Staying active and maintaining mobility is often a priority for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Although this can be challenging at times, finding ways to remain independent can help boost your confidence and improve your quality of life.
Mobility includes things like walking, getting in and out of bed and automobiles, climbing stairs, and participating in other activities.
If your symptoms progress and you find it difficult to get around on your own, it may be time to consider a mobility assistive device or aid.
According to the National MS Society, symptoms such as muscular weakness, loss of balance, fatigue, numbness, and pain can all impact your mobility. More specifically, they can increase your risk of falling.
To help reduce your risk of injury from falls and improve your safety and confidence, your doctor or physical therapist may recommend that you begin using a mobility aid.
“Mobility aids include canes, walkers, manual wheelchairs, and motorized wheelchairs such as scooters,” says Dr. Leslie S. Saland, a neurologist at CareMount Medical. There are also orthoses or braces you can wear, such as an ankle-foot orthosis, that can help lift your foot to prevent tripping.
Canes typically come in two styles: single-point and quad-point. The quad-point may be more appropriate for advanced MS since it has four support points touching the floor.
This gives you more stability and allows you to put more weight on the cane. That said, a cane may not be enough support for someone experiencing advanced stages of MS.
For a wider base of support, you may want to consider a two-wheeled or four-wheeled walker. The four-wheeled walker or rollator, as it is often called, is more maneuverable and usually has a seat. A two-wheeled walker provides more stability and support than a four-wheeled walker. In general, walkers are easy to use and transport.
If walking or standing is not possible, but you can still use your upper body, you may want to consider a manual wheelchair.
This type of wheelchair allows you to sit down, but still gives you the freedom to get around on your own. You can also find models that are attendant-propelled with handles at the back of the seat. This allows a caregiver to push you if your symptoms prevent you from propelling the chair on your own.
Motorized scooters and power wheelchairs
If you need to conserve energy, can’t propel a manual wheelchair, have weakness in your legs, or are dealing with severe fatigue, consider using a motorized scooter or power wheelchair.
These mobility aids are often more expensive and come with numerous features. In these cases, working with your doctor, a physical therapist, or an assistive technology professional is essential for finding the right model for your needs.
Other mobility aids
Additionally, Saland says electronic devices are available to stimulate the peripheral nerves in your legs and help lift your feet when walking.
There are newer electronic devices that may help with hip flexion as well. But these devices are expensive and rarely covered by insurance.
In some cases, Saland says medications can be recommended as “mobility aids.” One example is dalfampridine (Ampyra), which can help improve gait by improving nerve conduction.
Finally, Saland says doctors should always include physical therapy and regular exercise as important aids to help improve and maintain mobility in people with MS.
Since no two cases of MS are alike, the symptoms are often unpredictable, and they tend to come and go. Because of this, getting a personalized evaluation is key to finding a mobility aid that fits your needs. Sometimes, this even means getting fitted for several aids over time.
Choosing the best mobility aid for your needs is not a decision to take lightly. Since this aid can provide safety, mobility, and security, it’s essential to know what to look for. You should be able to identify the features that are important to you.
“Patients with advanced MS will need assistance with maintaining the most upright alignment, ability to sit, stand, walk, and ability to move for pressure relief and comfort,” says Reiko Kurihara-Bliss, a physical therapist at St. Jude Medical Center, Centers for Rehabilitation.
To help you narrow down the search, Kurihara-Bliss says to answer the following questions:
- Can you safely use the mobility device?
- Does it allow for the most normal alignment of your body?
- Does the device give you the freedom to move on your own, or does it need to move you?
- Does it allow you a greater amount of independence and safety?
- Can you transport the device from home to your car to out in public?
- When using the mobility aid, does it cause any skin breakdown, joint restriction, or discomfort?
- How much maintenance does it need?
- How much does it cost and what is covered by insurance?
Also, Saland says to consider whether or not the mobility aid fits easily in the space you have available. Also, if necessary, find out if you’re able to transport it.
“Some walkers are simply too heavy to be lifted out of the car by someone who is already having balance or gait difficulty,” she explains.
Yet she does point out that the lightest walkers can be less stable. So, it’s important that you determine your needs along with the accessibility and ease of use of the mobility aid.
When it comes to choosing the right mobility aid, working with a specialist is key to finding the best device for you.
“Physical and occupational therapists with experience in neurological rehabilitation are the practitioners most suited to perform evaluations and make recommendations on mobility aids for individuals with MS,” says Kurihara-Bliss.
These therapists can try a variety of mobility aids with you. They can also communicate with the orthotist (brace maker) and equipment vendors about the most appropriate mobility aid to help you maintain your independence.
Your doctor can give you recommendations for clinics and therapists. There are also mobility clinics affiliated with many hospitals and rehabilitation centers that house specialists who can help you choose the right mobility aid. They can also assist with the necessary paperwork to obtain insurance coverage.
Online, you can access a list of assistive technology professionals recommended by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA).