There has been a recent focus on assistive devices (specifically walking aides). Choosing an assistive device can be a very difficult decision. What is the best way to make a decision on an assistive device?
First, let’s define ‘assistive device’. While most of the recent focus has been on walking aides, an assistive device can also include equipment or devices which help with transfers, bed mobility and even driving. Equipment such as grab bars, tub benches, sliding boards and hand controls for driving are also assistive devices. Walking aides may include a cane, walker and/or braces.
How do I choose and assistive device?
Often an assistive device will be recommended by someone who is part of your healthcare team and they can help you with the decision. If not, it can be very helpful to receive advice from a physical or occupational therapist who knows what is available and may best fit your needs. There are many considerations including size, weight, ease of use and reimbursement.
What do I need to consider when choosing an assistive device?
There are many considerations when choosing an assistive device. A major consideration is the environment. This may include the physical layout of the location where you will be using the assistive device (i.e. home, office) as well as things like the size of rooms and storage of the equipment. In addition, it is important to determine whether or not the assistive device can be used independently or requires assistance from someone else.
When do I need to consider an assistive device?
This is often the most difficult decision. Many people feel as if they are ‘losing’ independence when using an assistive device, when in fact the purpose is to increase independence. This can create a difference of opinion of when someone (usually a healthcare professional or family member) recommends use of an assistive device and when the person for whom it has been recommended believes they need an assistive device. A simple rule of thumb on when to choose an assistive device should be related to maximizing of independence, safety and often fatigue management. This may include deficits in balance or weakness which impact the above mentioned areas.
Where do I obtain an assistive device?
Since there are many options for assistive devices, where you go to obtain the equipment is extremely important. Speak to your physician, nurse or rehabilitation professional. They can often provide you with reputable vendors in your area. Many of these devices require proper fitting and sizing so buying ‘off the shelf’ may not be prudent. Also, some insurance companies have limitations on what you can obtain so you need to work closely with someone who has experience working with people diagnosed with MS. Your needs may change and you want, if at all possible, equipment that can adapt those changes.
In summary, choosing an assistive device is something that should include a team approach. Don’t enter the decision alone, but use the expertise of those around you to help you make the appropriate decision to maximize your independence, safety and energy management. Know your options, research your choices and ask questions.