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Are you sitting comfortably? Hospital offers seating clinic for wheelchair users

Sit in the wrong type of chair for too long and it can wreak havoc on your back. Many of us know this from experience whether it’s our own visits to the chiropractor and physiotherapist or those of a friend, work colleague or family member.

Making sure you don’t sit for too long is a big part of the advice specialists in this area always dole out. But what if you can’t get up and move about? What happens if you’re confined to a wheelchair?

Not surprisingly, matching a person with an appropriate wheelchair is most important, not only for comfort but also for good physical and mental health. Just like regular chairs, wheelchairs come in a wide variety of shapes, styles and models. There are a variety of situations that might cause a person to need a wheelchair. In many circumstances, like after an accident or limb amputation, the person is in hospital. In these cases an occupational therapist is most often the person who advises the patient and family what wheelchair to get.

But after that initial assessment and advice it’s not exactly clear where to go for questions and problems that arise. Recognising this deficit, a weekly wheelchair clinic is now offered at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH).

Run by occupational therapists, attendees are referred there by their doctors.

“There hasn’t been a formal wheelchair seating clinic here before,” said occupational therapist Heather Wearmouth. “It’s important to have a place where people can come for wheelchair assessments.”

She said wheelchair users can suffer a variety of physical ailments from having the wrong chair.

“Not having a properly fitted chair can cause a range of difficulties including pressure ulcers, contractures of the limbs (where a joint is held at an angle such that the muscle becomes stiff and flexing it becomes difficult as the muscle remains contracted) as well as other postural deformities,” she said.

But in addition to the physical problems that may arise, those who use wheelchairs are more likely to become depressed if they are uncomfortable in their chairs.

“If they are not comfortable they may stay in bed and opt out of activities,” she said. “It’s very important. Having a right-fitting chair will enhance their quality of life, it supports social inclusion — where the patient is happy to visit with friends and family and engage in other social activities — rather than opting out because they are uncomfortable.”

The wheelchair clinic takes place every Wednesday afternoon at KEMH. According to Ms Wearmouth, having it weekly centralises the assessment service and makes it more accessible to the community.

An occupational therapist does the initial assessment with the patient and recommends a specific wheelchair. Ms Wearmouth said she works closely with local retailer Medical House ensuring that the equipment she recommends is either in stock or can be imported. But she said she can also work from a catalogue or specification sheet in cases where a patient is looking at a wheelchair they’re prepared to import themselves.

“Once the wheelchair arrives we seat them in it and teach them how to use it,” she said.

Ms Wearmouth also advises that the wheelchair-bound be reassessed every five years.

“People’s weight may change, their medical condition may change, or there may be changes that come with ageing that the chair needs to be adjusted to accommodate,” she said.

Visit www.royalgazette.com to see a clip of Ms Wearmouth explaining some of the types of problems those in wheelchairs can suffer.

Hands on: Wheelchair user Raymond Johnston is one of those who has taken advantage of the wheelchair clinic at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. Pictured is Mr Johnston with occupational therapist Heather Wearmouth.

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Published April 10, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated April 10, 2012 at 9:06 am)

Are you sitting comfortably? Hospital offers seating clinic for wheelchair users

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