Whether you have a friend or a loved one with COPD or you have COPD yourself, you can likely attest to the fact that this disease can cause significant problems with mobility. The top causes of mobility issues in COPD patients include poor pulmonary function, leg swelling (peripheral edema), and loss of muscle mass (muscle atrophy). Combined with the effects of aging and other chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, COPD patients can experience a lot of difficulties getting around in their day-to-day life.
Aside from supplemental oxygen therapy, a healthy diet, and pulmonary rehabilitation, another thing that can help you get around are mobility aids. A mobility aid is a device that’s used to help older people and people with chronic conditions walk more easily. They’re often designed to improve balance, reduce physical load, and in COPD patients, they can even help to prevent exacerbations and flare-ups. There is a huge variety of mobility aids and you’re not just limited to choosing one or the other.
In the following sections, we’ll help you better understand the mobility options available to you as well as some other helpful information that will help you maintain your mobility as a COPD patient. As always, if you have any questions, please be sure to address them in the comment section or consult your doctor for more specific information pertaining to your disease and treatment plan.
Why Are Mobility Aids Important for COPD Patients?
According to an article published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, balance deficit is a common issue among COPD patients. COPD is a progressive disease meaning it becomes worse over time. And as symptoms like breathlessness, chronic fatigue, and chest pain progress, so do issues related to balance and mobility. Believe it or not, studies have shown that COPD is one of the chronic illnesses with the highest rate of falls next to osteoarthritis.
Several months ago, we wrote an article discussing a common complication of COPD called peripheral edema. In short, this is a condition where your legs or feet begin to swell due to a buildup of fluid. One of the root causes of this condition is pulmonary hypertension or high blood pressure in the lungs. High blood pressure in the lungs puts more strain on the heart and prevents oxygen-rich blood from circulating to organs like the liver and kidneys. Since these organs are responsible for removing fluids from the body, swelling of the feet or legs are usually a sign of this happening.
While peripheral edema is a complex condition, it’s one of the issues contributing to the high risk of falls in COPD patients. As the disease progresses, COPD patients don’t just have to deal with increased respiratory symptoms, they have to deal with complications that can result from their disease. Someone with peripheral edema may not even realize they have it because it often comes on slowly and doesn’t cause any pain.
Another issue contributing to the high rate of falls in COPD patients is muscle atrophy. In other words, as COPD progresses, patients tend to lose muscle mass from a variety of issues like a changed diet and reduced physical activity. Similar to peripheral edema, a patient may not realize that they are losing muscle mass until they experience a fall. This is why pulmonary rehabilitation is such an important part of any COPD treatment plan.
One final problem that can contribute to the fall rate in COPD is an exacerbation. An exacerbation is an event where respiratory symptoms suddenly worsen. According to COPD.com, the most common cause of exacerbation is a bacterial infection, but air pollution is another common cause. COPD exacerbations can lead to problems walking, balance issues, chest pain, headaches, and confusion, all of which can increase your risk of falls.
While mobility aids are not a replacement for your treatment plan, they play a crucial role in preventing falls, especially in people with late-stage COPD where the disease is the least predictable. Mobility aids don’t need to be prescribed by your doctor so it’s up to you and your loved ones to determine whether you need one or not. Continue reading to learn about some of the mobility options available to COPD patients.
Walking canes are the oldest type of mobility aid and they’re also one of the simplest. Most walking canes are made of wood or a light metal material meaning they’re easy to carry despite your level of physical impairment. Canes are also widely accessible, and you can buy them just about anywhere, or you could even make your own if you have time. Walking canes are great for taking weight off your joints and providing you with a little extra stability as you walk.
The key to improving your mobility with a cane is to get one that’s the appropriate size. While there is no hard and fast rule as to how you should choose a cane, it should be long enough that you aren’t bending over and straining your back in order to use it and it should be short enough that you can actually lean on it. For most people, this will be somewhere around their hip bone. Luckily, most modern canes are adjustable, so you’ll probably be safe buying one online rather than shopping around for one.
One thing to consider if you want to use a cane is how you will carry your supplemental oxygen device. If you have an oxygen tank and you wheel it behind you using a rolling cart, a walking cane might not be the best option for you because you won’t have any hands free to catch yourself if you fall. A cane is a better option if you carry your oxygen device on your back because it will help you keep a good posture as you walk.
Walkers are another mobility option available to COPD patients. There are several different types including traditional walkers, two-wheel walkers, and four-wheel walkers. Traditional walkers tend to be a poor choice for most COPD patients because they need to be picked up as you walk which can be strenuous on your shoulders, arms, and back. Two-wheel walkers provide a little more mobility by allowing you to push the walker rather than lift it. However, for most people, four-wheel walkers, or “rollators” as they’re often called, will be the best option.
Modern rollators are more advanced than other types of walkers because they offer four swivel wheels that afford you more control. They also offer a braking system that’s controlled by two levers on the handlebars on either side of the device. They also provide a padded platform in the middle that you can either sit on or rest your oxygen device, purse, or handbag on as you walk. Some rollators even have a basket in front for added storage.
