What kind of wheel chair would work inside a home that is not built to be accessible?
February 20, 2011 10:20 AM   Subscribe

What kind of wheel chair would work inside a home that is not built to be accessible?

I'm a wife and a stay at home mom to some great kids. :-)

I have a chronic pain/disability issue with one of my legs that requires me to use crutches much of the time. I've sought numerous medical opinions and I think we have nailed down what my problem is and I've been sent home to "deal with it."

They say there isn't anything else to do, but to just learn to live with it. I don't know that I've completely given up, but for now, I feel the need to figure out how to get my best quality of life where I am right now. One of my biggest frustrations at the moment is not being able to do the things around our home that I need to do--such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. My issue is that with the crutches and not being able to put much weight on me leg usually, I can't carry things.

So while I might be able to uncomfortably stand at my stove to cook, I couldn't take the pot to the sink to fill with water and get it back to the stove. Or while I can sit in a chair in front of the laundry to wash and dry clothes, I can't take them back to the bedrooms to put them away. I'm all for enlisting my husband and kids to help out around the house, but I don't want all of the burden to fall on them. I need some independence here!

I've tried scooting around the kitchen and laundry in my desk chair, but it is really difficult and somewhat dangerous since I've nearly tipped over numerous time. So I've been considering getting a wheel chair to use around the house for the times when the crutches just won't work. I might also consider taking it along if we were going to the outdoor shopping mall or somewhere that constant crutching would be too exhausting.

So my question is, what kind of wheel chair would work inside a home that is not built to be accessible? Are some more narrow than others and are some more maneuverable than others? Any recommendations? I look on the websites and it's hard to tell what is what. We don't have a store to visit in our little town, although I guess I could drive to the city? I'm in the process of finding a new doctor since my orthopedist discharged me, so I don't really have any guidance there yet either. Sorry...I'm rambling...but any advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Would your condition allow you to use a knee walker? I've seen people scoot around on those things pretty deftly. It would also allow you to be at standing height, which would be helpful if nothing in your home is at an ADA height.
posted by phunniemee at 10:27 AM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used a power wheelchair inside an non-accessible home, but I found it no good for cooking, because the height was too low to reach the stove or the countertop or the sink. It's hard to carry anything while using a wheelchair. I did have a backpack on the power wheelchair, and eventually I got a cup-holder for the arm of the wheelchair. I could fold the arms back so I could sit at a desk or table, so I could use the kitchen table as a work surface.

The manual folding wheelchair I used was worse, since it took two hands to make it go, instead of just one. Wheelchairs are wonderful for moving yourself around, especially when shopping, but I never figured out how to do much housework in one.

I never had a scooter. The advantage of a power scooter is that it has a basket, and it's easier to get one that will fit in the trunk of a car (I used a power lift with my power wheelchair, in the back of a minivan). Also, it's cheaper than a power wheelchair (though my medical insurance paid most of the cost of the power wheelchair). The huge disadvantage of a scooter is that you cannot sit at a desk or a table in one, and like a wheelchair it's too low for using a regular stove or kitchen sink.

I like the idea of the knee walker, especially one with a basket. If that won't work for you, could you use a walker that has a basket and seat? Then you'd need a kitchen stool to sit in front of the stove or sink.

For carrying water from the sink to the stove, it seems to me that the handiest thing might be a counter-height table on wheels, so you could stand at the sink, lift the pot of water to the top of the table, then sit on a stool or lean on a crutch while pushing the wheeled table to the stove. I'm picturing my own kitchen, which is pretty small.

Another possibility that sounds intriguing would be a hose from the sink, long enough to reach the stove, with a handle or button on the and to turn the water on and off with. You could fill a pot of water that way. To take pasta out of the water, you'd need a strainer on a handle. Then someone else, eventually, would have to dump the pasta water.

When I first got sick, I used to sit in the kitchen and tell my twelve-year-old son how to cook, step by step. It worked very well, and he was learning valuable stuff--without any of the sighing and resentment that goes with trying to get a kid to do less important chores--but unfortunately it cut too much into the time he needed to do his homework, so we had to discontinue that.
posted by Ery at 11:07 AM on February 20, 2011

My grandma uses a walker with a seat. I don't know that I've ever seen her use the seat for sitting, but she uses it as a platform to move things around constantly.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:21 AM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is what I do for a living...well, in-home AT assessments are. Depending on where you are, there is almost certainly a Center for Independent Living who serves your area, unless you happen to be in a super rural area.

You can call one of these centers and request an AT assessment to help you purchase assitive technologies. At the least, they'll be able to tell you who you can contact to get the evaluation.

I really don't recommend you just blindly search for products, as the range of available items is...astounding.

Please feel free to MeMail me directly so I can ask you 500 questions about everything from your height and weight to what exactly you're trying to do and attempt to evaluate what the inside of your home looks like.

If nothing else, I can probably help you find the CIL that serves your area.
posted by TomMelee at 11:47 AM on February 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

And in answer to wheelchair width, yes, they come in almost every imagineable dimension with and without accessories like foot rests and head rests, even arms.

A standard wheelchair seat width is 18 inches, assume 4-5 inches of additional width for wheels, winding up at 22 inches total. Childrens chairs can be smaller, and bariatric chairs go up to 30+ inch seats regularly.
posted by TomMelee at 11:50 AM on February 20, 2011

One thing that Physical Therapists do is help you figure out what equipment would help you at home! Perhaps you can ask your new primary care provider for a home PT evaluation? (Physical Therapists often do this kind of thing through a home health agency, as I recall.)
posted by easilyamused at 12:05 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Would one of these rolling walkers work? More found here. I've heard that these 3-wheel walkers are more maneuverable. You could get a big canvas tote bag that fits between the handle bars for laundry and groceries, that kind of thing.

And I definitely second the suggestion to get an occupational therapist or someone from the Assistive Technologies world to come out and assess your situation. A few key changes might make some of these problems easier for you to handle. Good luck!
posted by barnone at 12:14 PM on February 20, 2011

Custom made wheelchairs can be made super narrow (depending on how wide your toosh is). My husband's fairly narrow and can get away with a seat that's only 14". With a slender frame and wheels without a big degree slant, that means his chair will go through most normal doors easily (bathroom doors which have had extra narrow doors put on them to save space are still a problem). However, custom chairs are expensive. If you don't have insurance to pay for it, you might consider checking out the local medical supply business and inquiring about used or refurbished chairs.

Other than that, dittoing the walker suggestions.
posted by ninjakins at 1:30 PM on February 20, 2011

A family member of mine who is wheelchair bound sometimes uses a wheelchair that is sized for children (specifically teenagers). This type is lighter and narrower than a conventional chair, so for example it can fit through conventional door frames more easily. A standard teen-sized chair could also be easier and less expensive to source than a custom build, if it works with your body type.
posted by gazole at 5:12 PM on February 20, 2011

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