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Mobility Devices Increase Social and Emotional Health

June 8, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

It can be difficult to come to grips with the changes that occur as we get older. No one wants to accept the fact that age often robs us of abilities and freedoms we once took for granted.

I see this all the time in my practice. Earlier this year, a patient I’ll call “George” came in for his annual physical. He had just celebrated his 75th birthday and by all accounts was healthy and happy.

But a lifetime of knee injuries, made worse by arthritis, was really taking a toll on his mobility. He walked around gingerly, each movement causing him to wince in pain. As an active man who loved to travel, garden, play golf, and spend time with his grandkids, I knew how upsetting this was for George.

At the same time, George was a proud man. So it came as no surprise when he blew off my recommendation to look into a mobility aid such as a walker or scooter. He replied, “No, I’m fine! Once I start moving, the pain goes away!”

Classic denial. But I can relate. Who likes to admit they’re no spring chicken? Who relishes the idea of “relying on” or “being confined to” a mobility aid?

George went home a little annoyed at me, but he called me a couple months later to thank me. His insurance covered a scooter, which he used for longer-distance activities, such as shopping, traveling, and golfing. This gave his knees the break they needed to allow him to garden and play with his grandchildren relatively pain free. For shorter-distance walking, he got an offset cane that helped take some of the weight off his knees.

Are you in a similar situation? Have you been putting off getting a cane, walker, scooter, or other mobility aid because you just don’t want to accept the fact that it may be time to do so? If this sounds like you, I’ll tell you what I told George.

Acceptance = Freedom

A little tough love helped George change his mindset on using a mobility aid. I told him (and I tell all my patients) this:

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Put your vanity aside. Accept the fact that you’re getting older. It’s nothing to be embarrassed or distraught about. It happens to everyone! Would you rather succumb to your pain, or make accommodations that help you stay active and as connected as possible to your family, friends, and community?

Don’t view a walker or scooter as a limitation or defeat. Instead, look at them as accessories that allow you to live your best life today. You’re not “giving up,” you’re “moving forward.”

I know what you’re thinking: Easier said than done.

Most people are conditioned to think negatively about scooters, walkers, canes, and the like. There are a lot of stereotypes that surround them and what they symbolize. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to go through stages of grief, shock, frustration, loss, and depression when you realize you may need the help of such equipment.

Dealing with your feelings is an important—even critical—step in making the transition easier. More than 6 million people utilize some type of mobility device—and two-thirds of them are age 65 or older. Talk to peers who currently have one. They, along with support groups or professional counselors, can help you navigate your emotions about aging and adjust to the idea of using a mobility aid.

Once you reach a place of acceptance, a whole new world will open up to you. As George told me, “Driving around on a scooter has taken some getting used to, but I love that I can keep up with my family and friends. And my grandkids love ‘going for rides’ with me. I can almost hear my knees thanking me for taking a load off and giving them a rest throughout the day.”

George’s experience is pretty typical. After the initial denial passes, research shows that people with assistive devices report higher confidence, improved feelings of safety, and increased levels of activity and independence.

If you have muscle, nerve, or joint pain; dizziness; or some other condition that is severely affecting your ability to move around, don’t let your pride get in your way. Imagine a future of more freedom and less pain. Talk to your doctor. A mobility device may be a wonderful option for you.

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