Study Finds Canes, Crutches and Wheelchairs Greatly Reduce Need for Human Help

Study of the interplay of human and technological assistance for homebound persons with chronic functional impairment

From 1998 to 2000, researchers at Brown University under the direction of Susan M. Allen, PhD, studied how well personal assistance (paid or family) and technological assistance (canes, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs) work for adults with chronic conditions who need help with everyday activities.

They also studied the prevalence of home modifications in a population of wheelchair users, and whether home modifications prevented falls.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Home Care Research Initiative national program.

Key Findings

  • The researchers found that:

    • The use of canes and crutches:
      • Reduced the number of hours of formal and informal care that adults with chronic conditions need per week.
      • Reduced the number of activities of daily living for which people need human help.
      • Lowered out-of-pocket costs for formal helping services (Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, vol. 56, no. 6, 2001).
    • Among wheelchair users, the use of structural modifications (bathroom modifications, widened doorways/hallways, kitchen modifications, railings and easy-open doors) was relatively low (American Journal of Public Health, vol. 92, no. 1, 2002).
    • The presence of any indoor home modification was associated with less falls involving injury among wheelchair users; using other mobility aids, having multiple helpers and getting outside every day were associated with more falls involving injury (American Journal of Public Health, vol. 92, no. 1, 2002).

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