Finding the right equipment to keep seniors with Parkinson’s mobile and safe is paramount to helping them live a better life.
From the time of diagnosis, the average person lives with Parkinson’s disease – 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 pathological process,” she said. “We want people to thrive on it.”
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 suffer from depression and 40 percent suffer from anxiety,” Prescott explained. “It’s important to give people a sense of independence.”
It starts with the ability to do the little things that most of us take for granted: walking safely to the bathroom, showering, getting dressed, and getting in and out of a car without the risk of fall. Fortunately, there are a number of affordable products on the market today that allow people with Parkinson’s to get out there and live full, independent lives.
Remedies for “freezing of the gait”
One of the most outward signs of Parkinson’s disease is gait blockage, an inability to move the feet despite intending to walk, Prescott said. When freezing occurs, there is a disconnect between the brain and the body caused by a damaged neural pathway. People with Parkinson’s describe it as feeling like their feet are glued to the ground. This can lead to tremors, shuffling feet in place, or inability to move, all symptoms that increase the likelihood of falls. To overcome gait blocking, Prescott (not affiliated with any of the companies below) recommends the following devices:
A compact mobility device, NexStride attaches to a cane, walker or walking stick. The technology gives users visual and auditory cues to help them overcome frozen gait by restoring the communication pathways between the brain and body. A green laser line flashes on the floor, signaling users to move forward, and a metronome plays a rhythmic beat to keep them moving forward in time. When Prescott asked Victor Becker, president of the Capital Area Parkison’s Society (and who also has Parkinson’s disease), his favorite mobility device, he answered hands down, NexStride. He uses it daily 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 to a belt, Agilitas is a wearable buzzer that detects gait and reminds people to keep walking.
Standard walkers are unsafe for people with Parkinson’s disease because they can cause them to fall backwards, Prescott explained. This walker uses three signals to help people overcome walking disturbances: a laser line to stimulate the onset of movement, and a metronome and vibrations in the handles to support the pace of walking.
Support for activities of daily living
Easily go from sitting to standing in a car with a swivel seat cushion. “When you’re moving from place to place, from sitting to standing, those are usually the times when we’re at risk of knocking the individual down,” Prescott said. “Rotate their butt, get their legs out, and they can hold on to the car ramp to get out safely.”
Another Victor Becker favourite, this long-handled metal shoehorn helps him stay independent.
Place socks on top of this device, drop it to the floor, hold the long handles, insert the feet and you’re done. “When people with Parkinson’s are able to do things independently, they feel better about themselves and their caregivers have to do less self-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 self-care.
Velcro closures, magnetic buttons and side vents can also be helpful in achieving independence, maintaining dignity, fashion and a sense of style, Prescott said. Check The Capable Label and Joe and Bella for adapted clothing and accessories.
Prescott refers people to their occupational therapist or physical therapist to help them choose the best wheelchair for their situation. Just make sure you know what the insurance covers. If a person is still mobile, she recommends a lightweight, easy-to-lift wheelchair for caregivers. This will encourage them to take care recipients on excursions.
If an older person has a problem with orthostatic hypotension – a common symptom characterized by a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing which can lead to falls – they may need the extra neck and torso support provided by a reclining wheelchair. Ask an occupational therapist or physical therapist to help you choose the right one for you.