SMA Assistive Equipment

Muscle weakness because of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) can make daily tasks difficult. How motor function and independence are affected depends on disease severity. Treatments and therapy aim to reduce the impact of the disease on daily tasks.

There are also devices and technologies that can improve mobility and independence. These are often called “assistive equipment.” Ask your care for advice on what equipment would be helpful for you or your child.

What is assistive equipment?

Assistive equipment is also called adaptive equipment. It refers to devices that help complete daily activities. These devices can increase independence with mobility and communication. They are most often used to help elderly people or people with disabilities.1,2

Examples of how assistive equipment can be used include:1

  • Improving mobility
  • Helping with hearing, seeing, or communicating
  • Helping with memory and other cognitive skills
  • Allowing participation in educational and leisure activities
  • Improving accessibility with modifications to the home or school environment
  • Improving independence with daily tasks, like cooking and dressing

Why do people with SMA need assistive equipment?

Muscle weakness in SMA can make it difficult to complete daily tasks independently. Assistive equipment can help increase independence with these tasks.

The specific assistive equipment used varies greatly between people. For example, infants with type 1 SMA often need devices to help with positioning and stretching, as well as breathing and feeding. Children with type 2 SMA often need wheelchairs and other mobility aids. People with type 3 SMA may need devices that help with walking and standing.3,4

Soon after diagnosis, people with SMA should see an occupational therapist. This is an expert who can suggest ways to improve participation in everyday activities. Occupational therapists and other doctors can monitor individual needs. They can then identify equipment to maximize independent function. The main types of assistive equipment used by people with SMA include:3,4

  • Devices that improve mobility
  • Breathing support
  • Equipment to help with swallowing
  • Orthoses (braces)

Mental, intellectual, and social function is normal in people with all types of SMA. People with SMA do not need devices to help with memory, attention, or other mental challenges.

What are examples of assistive equipment used in SMA?

Infants and children

Depending on the type and severity of SMA, infants and children usually need devices that help with mobility and motion. Technologies can often be customized to include accessories that are most helpful to your child. Talk to your doctor for suggestions on which devices are suitable for your child. Devices that increase independence with mobility include:2,5,6

  • Power-assisted wheelchairs that can be controlled with hands or mouth
  • Adaptive strollers as a lighter and more portable alternative to a wheelchair
  • Wheelchair lifts at home
  • Car beds for children to lie down while traveling
  • Braces to prevent scoliosis and support joints
  • Arm and leg braces to help range of motion
  • Standers to improve weight-bearing and balance
  • Devices to wirelessly control lights, televisions, and speakers
  • Tablets customized with digital assistants, accessibility features, and applications

Infants and children with SMA may also need devices to help with breathing and feeding. This depends on disease severity but includes:2

  • Cough assist machines to help with airway clearance, such as CoughAssist
  • Mechanical chest vibration devices to loosen mucus and secretions
  • Ventilation devices, such as bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP)
  • Feeding tubes to help with nutrient intake

Adults

Older children and adults with SMA usually do not have problems with breathing or swallowing. They may benefit from devices that help with mobility. These include:2,5,6

  • Standers, walkers, and gait trainers to help with walking and balance
  • Braces to help with walking and posture
  • Adaptive bikes
  • Devices to wirelessly control lights, televisions, and speakers
  • Tablets customized with digital assistants, accessibility features, and applications

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Written by: Matt Zajac | Last reviewed: August 2021