Tackling the stigma that surrounds the use of mobility aids in later life
Growing older is inevitable and it comes with many changes and challenges that are unique to everyone. Health and mobility can deteriorate and require more management as we age, and this can be overwhelming for many people. Some may welcome mobility aids and devices that help them to take on everyday tasks or offer support to get them around the house, but others may resist the use of mobility aids, especially in public spaces.
As occupational therapists, you will most likely have experienced a patient or client who is unsure or unwilling to accept the assistance of a mobility aid, and it can be challenging to translate the incredible benefits that many devices can make to a person’s life.
Social stigma is the main contributing factor to people’s resistance around using mobility aids and it is embedded in our society. Concerns around discrimination, or being seen as inferior or weak plagues the minds of many older people, who worry that as they age they will be treated differently or written off completely by society or even those close to them.
The truth is that mobility aids and assistive devices are empowering, and occupational therapists are in the perfect position to help guide older people towards their use and educate them on the life-changing benefits offered by them.
The range of mobility aids, assistive technology and daily living products available on the market today is astounding. The advancement in technology over the last decade has enabled product designers and manufacturers to create products that not only empower people to live their life as independently as possible, but the appearance of these products has also been considered.
Gone are the days of clinical looking devices that only serve a functional purpose, nowadays we are treated to a range of walking aids, wheelchairs, crutches and rollators that look stylish, come in a range of colours and have increased functionality to suit the user.
This recognition across the industry that mobility devices should be more aesthetically appealing, has helped to lift the stigma that surrounds ageing and the use of mobility products. Recognising that anyone who requires the use of a mobility device in their life should at least have the choice of choosing a product that suits their style and taste helps to make people feel a bit of autonomy over their life.
Maintaining autonomy into older age plays an important role in a person’s emotional health and wellbeing. Feeling they have control over decisions on their future, how to manage their health and the things they want to participate in, can have a positive impact on their overall wellbeing. Research has also shown that older adults who maintain autonomy in their life can help with the prevention of depression and cognitive deterioration.
This is something that as an OT you will already be mindful of, and the ability to recognise the importance of a person self-governing is paramount.
Life-changing Advocating for the appropriate introduction of mobility devices will always be embedded in the practice of occupational therapy. These aids can transform user’s lives at home and out in public spaces. The introduction of mobility aids can increase social contact, keep users active, increase emotional wellbeing and ensure users can maintain routines, attend regular activities and undertake tasks like grocery shopping or using public transport.
Assistive devices in the home can provide cues to remind people to perform daily tasks including, taking medication, drinking water, attending appointments and more. Daily living aids can help with practical things like opening jars, kettle tippers can increase safety around making cups of tea or coffee, and grab rails can help with support and stability around the home.
Conversations around decreasing mobility and independence can be delicate and must be approached with sensitivity and understanding. Taking the time to listen to a person’s concerns and helping to alleviate any fears they may have around using new devices or products and quelling any worries around social stigma, will be important prior to the introduction of any assistive products.
Once a person is informed on the difference that the correct product can make to their daily life, they will hopefully be far more open to introducing mobility aids into their daily routine and be able to achieve everything they want to in their later years.