It’s a good idea to speak with a mobility aid expert if you want to get a rollator. Since these devices are so popular, there are many different versions and brands available to choose from. What’s more, it’s easier to use one if you’ve been shown how to do so by someone who’s experienced with them. You’ll also need to have one fitted unless you can find one that’s adjustable.
When you think of a mobility aid, chances are, wheelchairs are the first thing that comes to mind. They’re commonly used by people who are permanently disabled, but how do they fare when it comes to someone with limited mobility? The answer ultimately depends on your individual circumstances. COPD patients with poor upper body strength may find it difficult to get around in a manual wheelchair, but if you have a caretaker or loved one who can push you around it shouldn’t be a problem.
Another option for you are motorized wheelchairs or “power wheelchairs” as they’re often called. The benefit of investing in a power wheelchair is that you will have the same mobility as a manual wheelchair, but you won’t have to push it with your arms. Power wheelchairs have a joystick that you use to move in any direction. They’re not overly complicated to operate but they can be difficult to transport and you’ll need to keep it charged if you want to stay out of the house for extended periods of time.
Mobility scooters are similar to power wheelchairs but they differ in terms of their design. Unlike power wheelchairs which use a joystick, scooters are controlled with handlebars similar to a bike. Scooters can either have three or four wheels depending on what your preferences are. They also have baskets on the front that you can use to store things like your portable oxygen concentrator, a purse, or other personal belongings. Since there are so many options available when it comes to mobility scooters, it’s important to speak with an expert who can align you with the exact product you’re looking for.
Stairlifts are a mobility aid that many people have never heard of, but they’re incredibly useful. Essentially, a stairlift is a chair that moves up and down a rail that’s installed on a flight of stairs in your home. The chair has a built-in motor that can be controlled with a joystick on the handlebars. This allows you to navigate the stairs in your home without the risk of experiencing a dangerous fall. The one downside to stairlifts is that they can be very expensive and many people can’t justify spending the money to have one installed in their home.
Surprisingly, stairlifts are extremely versatile and can be installed on most staircases regardless of their size or shape. What’s more, if you like to get outside, there are specially designed stairlifts that can be installed on outdoor staircases. They can be installed in several hours so you won’t have to wait days or weeks to start using them.
Will Medicare Pay for a Mobility Aid?
Whenever it comes to medical equipment, questions about health insurance and Medicare are sure to follow. And while it would be nice if Medicare paid for medical expenses like you’d expect them to, it’s never that simple. More often than not, they will cut corners providing you coverage for mobility aids and find any way they can to offer you the bare minimum rather than what you deserve.
In short, Medicare will provide some compensation for manual or power wheelchairs and scooters. Mobility devices like these are covered under Medicare Part B and it is classified as durable medical equipment (DME) the same as oxygen tanks and portable oxygen concentrators. But it’s important to note that not all devices are covered. Medicare has a list of devices that are covered, and some of them require prior authorization. So, it’s best to consult with both the mobility aid supplier and a Medicare representative before you make any decisions.
Another thing to note is that Medicare has a long list of prerequisites that you need to meet in order to qualify for compensation. First and foremost, the doctor that has prescribed you with COPD and the mobility aid supply company needs to be enrolled in Medicare. Additionally, you’ll need a written order from your doctor stating that you have a medical need for a mobility aid. For a full list of requirements, refer to the wheelchair and scooter benefit page of Medicare Part B.
Get a Handicap Parking Permit
Once you have your mobility aid of choice, you may want to consider getting a handicap parking permit. This permit will allow you to park in any handicap spot in the country making it much easier for you to get around. This is especially useful for people who are using electric scooters or power wheelchairs because you won’t have room to unload it in a standard parking spot.
In order to get a handicap parking permit, you’ll need to apply at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Every state has different policies but you’ll likely have to provide a doctor’s note which outlines your lung condition and symptoms. You’re more likely to get approved if you can prove that you use an electric scooter or power wheelchair as opposed to a cane or walker so it’s best to put time into finding a mobility aid first.
Last but not least, if you’re given the option between a handicap sticker that goes on your car or a placard that you hang on the mirror, always go with the placard. This is because you can transfer these to any car that you’re in whether it belongs to a family member or friend. Be aware that it is illegal for them to use the placard without you actually being present and most states require you to be recertified for your handicap permit every couple of years.
Making the decision to use a mobility aid is an important step for many COPD patients. People with chronic respiratory conditions are at a higher risk of experiencing falls than the general public, but mobility aids will help to support your balance whether you’re inside or outside the home. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Everyone has their own needs and preferences so you should consider all options available to you.
Canes and walkers are a good place to start because they’re affordable and they’re easy to carry. However, you may want to consider a more long-term solution like a mobility scooter or power wheelchair. These devices are generally safe and easy to use, and they will make it easy to carry around your oxygen devices such as your oxygen tank, liquid oxygen tank, or portable oxygen concentrator.
Lastly, you should check with your health insurance to see if your mobility device is covered. This could save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars. You can also file for disability and receive a handicap parking permit which will afford you more convenience and freedom whenever you leave the house. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a lightweight and easy-to-use portable oxygen concentrators such as the Caire FreeStyle Comfort or the Inogen One G5, don’t hesitate to reach out to your respiratory specialists here at LPT Medical.