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Sometimes, the low-tech approach is still the best alternative when it comes to ambulation. Today, walkers, standers and canes are still go-to solutions that help people compensate for functions their body cannot perform; they offer the support not only for movement, but also for a person to travel from point A to point B without depending on others.
The keys to mobility
Getting from point A to point B is not something most of us have to plan for. But, for people with Cerebral Palsy, enjoying the kind of mobility required to get to school, work, and around town can be an undertaking that requires multiple interventions.
Depending on a person’s form of Cerebral Palsy and the nature of its severity, increasing mobility can be as simple as providing a walking cane, or as complex as enduring surgical interventions that allow a person to have balance, or correct gait, or be comfortably seated in a wheelchair. Mobility is the main concern of those with Cerebral Palsy and stands as a common issue across those diagnosed.
But how can mobility be adequately addressed for a child, whose body is constantly, growing and changing? Although Cerebral Palsy is not a condition that is progressive, a growing body is one that changes; ancillary conditions can worsen. Also, on the upside, a child’s therapeutic regimen can help develop a child’s musculature, which increases strength, dexterity, and endurance. This may help a child minimize the need for mobility devices.
The bottom line is that what works when a child is five may not work when that child turns 15. Like so many aspects of life with Cerebral Palsy, there are unexpected developments. But one fact that a parent can take to the bank is that, as a child grows, they will use more than one mobility device.
There are many devices on the market today; from wheelchairs to scooters to standers to canes, each having their own set of benefits and drawbacks. Here are some guidelines to help parents determine what types of aids might be best suited for their child.
Walkers, standers, braces and canes
If a child does not need a wheelchair or a scooter, he or she may be better suited for any number of mobility devices, including but not limited to walkers, braces, canes and standers.
Walkers – Walkers come in two varieties; one has wheels and the other does not. Some walkers are built to partially encase a body while the user props their arms against it to move it forward. To use a walker, a child will need to have some semblance of upper body strength and coordination, but because of the walker’s design, people with poor balance can use one safely. Walkers are a highly-useful mobility device because they can be adjusted to accommodate a child’s height, and they generally fit through doorways and store easily at home or in a vehicle.
Braces – Braces are another mode of mobility that can provide for an active lifestyle and increase a child’s participation in activities. Braces attach to a child’s back, arms and legs, providing for stability in areas of the body which need assistance. Also called orthotic devices, braces can give a child and ability to stand and ambulate, though they are often used in conjunction with other mobility devices.
Canes – Canes can also be a useful tool in helping children achieve mobility. They can be adjusted for a child’s height, and can be used on the side of the body that a child needs to compensate for. The cane offers functionality and stability that can be used indoors and outdoors, making it one of the most versatile aids on the market today.
There are several types of canes, including heavy-duty canes that are designed to support a person’s entire body weight as they move, folding canes which can be folded into small units that can be stored in a bag or briefcase, and canes that have non-slip pronged ends that bring additional stability to person as the move. Canes are also made of several materials, including metal, titanium, Lucite, aluminum and wood. Grips can be made of rubber, or other materials, to enhance a user’s grip if needed.
If a child is in school and would benefit from being able to stand for longer periods of time in class, it might be a good idea to look into a stander. A device that support’s a user’s weight while he or she is in an upright position, the stander helps provide stability where there is none, and can remove pressure and pain an individual feels if they stand for too long. There are additional benefits of using a stander, including increased bladder function, prevention of ulcers and contractures and the encouragement of participation among users.
Mobility, in addition to brain development, is always a parent’s priority after a child receives a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. Finding the right mobility devices, or combined use of mobility devices, can be a challenge. But once the right equipment is located and procured, it can make a world of difference to a child.
Scooters and lifts
One alternative to a wheelchair is a power scooter. A scooter is a mode of mobility that a user operates by driving it; the scooter moves forward and in reverse like a small vehicle. It can be easily maneuvered into small places because of its relatively small size, but because of it weight, it can be difficult to travel with unless it has fold-down capabilities.
Generally there are three types of scooters, including three-wheel, four-wheel and portable. Depending on the style, weight, and design of a scooter, it might be best suited for indoor or outdoor use.
All scooters are endowed with some excellent features, including swivel seating making getting on and off the scooter easier for people with mobility challenges. The seats have arm rests, and typically have storage baskets affixed to either the front, or the back, of the scooter.
