Wheelchair users are at risk of reduced bone density, pressure sores and joint problems because they are not able to change position often enough
Scottish wheelchair users are spending far too much time in their chairs, putting them at risk of further serious health problems, new research has found.
NHS Scotland guidelines recommend wheelchair users be seated for no more than two hours without a change of position. However, research from respite care centre Leuchie House has revealed that many wheelchair users spend all day sitting in the same position.
People who spend too much time in their wheelchair are at risk of reduced bone density, osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, pressure sores, spasms, changes in blood pressure, joint problems and even cardiovascular conditions.
There are potentially thousands of people who stay in their wheelchairs for hours on end and are at risk of developing serious health complications - Moni Robson
Staff at Leuchie House have become increasingly concerned about wheelchair users who come to the facility for short breaks and report sitting too long in the same position when at home.
The charity found that many people don’t have the kind of adjustable chair they need to change position over the course of the day and don't have carers visiting often enough to help them in or out of their wheelchair so they can spend time in other seats.
They interviewed 100 wheelchair users over the course of 2015 and found two thirds do not have an adjustable, tilt-in-space wheelchair to help spread pressure distribution.
Researchers discovered 71% of people spend seven hours or more in their wheelchair, 45% spend more than 10 hours a day and 43% do not move out of their chair at all over the course of a typical day.
The most common reason for staying in their chair too long was a lack of carer support or no alternative chair. However, other reasons including a feeling of losing independence when out of their wheelchair, and the necessity of transferring back to the chair to go to the toilet. Some people also said they didn’t want to burden their carer by asking to be moved.
Jim has motor neurone disease and has used a wheelchair for 14 years. He spends 12 hours a day in his chair from nine in the morning to nine at night.
“I live with my wife and have carers who come in to help with my personal care,” said Jim. “They put me in my wheelchair after I’ve showered and dressed in the morning and that’s me for the rest of the day. It takes two people to hoist me, so my wife can’t do that on her own.
“When I stay at Leuchie House for a respite break, the care staff are able to transfer me to a recliner chair in the afternoon. This shifts the pressure and prevents pressure sores, which are an ongoing issue for me. Having more carer time so that I could do this at home too would make a big difference.”
Moni Robson, lead physiotherapist at Leuchie House, said: “The results of our survey reveal a worrying picture of daily life for a significant proportion of wheelchair users.
“If, as we suspect, our group is representative of all the people living in Scotland with long-term conditions, there are potentially thousands of people in a similar position, who stay in their wheelchairs for hours on end and are at risk of developing serious health complications.
“Making tilt-in-space wheelchairs more widely available to those who need them could go some way towards alleviating the situation. Yet, they don’t appear to fit within current prescription criteria as 65% of people we surveyed don’t have a chair that can be adjusted in this way.”
Leuchie House is situated in North Berwick and specialises in providing respite breaks for people and their families living with a range of neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease.