Ways to support independence in mobility impaired family members – Showerbuddy

Ways to support independence in mobility impaired family members

Ways to support independence in mobility impaired family members

Showerbuddy |

Mobility loss is not simply the reduction or loss of movement. It’s the loss of personal freedom, independence and sense of control. As a mobility equipment provider, we believe strongly that everyone deserves the right to as much independence as they possibly can – even with an injury or condition that requires additional help.
As family members of a mobility impaired person, it can be hard to see our loved ones struggle to navigate this. In situations where the individual has lived many years fully mobile and suffered an injury or condition that greatly affected movement, the adjustment period can take some time.


So, what can we do as family members to best support and empower our loved one to live as independently throughout the day as possible? We explore this in our article.

Work closely with the OT and doctor to confirm what their mobility allows

The first thing to know is that this challenge isn’t something you need to tackle alone. Your loved ones’ network of health professionals and therapists are there to guide you through this reduced mobility. They’ll be able to provide more expert insight into the nature of the disability and what it’s affecting. Having this insight will also ensure that your approach isn’t unrealistic, or indeed underestimating their capability.
If mobility has been lost due to an injury, your initial support will come from the doctors and therapists within a hospital or similar treatment facility. They’ll be assessing your loved one throughout the initial period of recovery (likely in the hospital), where there will be many assessments done to ensure the extent of the mobility impairment is known. From here they’ll develop a programme in concert with an occupational therapist around getting the various tasks of the day completed. 


If the injury is one that will be at least somewhat rehabilitated, then your occupational therapist will be able to provide guidance at certain stages as to ways to put more independence in your loved one.

There are many cases in which mobility is reduced due to an illness or hereditary condition in which there is not a cure as such, but still therapies in which independence and movement can be improved. And of course there are families with a loved one where their care is likely to stay the same or increase as time goes on. Doctors and therapists are there for all of these scenarios, and can work with families to better navigate through each part of this. Are they able to bathe themselves? Use the toilet alone? Self propel in a wheelchair? Questions like this are worth asking.

Set out the home to allow for self management of daily tasks

If there’s mobility that will allow for some independence provided the right equipment and preparations are in place, then it’s a good idea to do some work around the home to make it more mobility friendly. By standard configurations, homes usually aren’t the most accessible, with storage, appliances and objects located at all heights and angles.
For a mobility impaired person who may be unable to reach high or even stand, a typical household set up likely won’t be conducive to independence. 


Instead, take time with the OT to go through each room of the home and find ways to make it easier to move around in (wider spaces between furniture), and reach for things in (items placed within seated reach). Then you’ll want to ensure that the hallways and entrances are clear of rugs, shoes and other loose items that could catch on mobility equipment. 

With the home laid out properly, you’re creating more of an accommodating environment to do things independently.

Create a bathroom plan that allows for privacy whilst toileting and bathing

Where independence (or the loss of) is most evident is perhaps the bathroom – our bathing and toileting routines are ours alone and having another person in the room is a massive adjustment. 
It’s here where we at Showerbuddy think the most effort needs to be made to ensure some level of autonomy is provided to a disabled loved one. Depending on the nature of the injury or condition, there will be different levels of independence allowed for. For many families, the major difficulty in the bathroom is the movement between toilet, bath and transferring out of the room. With a solution like Showerbuddy, equipment can take the heavy lifting of this away from family members or carers, and also supports the individual to be able to bathe independently if their dexterity allows. 


With an OT, create a plan for bathroom visits – toilet use throughout the day and bathing in the morning or evening. How will each element of the bathroom be used? Who will be responsible for what part of the transfer and usage? Answer these questions with your loved one, who should have their preferences taken into account. 

If there’s a viable equipment and care plan in place, there may be opportunities for solo independence (dependending on the level of mobility of course). This could see your loved one using the toilet and bathing totally alone, whilst the designated carer remains within close proximity outside the room should they be needed.

This is one of the biggest steps we see families making to empower their loved ones’ feeling of independence. It’s deserving of the attention and effort to try and achieve a bathroom experience that makes them feel in control. 

Encouraging physical therapy

Physical therapy is such a crucial part of the road to independence. And while PT is commonly associated with rehabilitation from an injury, it’s actually just as valid for mobility impaired people born with certain disabilities too. Physical therapy and the process of getting more mobile has the obvious benefits of better movement, but it will also create a series of challenges and goals for the individual to work towards. 
As with anything in life, the sense of achievement from progress is highly rewarding and great for self-esteem. Attaching physical therapy to the eventual ability to do certain things alone (such as hold and drink from a cup, support transferring from bed to chair, and even ultimately a degree of unassisted walking) is a good way to get the buy-in from your loved one. Finding this ‘why’ will help unlock motivation to commit to ongoing PT.

Exploring assistive equipment that can replace human support

From our work with the mobility community including occupational therapists, family members and end users, one thing we’ve observed is the mindset of relying on a person vs. equipment. For highly independent-minded individuals that lose mobility, the idea of needing someone else to complete lots of everyday tasks is a really tough mental hurdle. But for many, having equipment and one’s own abilities to conduct the same tasks don’t come with the same anxieties. 

With the occupational therapist’s help, it’s worth finding out what equipment is available for each room or type of task. In many cases there may be heavier reliance on people early on, but a gradual transition across to reliance on equipment instead as the individual develops their abilities to manoeuvre with this equipment. 

A good example of this is the ‘transfer’ one needs to do into the shower. Whilst being carried across the edge of a shower or bath edge is both hazardous and difficult, a transfer chair and bridge system like Showerbuddy removes the human on human lift part. These chairs will keep the user in place allowing them to bathe themselves for some or all of the duration of the shower. 

Other equipment like ramps, grab bars, mobility friendly kitchen appliances and smart home voice activated functions can all add up to a more independent daily routine. Many in our community can live entirely alone thanks to good therapy and assistive equipment.

Establishing the daily plan together with an OT

The best way to implement long-lasting solutions for independent living is by partnering with a good occupational therapist who knows all the variables in play; the condition, the home, the family support available and the individual’s own preferences.
The daily plan will evolve over time, but an OT will ensure that there is a well considered plan that everyone has agreed to. This plan will outline how to get those moments of independence, whether it’s bathing, getting dressed or preparing something to eat. 


Independence for a mobility impaired person takes time and support, but with perseverance, will pay off in a happier, more confident loved one long term. 

Further reading

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The information in this article is intended as general information only and is not a replacement for official health guidance by your local medical providers. Please always consult an occupational therapist and/or local healthcare for more specific guidance.