Signs That It’s Time for A Senior to Start Using a Wheelchair

Senior man sitting on a wheelchairAs we age, there are tell-tale signs that signal a need for a wheelchair or other mobility aid. Being able to detect the signs of early-onset muscular deterioration will help prevent injury and allow the seniors in our life to resume a modified version of their daily routines.

Senior citizens are often defined as an extremely vulnerable population and are at a higher risk of falls and fall-related injuries. Depending on the severity of the accident, elders will have to undergo a potentially-painful and time-consuming recovery to maintain their sense of independence.

Despite common misconceptions, a motorized wheelchair doesn’t mean the seniors in your life have to surrender their autonomy, the type of lifestyle they lead, or any of their current hobbies. In fact, with a mobility aid, a senior may be able to regain a full range of mobility. The right mobility aid can also provide the loved ones of senior citizens with peace of mind, knowing that the seniors in their lives can safely travel from place-to-place without supervision or a full-time caretaker.

Debating whether or not the senior citizens in your life require a mobility aid? Keep an eye out for any warning signs that may indicate the need for a mobility device such as a wheelchair. If a loved one exhibits any of these signs or symptoms, they may need a wheelchair as a short-term back-up plan or a more permanent long-term use.

Unsteady gait

Unsteady gait, also known as difficulty or abnormal walking, is a common symptom of aging. Our muscles tend to weaken as a result of a pre-existing or newly-sustained injury, a developing condition, or long periods of inactivity. Chronic pain is also known to affect your gait. If you’ve noticed any changes in a senior’s usual walking pattern, it’s time to seek medical advice to verify there isn’t an underlying cause.

Shuffling Gait

A shuffling gait is an unsteady gait. A shuffling gait occurs when a senior is unable to pick their feet, causing them to drag their feet along the floor. Each step is short and quick. Most shufflers tend to lean forward and exhibit rigid arm movements during ambulation. Shuffling gait is a well-known sign of Parkinson’s Disease

Unsteady balance

An unsteady gait is defined as a poor sense of balance. Having poor balance can affect the way you walk and stand, making it difficult to carry or lift items. A symptom of poor balance is the inability to bear weight on a leg or foot. Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), and joint stiffness are the leading causes of balance issues among seniors. Ear infections or vertigo can also lead to equilibrium abnormalities.

Visual impairment

As we age, our vision often worsens. Whether it’s from macular degeneration or glaucoma, our vision can affect mobility and stability. Poor vision can cause senior citizens to bump into objects, stumble on unlevel terrain, or even trip up or down the stairs. The ability to visualize the path in front of us plays an important role in maintaining a steady balance and gait.


Having good posture helps us stand tall and plant our feet firmly on the ground. Declining posture can cause a senior to slump forward and may cause balance issues as they get older. Poor posture may lead to hip and back problems, making it difficult to walk or complete daily activities.

Strength and coordination are the key ingredients for walking normally and maintaining a steady gait. Diseases and conditions that may attack the central nervous system and lead to gait abnormalities include the following. In most cases, a wheelchair will be prescribed after these diagnoses:

  • Birth defect
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • TIAs (stroke)
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Declining cognitive ability

Cognitive impairment can also directly impact our mobility. The ability to pay attention and visualize the path in front of us are key in maintaining a normal and steady gait. Elderly patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often diagnosed using their declining attention span. In later stages, a patient may present difficulties with normal motor functions.

Final thoughts

Ambulating is vital in checking off your to-do lists and completing your daily activities. Seniors who are unable to ambulate without assistance are at a much higher risk for developing depression. Depression can spiral into other illnesses and diseases that impact our physical and mental health, alike.

If you notice your elderly loved ones are experiencing mobility impairments such as difficulties moving from a sitting to a standing position or climbing stairs, or they’re experiencing gait or balance issues, seek advice from your primary care physician. If you choose not to consult a medical professional, you may unintentionally put your loved ones at risk of sustaining an injury.

Rehabilitation is effective in restoring muscle strength and helping a senior recover from leg injuries that may impair their ability to walk. Treatments such as physical therapy or pain management are effective tools that can be performed in addition to purchasing a wheelchair.

Sadly, the leading cause of death in seniors is injuries sustained from falls. Having a wheelchair readily available may help to minimize the risk of falls and injuries. Deciding on the type of wheelchair to fit your senior’s active lifestyle is a discussion you’ll need to have as a family or with your primary care physician.