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Toni Talks about PT Today

The Problem with Scooters

Published November 1, 2011 3:16 PM by Toni Patt

I'm not a fan of electric scooters. In my mind, they've gone from a mobility option to a passive enabler. That doesn't mean there aren't people who benefit from them. They're a Godsend for elders residing in assisted-living facilities where the dining room is hundreds or thousands of feet away. They bring mobility to individuals who otherwise wouldn't walk. That's the problem.

Scooters allow people to become lazy. With that laziness comes diminished activity tolerance, weakness, fragile bones and often obesity. For every individual aided by a scooter, there is probably another who for whom the scoot created dependence. I've had countless patients who either wanted or had purchased one because it made things easier.

Therein lies the problem. The benefits of walking are well known. Ambulation is active exercise. It maintains muscle and bone strength. It facilitates aerobic capacity. Walking programs are one of the most common forms of exercise today. That stops the minute someone begins to rely on a scooter. As soon as the walking stops, so does the exercise; and then the problems begin.

One of those problems is weight gain. If you're not walking, you're not burning calories. As the pounds pile up a nasty cycle begins. Extra weight makes walking more difficult. Reliance on the scoot increases. Extra weight stresses joints and can exacerbate arthritic problems. Lack of activity may diminish the effectiveness of medications, particularly those for blood pressure. Exercise helps control diabetes. Once the activity stops, so do the benefits it provided. High blood pressure and out-of-control diabetes are not a good combination for continued health.

I want to scream every time I hear someone say they want a scooter because they get tired from walking. Our society wants a quick fix. Using a scooter is a quick fix with disastrous results. Thanks to advertising, scooters are sometimes seen as a cure-all. Putting someone in a motorized chair won't solve the problem unless the underlying deficits are addressed.

I've had patients with relatively mild to moderate strokes do poorly because they used a scooter pre-infarct. They had become deconditioned and overweight. Getting to the edge of the bed to sitting became exhausting. Standing, a necessity for return of function, wasn't possible. The scooters become useless because they don't regain enough trunk stability to sit in them.

I don't think scooters should be banned. I do think getting one should be much more difficult.

4 comments

I remember reading an article a few years ago about how the pay-at-the-pump feature at gas stations was part of the reason our society became more obese. Walking those 50 extra feet to pay for our gas made us burn more calories per day, and now we stand stationary next to our cars with no caloric demands.  Just like you wrote, the easy fix is very tempting (drive-through restaurants, etc), but our bodies need to move.  Great post.  

Lisa Mueller November 3, 2011 6:12 PM

A perfect example of compensation vs. recovery

dean, patient - none, home November 1, 2011 11:50 PM
minneapolis MN

Great post, Toni.  Excellent insights that need to be more visible.

Janey Goude November 1, 2011 9:11 PM

Applause, applause, applause! Not only are they detrimental to most people who want one, this is one area ripe for third party payer abuse. I remember visiting a patient in NYC who lived in a 4th floor walk up apartment who had a scooter collecting dust in her kitchen. She couldn't get up or down the stairs, but the MD OK'd her scooter anyway.

Good post!

Dean Metz November 1, 2011 5:16 PM

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