Three-wheel scooters, because they weigh somewhat less than their four-wheel counterparts, are easier to maneuver into tight spots, yet are stable enough to have a weight capacity of anywhere between 300 to 500 pounds.
Although three-wheel scooters are intended for indoor use, four-wheel scooters are meant for outdoor use because they are more stable, and have the ability to remain upright even when traveling over rough terrain. These chairs also might accommodate a person with a larger frame better than a model with three wheels because they have a wider wheel base.
Portable scooters are those that fold down, making them easy to transport. These scooters can also be disassembled and reassembled, which means they can fit into vehicle compartments easily.
Another essential mobility device is a patient lifter, which helps individuals transport themselves from room to room. These lifts, operated manually or by battery power, can be immensely helpful in rooms where a wheelchair cannot be operated, such as rooms that are adjacent, but on different elevations.
Heavy duty manual lifts are operated hydraulically, which helps a caregiver because it provides operations that are nearly weightless. These lifts are best used in rooms that are not easily accessible by wheelchair or by walker. Power lifters operate using the same principles, but are powered using electricity or battery power. These, because of how they are powered, are easier for users to operate without the assistance of a caregiver.
Lifts come in several styles; from slings to seats to platforms. The design that will work best for a child is dependent on several factors, the most important of which is his or her level of natural ability.
The most visible of all mobility devices, the wheelchair is used when a person does not have any ability to move their legs, or their ability to move their legs in a meaningful way is compromised. There are two types of wheelchairs – power and manual chairs.
There are some components that wheelchairs have. All wheelchairs have arm rests; in some cases, these fold down to streamline moving from the chair to other seating. Many have adjustable height options to accommodate for a child’s height. Leg rests can be in a fixed position or may be removable.
The standard seat length of a chair is typically 15 inches, but a shorter chair can be purchased that allows a person to get closer to tables and desks. A standard seat is constructed out of 1.5-inch vinyl, but supplemental seats are available. These gel-filled “comfort cushions” are recommended for people who spend more than two hours daily in a chair; they feel much better to users and are sized depending on a person’s weight.
The most basic of wheelchairs is called a standard chair. This chair is typically stripped-down, with only a handful of extras such as foot rests. It is most often propelled when another person pushes it forward.
Manual chairs are also self-operated by a user’s arms, which propel the chair forward. This chair is easy to operate, but is best suited for a child that has a lot of upper-body strength and control. Often, manual chairs will have some extra features, like a reclining seat or fold-down arms that can make transferring to conventional seating much easier. These chairs fold down for easy storage and are lightweight, which is an attractive benefit if a person travels by automobile or bus.
Another type of chair is a power wheelchair. These chairs have a motor that powers it, propelling it forward without the use of a child’s arms. Typically, a chair will have a switch that can be activated to turn the chair on.
Ultra-light wheelchairs have also been introduced into the marketplace. These chairs are composed mostly of titanium, which provides a sturdy and lightweight alternative to traditional manual chairs. They can weigh as little as 20 pounds but have a weight capacity of up to 250 pounds.
Power wheelchairs are best suited for people that have little use of their arms; their chief advantage is that they are more comfortable, and they can move a user from place to place very quickly. They have all of the features that an advanced manual wheelchair would have – such as arm and leg rests that traverse. They can move forward and backwards, and once an individual masters how to use the chair, can be easily maneuvered into place.
Most often, people consider the power wheelchair to be the best option because of its ease of use. But there are some drawbacks. The chair is typically heavy, weighing in at 200 to 300 pounds, which can be difficult to travel with if a family does not have a vehicle that can accommodate the chair.
If a user spends a lot of time outside, he or she may consider an indoor/outdoor power chair, which has large, rugged 12-inch or 16-inch wheels that perform well on outdoor surfaces. These chairs, because of their size, may not be as easy to maneuver, however.
A wheelchair is one of the most useful solutions for mobility issues. Although many people perceive a wheelchair as something than can limit a user, the right chair can open up a world of mobility options that didn’t exist before.
It’s hard to find an aspect of life that is not touched in some way by technology. For people with disabilities, technological advances offer opportunities for inclusion in every aspect of life – home, school, work, and play. Assistive technology breaks down the barriers that include activity limitations and participation restriction. These advances form the nerve center of the disability movement – equal opportunity.