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Odd mobility devices are more reliable

Seniors find the odd mobility devices to be more reliable than the actual ones.

Photo of Rodney Lobo
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We have seen so many elderly use of mobility devices like shopping carts and umberellas instead of walkers and canes.

Although we had established in many of our posts why walkers and canes are avoided, we never learned why the seniors preferred these other 'devices'.

An expert at the Silver Crest Rehabilitation center in Queens had told that, even though they have advised the seniors to continue using the suggested devices, they tend to 'walk' away from them. Clearly the elderly want to remain independent, and not rely on others for help. But, at the same time, they want to stay upright, and balanced.

When my team visited the Weinberg Center for Balanced Living for a lunch service volunteering on March 16th, we had the opportunity to observe more than 30 seniors out of the 140, using various mobility devices (including canes, walkers, wheelchairs, umbrellas, rollators, and shopping cart).

When asked a fe

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w questions, we found out that the reason why the odd devices are preferred are because the are reliable. They trust these devices.

For instance, using an umbrella as a cane can serve more than one purpose: a device to balance oneself, and also to protect oneself from rain or harsh sunlight.

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I'm quoting Helaine, the lady who was 'prescribed' the shopping cart by her friend, Margaret, "I don't remember where I bought it, but this shopping cart has been with me for 40 years, and it's still good".

In a previous interview, Margaret had told us, "I can walk all the way from here [New York] to Chicago if I have my shopping cart with me."

These observations suggest that the elderly think of their devices more like a companion than a non-living physical object that can help them move around.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Is it possible for us to make the elderly trust the devices provided by the physical therapists or doctor? Can we make something that helps keep the balance, and at the same time is reliable?

Tell us about your work experience:

Student of New York University (Industrial Engineering), passionate about Human Centered Design, Design for America of NYU member; working with a team to build a new assistive device for the elderly.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Susan Jackewicz

You make several very important points here, especially about people trusting an object or process, so they feel comfortable with its reliability and use. Trusting the shopping cart seems critical to counteract the feeling one's own legs might be unreliable for keeping balance in certain situations.

Also, while adoption of an old shopping cart for a stability aid might seem unusual, Margaret's referral of the cart to Helaine illustrates her willingness to try out then promote a solution to a problem the two of them share. It's something to keep in mind when trying to have people adopt new fall prevention ideas designed to help them. Maybe this video will help explain what's basically the law of diffusion of innovation (at time stamp 11:10) in this Tedx Talk by Simon Sinek titled "How great leaders inspire action":

Photo of Rodney Lobo

Hi Susan. I think that the emotional aspect of this is the most convincing factor. They do not care much if the devices are not very stable, but the elderly would rather use something that they have possessed for some time, than something unknown.

The theory in the video is really interesting. It helps to understand why someone might want to buy things first, and why someone is forced to buy the same thing because of lack of availability. This could be applied to the elderly as well. A certain population want to take a risk, and a good population will follow them. Helaine's case might be the same here.

Thank you for sharing this video :)

Photo of Susan Jackewicz

Rodney Lobo Glad you liked the video about innovation adoption. I think, though, it's important to factor in the timing of the situation an older person might be in. What if Helaine was just recuperating from a fall - Maybe under normal circumstances she'd be more likely to try something totally new and innovative, but right after a fall she might feel more comfortable trusting the advice of a friend who already uses a solution more familiar, even if it's not more "advanced".

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