Knowing about mobility aids and where to get them helps older adults maintain their independence, dignity, activity and wellbeing longer AND protects their carers from strain or injury.  I reveal the equipment we’ve valued over the years and how to access it, in case it can help you too.

Mobility and living aids

The discovery of targeted, older person living and mobility equipment has been transformational in helping us keep Marj supported at home.  We have either bought kit for Marj or gratefully received it on loan.  The aids available support getting in and out of bed, dressing, sitting comfortably, walking, preparing food and drink, eating and drinking, showering, going to the loo.

Marj brought her own walking stick with her.  This is an accessory with which you can express your personality, so go crazy (I love opera canes and crocodile handles myself).  Make sure it is the right height though, otherwise it is only good for gesticulating.

The first ‘enablement’ equipment was hastily bought and fitted grab rails to help steady Marj on slippery floors in her bathroom.

Then swiftly afterwards we installed a Saga pendant alarm so that Marj could call us when we were not close by.  We have made full use of this!  There are more and more ‘telecare’ products coming onto the market and being provided by Local Authorities (LAs) too.

The third thing we bought was a wheel chair. That was back in the day, before I realised that the height of the seat is as important as 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 which provides custom wheelchairs seemed overwhelmed and our need was urgent so I bought one on eBay.  If you need a wheelchair for indoor use and want to try the Bucks Wheelchair Service, you will need a referral through your Bucks GP. The Bucks Wheelchair Service can be contacted on 01494 734046 too.  (I did apply for Marj, but they never contacted me.)

Oxfordshire has a similar service if you are registered with an Oxon GP.

The ‘a bit too high’ wheelchair

Buckinghamshire County Council (our LA) Social Services sent an Occupational Therapist (OT) round to assess Marj who then loaned her a walking frame to help her get up and down from a seated position 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.

walking frame
Walking frame

Then the OT loaned us a ‘perching stool’ which helped Marj rest while making a cup of tea in the kitchen.  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.

adjustable step
Sofa ‘raisers’ and the adjustable step needed when seated
 A loaned wheeled, adjustable height commode ensures the loo is the right height for Marj too and doubles up as a versatile shower chair in a tight space.  The commode ‘bowl’ is repurposed for hand washing since the basin is now awkward for Marj to reach.
The commode

On 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.

ikea step
An Ikea step works well in tight areas

Loaned equipment for Marj’s bed, including a back rest and mattress elevator (which was then again compensated for by yet another adjustable step), was eventually replaced by a hospital bed with washable mattress.  The hospital bed is awesome in its useful maneuverability.  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.

hospital bed
Hospital bed (don’t let the kids on it, too fun!)

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, more practical now than the tray she used previously.

cantilevered table
The versatile cantilevered table.

As Marj’s standing strength faded, we tried a loaned rota stand, but Marj didn’t feel secure and refused to use it.  Fair enough.  This was eventually replaced by the most recent bit of kit loaned to Marj – the ‘Sarah 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. I should say that Marj didn’t take to it immediately as it is rather intimidating at first, but she is now very happy using it.  I’m going to shoot a video of it in use to show you how amazing it is.  I’ll insert a link here asap and alert you when it’s up.

The Sarah Stedy

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 will 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 that there is 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 Care Advice Buckinghamshire 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 as 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 are realising that investing more of the budget in supporting older people at home is of far lower cost in the long run than rehousing the same people in residential homes (I estimate it’s 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 as you’d expect).  These 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.

If you have the means, are not eligible for Social Services support or simply cannot wait, NRS also retail 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.  We certainly don’t become less interested in style just because we’re older.  Marj always asks me to return any new clothes that make her look old.  Living and mobility aids could do with a zhuzh in the style stakes – so come on product designers and innovators!

Impressed by their helpfulness to me 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 search function which revealed new aids that I didn’t know about before.  You can find NRS and other branded products on amazon too of course.

Your elder may well be eligible for VAT relief on things they need to buy, check here.

The NRS Safe and Well programme is an interesting 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 can help guide you) or buy a ‘Private’ OT visit for £99.  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 helpfully 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, but you would have to apply to Social Services and be seen again by their OT to confirm this. Because it’s a new service that is still bedding in, it currently varies in availability across the country.  However the good news is that it is available in Bucks, so do have a look at it.  The Safe and Well phone number is 0300 100 0247.

I hope this post helps identify the right equipment to support you and your elder.

If you already have experience, what living and mobility equipment have you found most helpful?  Please do let us know.

(No payment or value contribution was received from NRS for this post.)
PS, We’ve learned the hard way and from others how important it is to think carefully before any big private investment in ‘living aid’ kit eg stair lifts and digital hearing aids.  Thinking they would improve on her NHS provided hearing aids, we helped Marj buy new £3,000 hearing aids.  They were so small and fiddly, one was lost and never to be recovered, within a week.  What helped Marj’s hearing in the end, we were to discover, was a long overdue ear syringing, a visit to the NHS audiology department at Stoke Mandeville for a new hearing test, new ear moulds and tweaked hearing aids.  It took a while, but did do the trick very effectively and free of charge.
PPS, Do you have a challenging lifestyle or mobility issue that isn’t fixed by off-the-shelf solutions? Founded in 1964, Remap use their ingenuity and skills to build tailor made equipment for people who need it (free of charge). Remap is a national charity with regional panels, including one in Bucks so do get in touch with them.  Remap love to make things possible from ‘oven trolleys’ to ‘newspaper page turners’.