking permit or license plate allows a person to park in designated parking spots near to the entrance of buildings, making it easier for them to get inside. The permits can be obtained through the state department of motor vehicles. The application for the permit usually requires the signature of a doctor.

People with a mobility disability who have fallen one or more times often fear they will fall again, and family members and friends also question how they can help their loved one deal with this fear. One of the ways to approach this realistic fear is to have a trained professional such as a home care agency or a care manager evaluate the person's home to ensure that it is as, 'fall proof,' as possible. The process most likely will involve actions to include:

  • Installing grab bars in bathrooms
  • Removal of all clutter from floors
  • Ensuring any smaller rugs do not slide on floors
  • Replacing stairs to doors with a graduated slope
  • Putting up banisters next to steps that do not have them
  • Making sure lighting is bright enough in entrances and staircases
  • Clearing hallways and passageways, particularly from the bed to the bathroom

People with certain forms of mobility disabilities can also pursue exercises to improve their sense of balance.

A physical or occupational therapist trained to assist people with disabilities to function in either a home or work environment can help them to learn the appropriate exercises. A physical therapist can teach a person with a mobility disability how to fall safely and get up after a fall. Practicing these techniques can help a person to overcome the fear of falling.

Some people with mobility disabilities experience a certain amount of frustration over mobility issues, quite understandably.

Family members and friends often question how they can help their loved one, and there are some different ways. A support group is one way to deal with the frustration that can arise in relation to a mobility disability. Sharing the sense of frustration, as well as strategies for coping with the situations that cause the frustration can certainly help.

People with mobility disabilities have also benefited from practicing relaxation techniques.

The techniques help to decrease a person's level of anxiety while boosting their immune system. Speaking with a person about the various relaxation techniques available can help them to find one that is comfortable for them. If the frustration or anxiety persists, another option is to ask a doctor for anxiety medication.

Family members and friends of people with mobility disabilities often times express concern about their family member who has an uncertain gait, or seems frail, and wonder what they can do to help them. There are movement exercises that can help people with mobility disabilities to strengthen their muscles and bones while decreasing balance issues. The exercises require a level of patience on the parts of both the person with the disability and the family member or friend because they must be done carefully and safely. The exercises may be done with the assistance of a family member/friend, or with a walker. A home health aide can also assist with the exercises.

A discussion with a health care provider can help everyone involved to learn the appropriate exercises, but it is important that everyone involved know how to perform them properly. If family members or friends live far away, the person with the mobility disability needs to find someone to help them do the exercises, or a family member/friend can. Encouragement is important because it can strengthen the resolve of everyone involved.

Family members and friends can ask the doctor to arrange for someone to show them how to help the person with a mobility disability around appropriately. The person might be a visiting nurse, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, or a social worker. These health care personnel may also assist with arrangements for obtaining durable medical equipment such as a walker or wheelchair.

It is important for family members and friends to help a person with a mobility disability with heavy loads such as laundry, groceries, or carrying out the trash. If family members or a friend is not available to help with these tasks, it is important to find someone to help with them.

Sometimes, people with mobility disabilities experience depression, and family members or friends wonder what they can do to help. There are some specific things family members/friends can do, such as first validating their loved one's frustration and sadness. A mobility disability is a major change in life. Family members can help by thinking of different ways for the person with a disability to see their friends, such as inviting them to their home instead of meeting them elsewhere, or helping the person to get to a social event. Family members/friends can also ensure their loved on receives successful treatment for depression if necessary.



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