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Afraid to Try a Mobility Aid? I Was Too.

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My mom is 80 and has a lot of trouble walking. Pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, I would love to be able to take her to events and places that we can enjoy together. But I can’t physically assist her because of my own disabilities. She has finally started using a cane full-time, but only because she is completely unable to get anywhere without it. She also has a rollator, which would give her and me the freedom of going on outings, but she very rarely uses it, especially in public places. This severely limits our activity choices.

Almost every time I have asked others to help encourage her to use her rollator more often, I’m met with resistance. Pretty much every time the response is that when elderly people start using rollators, they quickly deteriorate. My guess is most likely due to emotional and psychological factors involved in needing one. But um… wait. What?

How sad. This may very well be a common occurrence, but…

It doesn’t have to be. Like with many other issues and things, we need a perspective change.

From my own experiences with mobility aids, I understand the mental and emotional struggles. After over a year of intense pain in my back, SI joints, hips, etc. I wondered if a cane might be necessary. So for the next month, I struggled with the following questions:

Do I really need one?
What will other people think?
Will my doctors think I’m being ridiculous?
How will my friends and family feel about my cane?
Will I embarrass my middle schooler if I use my cane during school functions?
Will people think I’m too young for a cane?
Am I overexaggerating my physical disabilities?
How do I even use a cane?
How will I carry things?
Etc. etc.

I read a comment posted recently by one of the insightful disability activists I follow. I wish I could remember which person so I could give them proper credit. But basically, they said, “If you are wondering if you would benefit from a mobility aid, you probably would.” That is such a great perspective shift.

After a month of thinking and worrying and agonizing and talking with my therapist, in December 2018, I finally ordered my first cane – a super cute walking stick by Switch Sticks.

For the first week, I used it only around my house. And I watched a lot of YouTube videos about how to properly use a cane. First, because I’ve always been a very uncoordinated person, and I needed a lot of practice. But also because I was still so very worried about what other people would think. I was 41 and otherwise healthy-looking on the outside.

Finally, I ventured outside of my house with it. I took it to my therapy appointment. That was quite the achievement! And I’ve never looked back. I know this is not everyone’s experience, but I actually received only positive comments. “That cane is so cute! I have MS and have been looking for one. Where did you get it?” “You are the most adorable cane user I have ever seen!” And lots more comments and love in real life and on social media. Many thanks to those who helped me on my journey! Even the curious questions: “Do you mind me asking why at your age you need a cane?” I use these as opportunities to educate about psoriatic arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

Since that time I have taken advice from my physical therapist and switched to an arm crutch. This change was no big deal for me (minus being sad about trading in my super cute stick). And it’s easier on my hands, elbows, and shoulders.

I also added a rollator to my mix of mobility aids in 2019 and a wheelchair in 2020. My rollator was really hard at first too. But, I’m so thankful for my physical therapist who gave me the “permission” I needed to get my rollator. And now I gladly use it just about every day. I can no longer carry the gear needed for my job – laptop, medical supplies, etc. It’s a lot, and so much easier now that I can put it on my rollator and wheel it and myself from my car to my office.

My wheelchair is another transition that I’m still working through. And I don’t need it very often, especially since starting Remicade infusions. Mostly in the mornings at my house before my joints and tendons warm up. I worry though about the stares from people, how my family feels about it, and whether I really need it. But, on my birthday this past year, I finally ventured out of my house with it. My husband took me to Baltimore City, and after a night of fun (just going to a restaurant – not anything super wild), the next morning was tricky for me. And my wheelchair was so very helpful that morning for breakfast at the hotel and then the trek from the hotel to our car in the parking garage. And then I used it again for an errand run on our way home. Go me! I’m really proud of myself for that. Both were successful experiences.

In short, mobility aids have been so very empowering for me and have helped bring more joy and opportunities into my life. I would have missed out on a lot without them. They allow me to keep up with the job and other activities I love. I am able to care better for my family. So, I present some more helpful questions to ask yourself when considering a mobility aid (even for the elderly):

Am I missing out on fun events because of my mobility issues?
Would mobility aids give me more freedom?
Could I do more and/or go more places with the use of mobility aids?
What would my life look like if I wasn’t concerned about what others think?
Am I often relying on the help of significant others because I don’t want to use a mobility aid?
Am I considering the use of mobility aids? If so, they would likely be helpful.

What other questions can you think of that would be helpful to add to this list? Leave your ideas in a comment.

This story originally appeared on Chronically Fabulous Therapist.

Originally published: November 12, 2021
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