More people of all ages are using mobility scooters, walking frames, and walking sticks. Once ugly and institutional, today's most popular aids are colourful, attractive, and have appealing features. Find the equipment that's best for you with advice from Auckland's Independent Living Centre.
We’ve all noticed an increase in the number of people using mobility scooters, and for good reason. A mobility scooter can greatly improve your lifestyle by allowing you to be independent, and to go out and do what you want, when you want, without being reliant on others. If you are still driving but only use your car for local journeys such as shopping, going to the library, attending a social or recreational group or visiting friends, a mobility scooter could be an ideal, cheaper alternative.
New mobility scooters cost from $1800 to $4000 for a small or lightweight scooter, $3500 to $4500 for a mid-size model, and $4500 to $6000 for a large scooter. Second-hand scooters may be a cheaper alternative, though repair and maintenance costs may be higher, depending on the age and condition of the scooter. Some suppliers offer leasing and hire purchase options. Inquire when shopping for your new scooter.
Mobility scooters run on two maintenance-free batteries. When charging, they use about the same amount of electricity as a 100watt light bulb. Apart from any repair and maintenance costs, the only other expenditure to keep your scooter running smoothly may be for replacement batteries. Batteries generally last for two to three years depending on scooter usage. New batteries currently cost in the region of $220 to $280.
Safety out and about
- Have a flag on your scooter to increase your visibility to other road users. You may also consider wearing a high visibility jacket or putting one over the back of the seat, so motorists and other road users can see you.
- It's a good idea to carry a mobile phone in case of emergencies, and to have a membership with AA or another emergency breakdown service in case you need help when you are out and about.
- It is advisable for people to insure their mobility scooter or power chair. This can normally be done by listing the equipment on your household insurance policy. Contact your insurer for advice.
- Mobility scooters and power chairs should only be used on the pavement, not on the road. When crossing roads, use a pedestrian of the road you are to cross has a 'curb cut' so you don't have to drive along the road to get back up onto the pavement.
- Before going on long journeys always make sure that your scooter or power chair is fully charged.
- When going over obstacles like speed bumps, always go straight over (not at an angle); keep the speed down so you have more control.
Power or Electric Wheelchairs
Power chairs are ideal for indoor use or for short outdoor journeys where the terrain is not too rough. Electric wheelchairs are designed for indoor use or outside on good terrain. Being rear wheel drive, they can be easier to handle for people with poor or slow coordination, as they are not as sensitive to subtle joystick movements as power chairs. Electric chairs cost from $3500 to about $5000. Power chairs are mid-wheel driven and are easy to manoeuvre, a major consideration in indoor environments or when using in public spaces and on public transport. They tend to be quite sensitive to movement of the joystick, so require a degree of user steadiness and coordination. There are three basic types of power chair: indoor use only (prices around $2800 to $3000); indoor use but can be used outdoors (prices $4500 to $6000); or outdoor use but can be used indoors (prices $6000 to $15,000).
If you are able to walk but need support, somewhere to sit down to have a rest at times, and something that is easy to transport in a vehicle, a walker is the ideal option. Four-wheel walkers are very popular and are equipped with brakes, a seat, a back rest, and a handy carry bag or basket. They normally come with either 6 inch or 8 inch wheels and range in price from $150 to $460, depending on brand and features. The models with 6 inch wheels are ideal for indoor use or on smooth surfaces like the corridors in shopping malls. However, you may feel some ‘judder’ when using these walkers on rougher surfaces such as pavements. Walkers with 8 inch wheels are a good choice for outdoor use, as the larger wheels enable smoother travel. Four-wheel walkers are the best choice for people who have balance problems, with three wheels. The seats on these walkers also allow you to sit down and rest if needed (we all when you need one)! Walkers are designed to provide support when walking and to act as a seat (brakes should be locked while seated). On no account should a person be pushed along whilst sitting on a walker; if the walker should hit an obstacle such as a hole or stone, the walker and the person sitting on it could go over backwards. Three-wheel walkers have brakes and a bag but no seat, and range in price from $195 to $330. They are good for providing support when walking, so long as the person does not have balance issues or require a seat to take a rest. They are also good for shopping and fold to fit in a vehicle or for travel.
These come in many varieties to suit every need and personal taste. Traditional wooden walking sticks, priced from $25 to $30 for basic models, are made from various kinds of wood and may be plain or carved. A drawback is that you cannot adjust their height. Height adjustable aluminium walking sticks, priced from $30 to more than $200 for designer brands, are becoming the walking stick of choice for many people. Their primary advantage is that their height can be tailored for the user, an important consideration if you wear different height shoes. Folding walking sticks, priced from $30 to $40 for a basic model, are good if you only need this support occasionally or when travelling, as they easily fit into a purse or carry bag. Check the rubber ferrule on the end of your walking stick regularly, as it will wear with use and need replacing. A new ferrule costs around $5. Once the base of the ferrule is worn, your walking stick will lose its grip and you will be at risk of sliding, particularly on smooth, wet surfaces; it is like driving a car with bald tyres!
There are three main styles of handles on walking sticks.
- T-handle Provides a comfortable grip, and a wrist strap is a useful addition so that you can have both hands free when out shopping.
- Crook handle Larger, softer foam grip handle that is good for people with large hands, people with a poor grip or who can’t easily close their hands. The crook handle also means that it can be hooked over your arm so you have both hands free for doing other tasks.
- Swan neck sticks The offset shaft allows the user's weight to be evenly distributed centrally over the shaft and base of the walking stick.
When choosing a walking stick, it is important that your walking stick be the correct height for you to gain maximum benefit and to allow your posture to remain symmetrical. A stick that is not the right height will result in incorrect posture and can lead to physical injury, particularly to the shoulder. To calculate the correct height of your walking stick:
Stand with your arms relaxed by your side wearing your usual shoes.
Look in a mirror to locate the bump of bone on the little finger side of your wrist, or ask someone to help you.
The height of this bone is the location for the top of the walking stick handle. This should allow for your elbow to be slightly bent (about 30 degrees of flexion) when holding the stick.
Are you eligible for funding assistance?
If finances are a bit tight, Lottery Grants Board funding may be an option. The Lottery Grants Board allocates grants to people with mobility related impairments for the purchase of vehicles, vehicle modifications, mobility scooters and other mobility equipment that will provide outdoor mobility, enabling them to achieve independence and gain access to their communities. Priority for funding is awarded where transport is required to:
- Improve independence in day to day living
- Provide access to the community
- Maintain a person’s presence/mana in the community
- Ensure family coherence
- Enable activities during the school day
- Enable personal shopping
- Transport medical or rehabilitation equipment
- Help prevent career instability or vulnerability
- Pursue community activities.
Funding applications may be made at any time. Contact your local Disability Resource Centre for an application form. Further information and a downloadable application form are available at the Lottery Grants Board website. If your application is successful, the Lottery Grants Board will ask you to have a needs assessment with an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist. For mobility scooters this involves:
- An interview
- A trial of suitable scooters
- Training about how to operate and use the scooter
- A home visit to ensure that the scooter is appropriate for your environment.
If you live in Auckland, visit the Independent Living Service showroom at 14 Erson Avenue, Royal Oak or 308 Te Irirangi Drive, Botany. Independent Living Service offers mobility scooter demonstrations in your home. Phone 0800 625 100 for further information.