Disabilities that Require Wheelchairs
Many different kinds of disabilities require the use of wheelchairs for mobility. These are referred to as mobility impairments. Disabilities may be orthopedic (relating to the bone and muscles) or they may be neuromuscular (relating to the nerves and muscles).
For example, some of the more common kinds of mobility impairments are amputation, paralysis, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and spinal cord injury. Many other impairments can lead an individual to use a motorized wheelchair to get around as well.
Medical conditions that require wheelchairs have a wide range of types and presentations, but finding a wheelchair that meets each person’s individual needs is very important. The right wheelchair, whether manual or electronic, sitting or standing, reclining, and tilting, will be the one that offers the best opportunities for comfort, independence, and mobility.
Spinal Cord Injuries
One of the most common injuries that require the use of a wheelchair is spinal cord injuries. Injuries to the spinal cord lead to different types of impairment depending on the area of the spine that has been injured.
For example, quadriplegia means the individual has lost function of the body below the neck including the arms, legs, and body. Although some people retain limited use of hands or arms with quadriplegia, this is not always the case. Additionally, paraplegia refers to the loss of function in the lower extremities including the legs and lower body.
For both quadriplegia and paraplegia, motorized wheelchairs are effective for regaining mobility and independence. Additionally, standing electric wheelchairs offer many health and psychological benefits by assisting the user to move into a standing position on command.
Amputation refers to the surgical removal of all or part of a limb or extremity such as an arm, leg, foot, hand, toe, or finger. While many different reasons may lead to needing an amputation, some of the most common causes are poor circulation, physical injury, nacreous tumor growth, infection, and frostbite.
Amputations involving toes, feet, and legs often result in mobility impairment. Every case is unique and there are many different solutions to help an individual maintain or regain mobility following an amputation. For example, artificial limbs are often effective for helping people stay mobile.
However, for many amputees, a wheelchair is essential assistive technology for maintaining mobility, independence, and functionality. Specialized wheelchairs are designed to promote comfort, movement, and health for individuals with mobility impairment and an amputation or amputations.
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common disorders in the United States with about 800,000 people are affected. Symptoms range from mild to severe affecting the brain and motor functioning. This disorder results from brain damage occurring around childbirth.
Some symptoms of cerebral palsy may be limited muscle control, problems with reflexes, difficulty with coordination and control, and oral motor problems. For many people diagnosed with cerebral palsy, assistive motor devices like motorized wheelchairs are necessary.
Additionally, standing electric wheelchairs are especially effective for better circulation and health for those who have difficulty walking and have cerebral palsy.
Multiple Sclerosis or MS is a disease in which the body’s immune system targets its own central nervous system. This means the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves are negatively affected. MS results in many different kinds of symptoms from mild to severe.
For some with MS, a wheelchair is needed for mobility. Symptoms such as muscle spasms and stiffness, fatigue, walking difficulties, dizziness, tremors, and seizures may warrant the need for a motorized wheelchair or, in some cases, a power standing chair.
When walking and standing are not possible or very difficult with more severe multiple sclerosis, an electric wheelchair is a great tool for better independence and health.
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects the brain–with declines in memory, thinking, and behavior. The disease is progressive and there is currently no cure, but there are treatments and interventions to help those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Age is the greatest risk factor. To illustrate, 1 in 14 people over age 65 have Alzheimer’s and 1 in 6 over the age of 80. It is less common, but some people get early-onset Alzheimer’s meaning they are diagnosed before age 65. Most people live 4-8 years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but may live up to 20 years.
Because the disease is progressive, the symptoms become worse from early to moderate to severe stages. Early stages are characterized by thinking and memory problems and in the late stage individuals often need full-time care and access to a wheelchair for mobility.
Muscular dystrophy encompasses several different diseases that lead to loss of muscle and progressive weakening of the body. In this disorder, gene mutations cause problems with the production of proteins normally used to make healthy muscles.
The most common types of muscular dystrophy occur in childhood most often with boys. Although, other types do not present until adulthood. While there is no cure for muscular dystrophy, therapy and medication can slow the progress of the disease.
The most common form of muscular dystrophy is Duchenne type. This type, for example, is characterized by difficulties with motor activities such as walking or sitting up, muscular stiffness and pain, and frequent falling.
Other types have mainly to do with which muscle groups are most affected. Oftentimes, electric wheelchairs including tilting, reclining, and standing wheelchairs are effective resources for people with muscular dystrophy depending on their specific needs.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that impacts movement. Symptoms move from subtle and mild to more and more disruptive as motor function declines.
For example, a slight hand tremor may be the first sign, but further tremors, muscle rigidity, difficulties with walking and balance, speech problems, and posture difficulties are some of the symptoms that follow. Muscles on one side of the body are often affected first. Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s and older people, usually, after age 60, are more likely to get the disorder.
If a wheelchair becomes necessary due to the mobility problems associated with the disease, it is recommended to use a tilting and reclining chair to help with circulation and blood pressure. Standing power chairs are also helpful for slowing the progression of Parkinson’s and maintaining better health outcomes.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) impacts nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and is referred to as a neurodegenerative disease. ALS involves the progressive degeneration of the motor neurons that eventually leads these neurons dying.
