Mobility Aids: How to Broach the Topic With Parents and Older Relatives

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, there is an increasing trend in choosing to “Age in Place” rather than in a nursing home or assisted living facility. With this push towards an independent lifestyle comes great adversity towards the mere suggestion of using a scooter or stairlift. In fact, merely mentioning that mom would benefit from a stairlift could provoke a heated disagreement and lead to hurt feelings that most would rather just avoid.

It is no secret that mobility aids can provide an immense benefit in ensuring independence and safety at a substantially lower cost than an assisted living facility. However, most individuals stigmatize these items as being for “old people” – certainly not for themselves!

Whether it’s a parent, grandparent, sibling, or spouse, there is a right way and a wrong way to recommend the use of a mobility aid. We’ve rounded up a few tips that can help keep the discussion civil while broaching the topic with your loved ones in a way that will empower, rather than belittle or offend, them:

Tip #1: Emphasize the benefits. Independence, safety, and increased mobility are just a few. Stay positive – if your mom avoids going up stairs because it hurts her knee, suggest that a stairlift can help her regain access to her whole home without arthritis dictating when and where she goes. If dad is having trouble getting up from the couch and usually takes a few tries or a helping hand to get up, suggest that a lift chair could make his transitions easier while being just as stylish and comfortable as his current one – they are even available with heat and massage features (and nobody would know the difference just looking at it)! Just remember if they become defiant or shut down, threatening to move them to assisted living is definitely not going to help the situation. It may take some time and gentle prodding before they come around.

Tip #2: Discuss all options. If the health, safety, or general well-being of your parent or relative is compromised as a result of their mobility challenges, talk about the options. Would they prefer the assistance of a home care provider? Would they prefer a transition to assisted living? (Again, remember that this is a discussion, not a threat!) Sometimes hearing about the least desirable options makes the ones that were initially suggested (a power scooter or wheelchair ramp, for example) sound a whole lot better.

Tip #3: Let the individual choose. When you’ve reached an agreement about using a mobility aid, let the person who will be the primary user of it make any additional choices. Equip your mother with the resources (web-based, catalogs, or print materials) to research the options and make her final selection. You can also schedule home consultations for most products, where a knowledgeable Product Specialist will come to the home to make recommendations and answer any questions. This will solidify a sense of ownership, rather than a sense of “my kids made me get this thing.”

Tip #4: Get a professional’s opinion or guidance. An occupational therapist can be a tremendously valuable source of wisdom when it comes to incorporating mobility aids. Read about the many ways that OTs can assist with senior issues such as aging in place, Alzheimer’s, fall prevention, stroke, low vision, and more here. Or, for information about the different types of mobility aids available or to schedule a visit with a product specialist to discuss your options and answer questions, contact 101 Mobility®.

Tip #5: Do a trial run. Find out if there is a way to test the aid first before buying or renting, giving the individual time to become more comfortable or familiar with its use. (Think of it as a test drive for a new car.) Many products are available for rental, which is a good way to let your relative test it out for a few months without having to commit to a purchase. Once mom has the opportunity to integrate the stairlift into her daily routine and realize how beneficial it is, she’ll likely become much more receptive to purchasing it. Many companies have showrooms where you can take parents to test out a variety of products before making any decisions as well. Zipping around the showroom on a scooter might convince dad that it’s not only practical, it’s actually fun!

Tip #6: Phone a friend. Do you know of one of mom’s garden club members who has a stairlift, or one of dad’s golf buddies who uses a cane? Have them reach out to lend some advice – a little peer pressure can be a good thing in some situations. Maybe it’s just a certain person’s opinion that they need to hear. If you’re not getting anywhere with the discussion, try having an impartial relative or even a young grandchild make the suggestion – a tiny voice asking “grandma, won’t you please get a wheelchair for me?” could make a world of difference.