Mobility Scooters: Advantages and Disadvantages
One area I struggle with in my daily practice as an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) is when I get a request to provide an electric mobility scooter. Don’t get me wrong, they can be a wonderful help to someone who needs assistance getting around the house. They are particularly helpful outside for shopping and other outdoor events. In my experience providing scooters for nearly 4 years now, I have learned that there are a lot of misconceptions though about these mobility devices. So, here they are the advantages and disadvantages of a mobility scooter from a professional’s point of view. I am also including a few myths about scooters – ones that most people believe are true.
Mobility Scooters: The Advantages
There are many positive benefits of having an electric mobility scooter – if it can be used safely. Just remember, scooters are medical products and as such come with a few warnings and guidelines.
- Scooters are very easy to transport. Many models disassemble into 4 or 5 pieces quickly and easily. This allows them to be placed in a van, truck, or even the trunk of a car so that you can take them with you. This makes them dual purpose because you can easily use them inside or outside of the home.
- Scooters do not look like medical equipment. Unlike power chairs, many people do not think that mobility scooters look like a medical device. They look a little more “fun” and more like an outdoor toy. I have had patients tell me that they feel less self-conscious on a scooter. They don’t feel like people look at them the same way they do as people in power chairs.
- Scooters are inexpensive to purchase. In the power mobility equipment world at least, scooters are on the lower end of the cost spectrum. Often times, patients will purchase a scooter on their own and not bother with insurance. The paperwork for these can be a nightmare, especially for Medicare. So, some decide not to fool with it. For less than a $1,000, you can buy an electric mobility scooter on your own.
Mobility Scooters: The Disadvantages
Most of the negatives and concerns I have with scooters are related to the safety and maneuvering abilities of scooters. If not used properly and with the right patient, they can be quite dangerous.
- Scooters can be difficult to transfer to and from. To get on a mobility scooter, the user must step up onto the base while also navigating around the handlebars. This can make them difficult to get off and on. This is especially true for patients with extremely weak legs and those with balance difficulties. The risk of falling from a scooter is high because of this.
- Scooters require a lot of room to turn around. Mobility scooters turn a lot like a bicycle. Because of the spacing of the wheels and the handlebar (called a “tiller”), a scooter must be swung wide to make a full circle. The turning radius of many scooters is 48″ or more which means you need more a least nearly 8 feet to make a full turn!
- Scooters do not offer much trunk support. Most scooter seats are designed to be “one-size fits all” and aren’t customizable. So, if you need a little support in your trunk to remain sitting nice and straight, a scooter is not the best choice. Some higher-end scooters do offer van style seats or high back seats as an upgrade.
Electric Mobility Scooters: Myths
There are several myths out there about scooters that I think need to also be addressed. I hear these statements all the time in my current practice!
- “Scooters are easy to drive and maneuver, right?” FALSE! When compared to power wheelchairs, scooters actually require more effort to operate. The driver needs to be able to maintain their arms extended parallel to the ground and have the grip strength to maintain their hands on the tiller. The shoulders and trunk should also be able to move freely to maintain proper control to steer the scooter.
- “I want a scooter because it is smaller and will fit in my home better.” WRONG AGAIN! Scooters are narrow but they tend to be pretty long. When you consider that plus the extremely wide turning radius, the scooter will not fit well in some homes. This is especially true of single wide trailers and smaller homes built before 1980. The user will need to be able to drive backwards to navigate bathrooms and other smaller rooms.
- “My insurance will cover a scooter for me to use at Walmart, won’t they?” This is PROBABLY WRONG! A few private insurance policies will cover them for this reason but most will not. Most insurers, especially Medicare, will only pay for a scooter for in-home use. It must also be necessary to have a mobility scooter to take care of your basic needs like toileting, feeding, etc. (called ADL’s). This must be proven in your medical documentation. If you can get from your couch to your bathroom without one or with a cane, walker, or manual wheelchair, you probably don’t qualify.
Summary: Is a Mobility Scooter the Right Choice for You?
I hope this information helps you in your decision about getting an electric mobility scooter. When used correctly with the right patient in the right situation, they are a wonderful help to a person’s daily living. However, when they are not used in the right situation, they can be dangerous and cause further injury.
Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®
About This Site
Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS Founder / Editor
My name is Scott Grant and I work daily with seniors as a custom wheelchair specialist at a home medical equipment company. I see these people struggle as they lose their independence. I watch their families try to help them but most don't even know where to start. Few are even aware of their options. I'm here to help!
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