Knowing about mobility aids and where to get them helps older adults maintain independence, dignity, activity and wellbeing longer AND protects their carers from strain or injury. I reveal the mobility aids we’ve valued over the years and how to access them.
Mobility aids and living aids
Living aids and mobility aids have transformed how we support Marj at home. We have either bought kit for Marj or gratefully received it on loan. The aids her get in and out of bed, dress, sit comfortably, walk, prepare food and drink, eat and drink, shower and go to the loo.
Marj had brought her own walking stick with her. This is an accessory you can express your personality through, so get creative (I love opera canes and crocodile handles myself). Make sure it is the right height though, otherwise it’s only good for gesticulating.
Our first ‘enablement’ equipment was hastily bought and included fitting grab rails to help steady Marj on slippery floors in her bathroom.
Swiftly afterwards we installed a Saga pendant alarm so Marj could call us when we weren’t close by. We have made full use of this! There are more and more ‘telecare’ products nowadays and they’re being provided by Local Authorities (LAs) too.
The third thing we bought was a wheelchair. That was before I realised that the height of the seat is as important as the width, so do check height. It’s a bit hard for Marj to get in and out of as it’s a bit high and she is petite, but we get by.
The Buckinghamshire Wheelchair Service provides custom wheelchairs but seemed overwhelmed. Our need was urgent so I bought one on eBay.
Oxfordshire has a similar service if you’re elder is registered with an Oxon GP.
Buckinghamshire County Council (our LA) Social Services sent an Occupational Therapist (OT) round to assess Marj. The OT loaned her a walking frame to help her get up and down from chairs and to walk across the room. Marj’s first frame had a caddy to help Marj move cups of tea and meals (this was returned when she no longer needed it). This is a picture of her most recent frame.
The OT then loaned us a ‘perching stool’ which helped Marj rest while making a cup of tea. It was returned as Marj got less mobile and I came to use it more than Marj!
Loaned sofa ‘raisers’ help Marj get on and off her (too low) but favourite sofa more easily. Because of the higher sofa when seated, Marj needs a height-adjustable step, to stop her legs swinging mid-air.
On the subject of creative repurposing, this old Ikea bought step is lightweight and easy to move around in the tight space of a bathroom (important if you are to protect your back). It helps Marj push herself back on the commode.
Loaned equipment for Marj’s bed, including a backrest and mattress elevator (which was then again compensated for by yet another adjustable step), was eventually replaced by a hospital bed with a washable mattress. The hospital bed is awesome in its useful manoeuvrability. Getting Marj in and out of bed and positioned comfortably without strain is a massive help and hugely appreciated. It immediately eased Marj’s legs which often ached at night too.
A loaned slippy satin base sheet (shown on the bed above) allows Marj to use her legs to push herself up the bed when getting in. This is both time liberating and cost-reducing because only one person is needed to help Marj in and out of bed now (doubling up on people is expensive if you are ‘self-funding’ and need the support of professional care workers). The satin sheet helps carers and care workers look after their back and is great exercise for Marj’s legs. We had used a slip sheet previously, but with only moderate success. In better-trained hands I’ve seen them work well though.
We bought a cantilevered table from amazon which makes it easier for Marj to eat on the sofa. The tray she used previously now tends to slip off her lap.
Moving from place to place
As Marj’s standing strength faded, we tried a loaned ‘rotator stand’, but Marj didn’t feel secure and refused to use it. Fair enough. This was replaced by the most recent bit of kit loaned to Marj – the ‘Sara Stedy stand and transfer aid’. After the commode and hospital bed, this is the second most awesome bit of kit. It has made ‘moving and handling’ or ‘transfers’ as the care profession say (can’t help noticing how this language also applies to the carriage of luggage) much easier. Marj didn’t take to it immediately as it is rather intimidating at first, but she’s now very happy using it. Here’s my Sara Stedy video showing how amazing it is.
As you’ll have noticed, the majority of our equipment is on loan. In Buckinghamshire, the gateway into this support service is through Older Adult Social Services. You’ll likely need to complete and submit a self-assessment first (or every 3 months or so as self-assessments do go out of date). Your GP or District Nurse may be able to help you if your need is urgent. Older Adult Social Services can also be reached on 01296 383204. Bear in mind there’s a very long waiting list for an OT referral, so don’t leave it late. If you would like to investigate this service, visit the same website for up to date information and guidance.
Once your Social Services application has been cleared as eligible, an OT will be assigned to your ‘case’. An OT is a professional who helps people carry out everyday activities that are essential for health and wellbeing. The OT visits and assesses the older person to see how they manage (or not) with everyday activities in their home. Prepare for your elder to suddenly appear able and fit as a flea. Quite impressive actually. For this reason, take the OT aside before the assessment, or better still, be there to clarify anything.
The OT then writes a report which recommends proportionate, helpful equipment and once approved, in Bucks, NRS is contracted to supply and deliver the equipment.
Why is this service provided? LAs know that investing more of the budget in supporting older people at home is far less of an investment in the long run than rehousing the same people in residential homes. Estimates put it at around a quarter of the cost.
Companies like NRS contract to supply living and mobility equipment to LAs based on product functionality and price (they tend to be the more basic items). The aids are loaned by Social Services OTs via NRS delivery to eligible users. When you no longer need the aids, NRS collect them for refurbishment and reuse.
Buying mobility aids yourself
If you have the means, are not eligible for Social Services support or simply cannot wait, NRS also sell over 3,000 product lines to people who either do not qualify for social support or would like a product with more function or style. Living and mobility aids could certainly do with a zhuzh in the style stakes – so come on product designers and innovators!
Impressed by their helpfulness through the Bucks Social Services (they also service Marj’s hospital bed), I tried out the NRS website recently. I particularly liked their ‘search by room’ website function which revealed new aids that I didn’t know about before. You can find NRS and other branded products on amazon and at other stores too.
Your elder may well be eligible for VAT relief on things they need to buy, check here.
The NRS Safe and Well programme is a new service from NRS for those who cannot or would rather not wait to see a Social Services OT (wait times can be long). Through this programme, you can buy what you need direct (an online questionnaire or telephone helpline helps guide you) or buy a ‘Private’ OT visit for £165 (at Feb 2022). The Private OT visits you, identifies the equipment you need and writes a report which you can use to source aids privately. The NRS Safe and Well service recommends local stores you can try and buy the aids from too. The Private OT will also be able to identify whether you may be eligible for Social Services support or not. You would have to apply to Social Services and be seen again by their OT to confirm this.
What living and mobility aids have you found most helpful? Please do let us know.