What to know when buying a wheelchair

Many people are able to enhance their mobility through the use of a manual or power wheelchair or motorized scooter. Part of my job as an occupational therapist is to assess the mobility and functional needs of individuals to determine which device is the best fit for them.

It’s a highly personal and important decision. Most insurers will pay only for one device, once every five years. That is why it’s important to choose the right piece of equipment.

Patients can get a respectful, expert, caring, comprehensive evaluation of their needs at our clinic at Rehabilitation Services at Springside Plaza in Glasgow. We take a detailed look at the patient’s needs. What equipment has he or she had in the past? What is the patient’s long-term prognosis? What daily activities or life roles have become difficult or impossible because of a mobility deficit?

Each person we see is a unique individual. Some are elderly and have disabilities associated with aging. Others are young and have suffered spinal cord injuries.

We schedule an hour and a half for an evaluation. We look at range of motion, strength, balance, posture and other factors. Can the patient walk? If so, how far? Does it hurt to walk? Does the individual need a special cushion to prevent pressure wounds? Often patients can try out a particular device during the evaluation, to see if it’s right for them.

Someone who breaks a leg might need a wheelchair for only a short time to make it easier to get around. But many people will use their wheelchair as a primary means of mobility for the rest of their lives.

It can be humbling to admit that you need a wheelchair. It can be scary to look five years into the future if you are suffering from a degenerative illness.

We help patients through the process. What are your goals? What is your lifestyle? What is your home environment like? The best wheelchair in the world won’t do someone any good if there is no way to get it in and out of the house or if it doesn’t help them do what they want to do in life.

There are a lot of myths out there. The days when people could order a scooter from a store with no money down are gone.

Typically, Medicare will pay for 80 percent of a mobility device. Often, patients have supplemental insurance that pays the rest. Your doctor will need to produce documentation that says you need a mobility device.

We work with a variety of high-quality vendors, which means patients have lots of options. For example, some of the higher-level powered chairs are equipped with Bluetooth technology that controls such tasks around the house as turning lights on and off or turning on the TV.

A scooter is a good choice for someone who can walk but needs assistance to go longer distances. That might include people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arthritis, heart problems or and the earlier stages of multiple sclerosis.

Scooters are essentially off-the-shelf, whereas wheelchairs can be highly customized. Some patients benefit from having both devices, however insurance will only pay for one. Some people choose to self-pay for a mobility device.

We are here to help patients make the best choice in preserving their mobility and to help them navigate the complex and sometimes confusing process of obtaining a power chair, manual wheelchair or scooter. To make an appointment, call 302-838-4700.