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Finding the right equipment to keep older adults with Parkinson’s disease mobile and safe is paramount to helping them live their best lives.
From the time of diagnosis, the average person lives with Parkinson’s – a neurodegenerative disease that affects motor and cognitive functioning – for about 15 to 16 years, according to Jennifer Prescott, RN, MSN, CDP, founder and COO of Blue Water Homecare & Hospice in Leander, Texas.
“It’s a long disease process,” she said. “We want people to thrive with it.”
In order to thrive, she believes they need to maintain as much independence as possible, because their mental health depends on it.
“Fifty percent of people with Parkinson’s have depression, and 40% have anxiety,” Prescott explained. “Giving people a sense of independence is important.”
That starts with the ability to do the little things most of us take for granted: safely walking to the bathroom, showering, dressing, and getting in and out of a car without risk of falling. Fortunately, a number of affordable products are on the market today that give people with Parkinson’s the ability to venture out and about, and live a full, independent life.
One of the most outward signs of Parkinson’s is freezing of gait, an inability to move your feet despite the intention to walk, Prescott said. When freezing occurs, there’s a disconnect between the brain and body caused by a damaged neural pathway. People with Parkinson’s describe it as feeling like their feet are glued to the floor. It can result in trembling, shuffling feet in place or an inability to move—all symptoms that increase the likelihood of falls. To overcome freezing of gait, Prescott (who’s not affiliated with any of the companies below) recommends the following devices:
A compact mobility device, NexStride attaches to a cane, walker or walking pole. The technology gives users visual and auditory cues to help them overcome freezing gait by re-establishing communication pathways between the brain and body. A green laser line flashes on the ground, signaling users to step forward, and a metronome sounds a rhythmic beat for them to step in time to. When Prescott asked Victor Becker, president of the Capital Area Parkison’s Society (and who also has Parkinson’s), for his favorite mobility device, he said, hands down, NexStride. He uses it on a daily basis attached to his cane. NexStride is free for veterans through the VA, and grants are also available through the Parkinson’s Wellness Fund.
Usually clipped onto a belt, Agilitas is a wearable buzzer that detects gait and reminds people to continue to walk.
Standard walkers are not safe for people with Parkinson’s because they can cause them to fall backward, Prescott explained. This rollator uses three cues to help people overcome disrupted walking: a laser line to stimulate the start of movement, along with a metronome and vibration in the handles to support walking rhythm.
You can have a handyman affix these grab bars to your shower stall or save money on contractor fees and install these grab bars with suction cups yourself.
Easily go from a sitting to standing position in a car with a swivel seat cushion. “When you’re moving from one place to the next, from sitting to standing, usually those are the times we risk the individual could fall,” Prescott said. “Swivel their bottom, get their legs out, and they can hold on to the car’s railing to get out safely.”
Another favorite of Victor Becker’s, this long-handled metal shoehorn helps keep him independent.
Place socks over the top of this device, drop it to the ground, hold onto the long handles, insert feet, and done. “When people with Parkinson’s are able to do things independently, they feel better about themselves and their caregivers have to do less personal care,” Prescott said. “It’s a win-win.”
When people with Parkinson’s are able to do things independently, they feel better about themselves and their caregivers have to do less personal care.
Velcro fasteners, magnetic buttons and side openings can also be helpful in achieving independence, maintaining dignity, fashion and a sense of style, Prescott said. Check out The Able Label and Joe & Bella for adaptive clothing and accessories.
Prescott steers people to their occupational or physical therapist to help them select the best wheelchair for their situation. Just be sure to find out what’s covered by insurance. If a person is still mobile, she recommends a lightweight wheelchair that’s easy for caregivers to lift—it will encourage them to take care recipients out on excursions.
If an older adult has an issue with orthostatic hypotension – a common symptom characterized by a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing that could result in falls – they might need the increased neck and torso support provided by a reclining chair back wheelchair. Have an occupational or physical therapist help select the right one for you.