When an elderly person becomes confined to a wheelchair there are inevitably two parties involved: the individual who will be sitting in the wheelchair and the person in charge of propelling it. Once someone becomes wheelchair bound they tend to be the centre of attention and it is easy to forget that the person who will be pushing the chair.
Propelling a manual wheelchair relies on the physical capabilities of the individual pushing the chair; it is also largely dependent of the weight of the wheelchair user. Someone frequently pushing a wheelchair may be in danger of multiple musculoskeletal injuries. These injuries tend to emerge in the back, neck and shoulders as a result of the high impact exerted on these pressure points. In order to prevent such injuries it is integral to observe correct maintenance and pushing practices.
The actual wheelchair itself should be properly maintained to ensure smooth running and minimal resistance. In order to ensure this there some checks that should be made on a regular basis.
- The tyres should be properly inflated.
- The wheels should be firmly attached to the frame and not loose.
- The brakes should be working and clean from debris.
- The castors should be firmly attached and running true, meaning that they should run straight and not be buckled.
- The foot rests should be raised adequately from the floor to ensure that the chair does not scrape on curbs etc.
- The arm rests and upholstery should not be damaged and should be comfortable.
Making these simple checks regularly should prevent distress to both the chair occupant and the person pushing the chair.
The handles on the back of the chair should be adjusted to a height that is comfortable for the person in charge of pushing the chair. Your back should not be bent to avoid causing excess strain to your neck, back and shoulders. You should aim to plan the best possible route for the safety of yourself and the occupant of the chair. It is best to avoid paths with loose chippings of uneven surfaces. This way you can retain maximum grip and avoid unnecessary accidents.
Pushing chairs uphill can put a lot of strain on your back, neck and shoulders but in some instances it may be the only way to reach your destination. In such an occurrence it may be worthwhile trying to seek assistance from another able-bodied individual. At the very least you should assess the gradient of the incline and carefully consider whether you will be able to safely push the chair up the hill. All wheels should remain in contact with the ground as you move uphill. It may be tempting to lift the caster off the ground and rely on the two back wheels but this is not a safe option. You would be putting both yourself and the chair occupant at risk.
If the chair occupant is unable to propel the chair by themselves they may become over reliant on you for movement. It is important that you realise when it is necessary for you to remind them of the physical strain this is putting on you.
If you are finding pushing the chair particularly difficult it may be worth considering investing in a self-propelled or motorised wheelchair. These chairs are very heavy and may not be transportable via your car, but they will provide extra freedom to the chair user and reduce the physical stress to yourself.
Alternatively you could see if any of your other family members or friends are available to help out. In most instances family and friends will be glad to be of assistance and you should not be afraid to ask for this.