DEAR JIM: Many of my older friends and I are having difficulty getting around. We all seem to have physical problems of one kind or another that keep us from doing a lot of the things we used to enjoy doing.
I’m 74 and had both knees replaced two years ago, and I still have a hard time walking even after extensive physical therapy. I use crutches or a cane for support, and my doctor prescribed a manual wheelchair for me to use from time to time, but it wears me out because – well, for one thing – I’m gaining weight, so it’s difficult to move it with me in it. I don’t drive anymore either, so lately I’ve been considering purchasing an electric scooter or power wheelchair to get around.
My kids and my wife think I’m crazy, but I want my independence back without having to depend on someone else every time I want to go somewhere. What’s opinion?
NOT GETTING AROUND MUCH ANYMORE IN NASHVILLE
DEAR NOT GETTING AROUND MUCH ANYMORE: Most able-bodied people – especially relatives and friends – cannot understand what a scooter or electric wheelchair can mean to someone who is physically disabled. They think of it only in terms of cost – not value – and consider it a “luxury.” Artificial mobility (AM) is NOT a luxury!
Ask them what they would do if they were disabled and dependent upon everyone else to get around – without the “luxury” of a car, for example – and they usually sing a different tune or dance around the issue entirely. Being “home-bound” can be a shortcut to depression and can exacerbate other existing medical problems as well.
It’s true that most insurance companies will not usually cover the cost of a mobility scooter or power chair, so you would probably have to make a financial investment on your own, and they are not inexpensive. I know, I know – all of the ads you see on television lead you to believe that Medicare is going to purchase a scooter for you, but you have to listen more carefully to what they are saying. Mobility companies will usually handle the paperwork to apply for Medicare coverage IF YOU QUALIFY (in fact, they are required to apply for you on request even if you do not qualify) but, the reality is that if you can physically walk to your front door, you will probably not quality for Medicare coverage of an electric mobility vehicle.
There are specific qualifications for Medicare coverage for the purchase of a mobility vehicle, and you must meet ALL of the qualifications to be eligible. However, most legitimate mobility companies have very affordable financing arrangements (particularly since so many of their customers live on limited incomes) if you cannot afford a cash outlay for the purchase price.
There are several reputable mobility companies and, being the saavy senior shopper that you are, you should definitely shop around before buying. Most mobility companies will provide you with a free home demonstration by appointment so that you can test-drive their mobility vehicles. Even though their mobility consultant will be very persuasive and their intial purchase offer might seem too good to turn down, don’t jump at the first offer. In fact, take a day or so to think about and, perhaps, try out their competitors’ products to compare. In most cases you will receive a phone call back with days after their visit to your home, offering you an even better deal.
Although a new vehicle is usually preferable, you might ask your mobility consultant if his/her company has any demonstration models or refurbished vehicles for a reduced cost. There may also be pre-owned scooters and power chairs available for sale in your local newspaper, through your senior center, thrift store, or from referrals, but you will not have the important benefit of a warranty if anything goes wrong.
And remember – all scooters and power chairs are not the same even though they may look very similar. Ask for references and check with your local Better Business Bureau to see how the company handles its customer service and consumer complaints. Most mobility vehicles require very little maintenance, but be sure that there is a service center in your area. Why? Because if anything does go wrong, you don’t want to have to pay to have your vehicle shipped clear across the country to get fixed.
There are also a variety of accessories which may be important to you such as vehicle ramps, lifts, and racks (so that you can tote it on the back of a car); cane holders; walker holders; oxygen tank holders; seat lifts; rear view mirrors; canopy tops (for riding in the sun or rain); puncture-proof tires; battery chargers; and more. Some accessories may come standard with some vehicles, so be sure to ask.
The purchase of a mobility vehicle can often make a positive difference in your quality of life. However, it should not be considered a substitute for physical activity – which is important regardless of your physical limitations – but, rather, it should be considered a means to restore your independence so that you can get out of the house and go places and do things again on your own.
Only YOU can decide whether or not a mobility vehicle is for you. Don’t be influenced by friends or family or anyone else because they don’t have to walk – or not walk, as the case may be – in your shoes. If you think it is going to make your life better, then it’s your call.
Jim Evans is a 44-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and internationally recognized fitness consultant. He is a member of the Visionary Board of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA). Readers can send their questions about health and fitness to Jim at [email protected]