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Wheelchair Users and Their Caregivers – Practical Tips

If you are a wheelchair user yourself, or if you have been asked to assist someone in a wheelchair, some basic hints will help you to assure maximum comfort and safety. There are many specific needs attached to people who are suddenly confined to a wheelchair because of changes in the personal or environmental circumstances in their lives. You may want to familiarize yourself with these in case such times arise for you or for someone you need to assist. Here are some considerations which you might have to keep in mind in these circumstances.

Any one who enjoys sitting outside on a nice, sunny day will have to take extra precautions if they are confined to a wheelchair for any length of time. Just putting a bit of sunscreen on will not do it. There are certain materials used in the construction of wheelchairs that do not do well when exposed to direct sunlight. The metal and plastic on a wheelchair can become hot and cause burns, so you should keep a wheelchair in the shade in order to avoid injury.

We make sure we apply sunscreen of our face, neck and arms most of the time, because we worry about exposure in those areas. But those who are in a wheelchair probably will also have their thighs exposed to direct sunlight if they wear shorts, a skirt or dress. Remember, therefore, to cover the legs of wheelchair bound person with sunscreen to avoid a severe sunburn.

Wheelchair bound patients can be small or large, just like the rest of us. If you are going to be called upon to push someone in a wheelchair who is heavy or large, make sure you wear gloves on your hands. Especially if you have no prior wheelchair experience, and may not know the right way to push, you may develop blisters very quickly. Even small driving or exercise gloves will do the trick.

If there is a rain shower, and the ground is covered in puddles, you just normally step around or over them. Things are not that easy for those who are wheelchair-bound. Splashing from puddles can soak both feet and the wheelchair. If the ground is wet, or if it is still raining, make sure you cover yourself or the person you are caring for with a large poncho, plastic draping, or some other large piece of waterproof cloth. An umbrella is not designed to cover a seated person.

Not all drinking fountains are the same height, and some are not accessible to those who are in a wheelchair. In order to prepare yourself for such a circumstance, bring along a plastic drinking cup so that it can be filled from the fountain and given to the occupant of the wheelchair, who can then enjoy a cold drink without the strain or mess of attempting to reach the fountain.

It is very easy to become dehydrated in the heat of the summer, so those who are heat sensitive will need to be considered in case of over-exposure. Be sure you get to know your surroundings when you are away from your normal environment, and learn about any air conditioned facilities along the route. If you have to, stop at regular intervals to allow yourself or your wheelchair-bound friend a cooling down period. Remember that it is not so easy to just go to a cooler area, or just sit under a shade tree for awhile. Those options are not so easily available, and you have to plan ahead to make sure you have a cooling down place.

You will be able to manage yourself or assist a wheelchair patient easily enough, if you use common sense and awareness of special needs. Many of these hints will become second nature to you, once you have been doing it for a while. Make it a point to think ahead, or ask whether there are any special needs that you may not have considered and follow simple guidelines such as this.

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