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The Ohio Department of Aging

Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Family - December 2011

Granny's got a brand new thing
Consumers are demanding, and getting, medical supplies that match their style

Sarah always made sure she looked stylish and dressed well when she went to her physical therapy sessions. She took pride in her appearance and was determined not to let that slip after her recent illness and hospitalization. Her rehab was going well and she was ready to take a few steps when her therapist brought in her walker. Sarah's heart sank at the sight of that gray, tubular contraption with neon green tennis balls on the front legs. It was the ugliest thing she had ever seen - fit only for "old people." She was ashamed to be seen with it, and she used it reluctantly, but was determined that it would not be a permanent part of her style.

Sarah went on a mission to find the walker that was right for her. She had an idea what she wanted, and was delighted when her online search returned an ebony walker with attached leopard bag and leopard handgrips. This was much more her style, and she was happy to strut her stuff with her new accessory.

More people are living longer, more active lives with chronic disease, and they want their assistive devices to match their lifestyles. This is the generation that grew up wanting to drive Camaros and Mustangs or be on the cover of People magazine. An icon of his generation, TV's Dr. House soundly rejected an institutional quad cane in favor of fashionable canes, including one with flames and a chrome handle.

This shifting consumer interest and buying power are influencing the medical supply industry. No longer satisfied with something that merely works, customers care about how a product makes them feel, and are willing to pay extra for a product that does not make them feel old. They want products that look attractive, sleek, even chic, and manufacturers are investing in the design of their products to meet the demand.

Walkers today come decorated in stylish patterns, and scooters can be painted with racing stripes and flames. Consumers can choose home medical equipment, such as respiratory aides that look more like furniture than hospital fixtures, decorated in shiny silver or wood grain patterns or adorned with personal photographs. In addition to style, many people are customizing everything from canes and crutches, to walkers and wheelchairs to be more functional with attached cup holders or a caddy to hold the remote and the cordless phone.

Product manufacturers and retailers also are trying to create health supply products so stylish that customers will pay with their own money for them. Medicare generally covers most, if not all of the cost of a basic, gray walker, while a custom walker can cost almost $300. Other modifications can be hand-crafted, such as cup-holders or a special paint job, for the cost of labor and supplies.

These new designs are not just vanity products. A person does not lose her sense of self or style just because she needs some assistance. Creating medical supplies that suit the tastes of the consumer is another expression of person-centered care.

Why shouldn't Sarah have a walker that matches her sense of personal style?

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