Sometimes caregivers have to step in to provide transportation for people who face mobility challenges, whether they are full-time users of wheelchairs, get around with walkers, use a cane, or merely are a bit stiff and grateful for a hand.
For many older adults and people with disabilities, the simple act of getting into or out of a vehicle can be “quite difficult,” says John Schall, chief executive of the nonprofit Caregivers Action Network. He notes the strain that can come with “turning the body to get the legs out, then leaning on the door handle for balance, and getting away from the car” into a wheelchair or walker.
The good news is that several devices easily found in stores and online can considerably ease that strain for people with mobility problems, and for their caregivers.
These portable, inexpensive tools are “a good starting point” for making cars more accessible, although users might eventually need to graduate to more permanent solutions, says Cassy Churchill of Winamac, Indiana-based BraunAbility, which makes and sells a range of mobility equipment and modified vehicles.
An occupational therapist can help you find the safest and most appropriate gear to help your loved one, she adds.
The lowdown: Also known as a grab bar or Handybar (in the popular version sold online by mobility products company Stander, this is a small, lightweight, L-shaped device that serves as a portable support for getting into and out of a vehicle.
The shorter portion of the “L” shoves down into the U-shaped latch attached to the doorjamb on most cars. The longer, padded portion sticks out at a right angle, providing a grab handle to help a person rise from or lower into a seat. Remove and stow the bar to close the door.
Small enough to fit into a coat pocket or purse, the assist bar easily can be carried from car to car and used on either side of a vehicle. Some brands have tiny flashlights built into the handle; others have key compartments.
Typically, the bars are designed with seat belt cutters and glass breakers to get out of a car in emergencies.
Be aware: When not in use, the bar “needs to be secure inside the car,” says Elin Schold Davis, coordinator of the Older Driver Initiative Project at the American Occupational Therapy Association. “It weighs enough that if you’re in a crash you don’t want it flying around. Put it in the center console or tucked away.”
Price: $10 to $30, depending on brand and seller.
The lowdown: Often called car caddies, support straps or transfer straps, these devices can be strapped around the frame of a front-door window, dangling a wide handle users grasp and pull on to rise out of the vehicle after first turning to the side to face out the door.