When motor neurons in the brain die, the individual loses the ability to control muscle movements across the body. Therefore, the ability to voluntarily control muscles declines over the course of the disease to the point of significant or total paralysis in later stages.
There are an estimated 16,000 people with ALS. The disease does not currently have a cure, but several medical treatments prolong survival and quality of life while living with ALS.
Depending on the progression of the disease, an electric wheelchair, especially a reclining, tilting, and standing power chair, is essential for a better quality of life and health for mobility assistance.
Scoliosis involves a problematic curvature of the spine that develops most often during the accelerated growth period just before puberty. In some cases, scoliosis develops as a result of other medical conditions like muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, for example.
However, the exact cause for most scoliosis cases is unknown. It is estimated that roughly 3% of adolescents have scoliosis. While most cases of scoliosis are not debilitating, some spine deformities become progressively more severe as children and adolescents grow.
Scoliosis in severe forms can be disabling. For some with a diagnosis of scoliosis, a wheelchair is required for mobility and comfort.
Traumatic Brain Injury
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) results from a physical blow, jolt, or bump to the head or body causing injury to the brain. TBI can also result from an object penetrating the brain, such as a bullet or knife.
There is a wide range of symptoms from milder to severe depending on the extent of the trauma to the brain itself. Mild TBI affects the brain in a more temporary manner with cognitive abilities being impacted.
Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headaches, sleep complications, and disorientation. Severe TBI can result in bruising, torn tissues, bleeding and other physical damage to the brain. These injuries can result in long-term or lifelong symptoms or death.
Many people who suffer a traumatic brain injury experience the loss of the ability to walk or independently position themselves. As a result, some with debilitating symptomology following a TBI require the use of a specialized power wheelchair.
Standing, tilting, and reclining electric chairs offer superior abilities for mobility and positioning for better health and psychological outcomes.
Spina bifida is a birth defect involving complications with spine and spinal cord forming improperly. Spina Bifida occurs when the neural tube, which forms early in pregnancy, fails to develop or close properly.
This condition leads to defects in the spinal cord. Fortunately, in many cases, early treatment such as surgery resolves the problem completely. However, for some complications following early treatment result in severe symptoms including walking and mobility problems.
This occurs when the nerves used to control the leg muscles are not functioning properly. Because spina bifida occurs in the spinal cord it can impact the nervous system. Therefore, muscle weakness of the legs and sometimes paralysis of the lower body can also occur. Mobility impairment as a result of spina bifida may require the use of a manual or electric wheelchair.
Diabetes is a disease involving the production and use of insulin in the body. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose from food get into your cells to give them energy. However, with type 1 diabetes, the body fails to produce insulin at all.
As a result, continuing medication through the use of insulin medication, glucose monitoring, and other medical interventions are necessary for managing the disease. Type 2 diabetes is the more common type which generally means the body has difficulties using its insulin correctly. Diabetes puts people at risk for further health problems.
For example, roughly half of individuals diagnosed with type 1 diabetes experience nerve damage, also referred to as diabetic neuropathy. In addition, many people also have foot complications related to the neuropathy which may include ulcers, poor circulation, and amputation.
Depending on the presentation, many people with diabetes take advantage of assistive mobility technology such as power wheelchairs for better health and mobility.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system essentially attacks itself in the body. With arthritis, the immune system primarily attacks the joints of the body such as the hands, fingers, wrists, back, knees, and feet.
In some severe cases, arthritis impacts other parts of the body including organs like the heart, lungs, and kidneys. Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease so symptoms become worse over time.
About 1.5 million people in the U.S. have rheumatoid arthritis, but there is a significant range of symptoms from very mild to quite debilitating. For example, some people may only have minor tiredness and ache and pains, and others may be entirely dependent on a wheelchair for health and mobility.
Motorized wheelchairs are often necessary to help with mobility, comfort, and optimum health. Standing and reclining power chairs are excellent options for those who cannot stand independently or have great difficulty doing so.
Other Causes Leading to Wheelchair Use
Many other medical conditions may warrant the use of a wheelchair. For example, cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, stroke, glaucoma, hepatitis C, hypertension, lymphedema, menopause, obesity, osteoporosis, plagiocephaly, post-polio syndrome, sleep apnea, and vascular disease can all require wheelchair use.
Many other medical conditions can also lead to needing a wheelchair. Furthermore, many times people deal with more than one medical condition at the same time. Often, with multiple diagnoses the problem becomes even more complicated.
Whatever the medical condition leading to mobility impairment, electric wheelchairs are extremely valuable tools to help those with a disability. Additionally, when an individual is unable to stand on their own, a motorized standing wheelchair provides a myriad of opportunities for social, psychological, health, and professional benefit.
The Bottom Line on Wheelchair Use
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 10% of the world’s population suffers from a disability. Furthermore, of those, another 10% would benefit from access to a wheelchair. WHO also states that access to assistive mobility technology is a human right.
This is essential because access to wheelchairs, whether manual or automatic depending on the need allows people with disabilities to function in society. Wheelchairs allow users to work, care for themselves and others, and accomplish daily living tasks independently.
For those who have mobility impairments using the right chair for them makes a world of a difference. Manual, automatic, reclining, tilting, and standing wheelchairs have a huge impact on quality of life, independence, physical and psychological health for people with disabilities.