With all the conversation about medical insurance recently, this might be a good time to mention an area where help from decent insurance is often desperately needed and sometimes hard to get. You may not be one of those needing help now, but your situation can change in a flash. So it might be good to be aware of the need, even if you’re incredibly wealthy and can survive without financial help. Perhaps you have friends or neighbors who aren’t so lucky.
If you and those closest to you have no physical disabilities, that’s great. It’s also probably temporary. Cancer, a stroke, a wreck, or any number of other disasters can lay you low, and if you manage to skate by into the golden years without harm, rest assured that old age will take its toll. Odds are that at some point, you will either need special medical equipment or you will be caregiver for someone who does. In either case, you will find not only that you are the one who must search out suitability and availability, but you will also find that everything is amazingly expensive. So the cost is two-fold: money and the struggle required to find what you need.
Advances in assistive devices and equipment are both astonishing and often little known. Your physician may be familiar with some items. Hospice nurses who have dealt with patients in the patient’s home may have gained knowledge they’re willing to share with you. Staff at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute and at Shepherd Center in Atlanta can be extremely helpful if you have or can arrange for contacts at those facilities. And, finally, research on line can connect you to a wide array of assistive devices. Just remember that you’re dealing with businesses that exist mostly to make money.
Hoyer lifts are designed to lift patients, paralyzed or otherwise not ambulatory, in or out of bed or chairs. A mechanical, hydraulic, one will work nicely. A power version, battery operated, is even better. They are relatively inexpensive, starting around $1,000 and moving into many times that. Ceiling lifts, tracks running across the ceiling, an arm to latch onto the patient dangling below, can move the patient quickly and efficiently from bed to pre-selected locations, like chairs, bathroom, or other. The purchase and installation of these is far more expensive than a really fancy Hoyer lift.
If the person being cared for is partially or mostly paralyzed, or must for whatever reason spend much time either in bed or seated, the possibility of pressure wounds is a factor to consider. Sometimes called decubitus ulcers, pressure sores, or (inaccurately) bed sores, these wounds result from pressure that shuts off circulation to an area for a surprisingly short period of time. They can go from minor to life-threatening quickly, and illness and lack of movement can degrade the skin over time until it becomes more susceptible. Special mattresses that provide alternating pressure and low air loss that cools the skin and dries are available and sometimes help prevent the wounds. Plan on several thousand dollars at least.
Pictures of equipment used by FDR show a plain wooden chair that was modified to serve as a wheelchair. He did not want to look as if he was not ambulatory. The chair looks terribly uncomfortable. If you or your family member must be in a wheelchair, a power chair might be what you want. They come with rear-, front-, or mid-wheel drive. Your choice. You can have lights, useful when you’re trying to maneuver paralyzed legs under a restaurant table in the dark or when you must cross a parking lot at night. The chair may be designed to recline, tilt, or elevate to raise you so you can reach items. These may sound like frills, but they are not. Top quality with such features as these? Start thinking around $25,000.
I’ve barely scratched the surface. If you find yourself in this strange, unmapped terrain, be prepared to search for help. And be prepared to fight bureaucracy. Every day. Don’t give up.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of “Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage.”