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Donated Medical Equipment

Falls-Free Plan - donated medical equipment

Getting Donated Medical Equipment?  Saying “Yes” or“No”

It is really nice when you receive donated medical equipment, usually because friends think you and your elderly loved one need it because of a disabling condition.  It’s really nice that the neighbors, friends and relatives think of your needs and want to help out. However, it is up to the caregiver, and even the patient, to look realistically at these “gifts” and see how practical and safe they are for use by the patient.


For example, I heard about a man with low-vision who was in his eighties who was given a free power wheelchair by a neighbor who had one in the garage. It had belonged to a now-deceased relative with mobility impairment. The neighbor was glad to move the wheelchair out of his garage and give it to someone whom he thought needed it.   The man was glad to receive the power wheelchair, certain that he would be able to get around better using the power wheelchair in his small and cramped apartment.

Is it Practical?

However, the granddaughter who cared for her grandfather in this cramped apartment was soon very adamant that that power wheelchair must go, and as soon as possible.  Why?

Actually, this was not a practical solution.  The man had low-vision and was slow and unsteady in walking. He had been using a walker around his place.  The apartment where he lived with his granddaughter and her family was small and crammed with furniture from years of living.  He was very familiar with his “paths” he used to get around the apartment and had a routine to his days.

When he was given the power wheelchair, he took off “driving” the wheelchair, with no instruction about how to steer, brake or control the speed. Soon he was driving around his apartment like he was on a  bumper-car ride at the state fair.  He literally did bump into things with his power wheelchair:  tables, doors, walls, etc.  He mowed over whatever was on the floor:  shoes, trash cans, electrical cords, etc.  His granddaughter was constantly following him around trying to prevent another collision as he careened from one accident to another around the apartment.  He was invincible now, he thought.   He couldn’t fall down now, and he could speed around as fast as he wanted until he hit a wall.

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The granddaughter was left to deal with the mess he had mowed over on the floor, and the dings, cracks and breakage left on the furniture and walls.  She spent her day following him and trying to anticipate the next crash before it happened.  The power chair also took up a large space in the living room, could not fit through the bathroom door, and made deep tracks in the  worn carpet.  She soon concluded that the power wheelchair was no “gift”; it was a problem.  She said, “It’s got to go!”    She explained the problem to him, because he really did not see the damage he had done, and he did not see that this was dangerous to his safety.

It finally became clear to him that the power wheelchair was not an appropriate vehicle for him.  One night, he wheeled into the television stand, and tipped the television over. Luckily, family members caught the television before it crashed on top of him. He had narrowly escaped an injury caused by his inability to  see where he was going.  He was ready to quit  driving his powered wheelchair at that moment.

A Better Answer.

Fortunately, he welcomed using a walker and  using his well-traveled  paths where he knew  every table, chair  and corner quite well.  Granddaughter was glad to be his guide when he needed help, which was actually less frequent than when he was “driving” the power chair. They gave the unneeded power chair to a local VA hospital where it could be donated to someone who really could use it capably.

As a caregiver, when you are offered a piece of donated medical equipment, think carefully about the safety of your loved one first, then the  practicalities of using the equipment in your environment.  Ask the doctor, the home health care nurse, or the physical therapist what they think of having the patient use this equipment. Ask healthcare professionals  for instructions, a demonstration,  and even a practice session with the equipment.  Ask the owner for  a written manual for the product.  If the patient can really be helped by this product according to the opinions of healthcare professionals, and it fits the environment, then say  “yes” to the donation.  Otherwise, politely suggest some other place where it may be donated.

Say “yes” to safety and to sanity first.

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