Assistive Equipment: Adults

Adults with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) may have lower mobility because of progressive muscle weakness. This can make it harder to carry out daily tasks. The level of motor functioning varies greatly, depending on disease severity and other personal factors. Assistive devices can help make sure adults with SMA have enough mobility and independence to participate in daily activities.

Many adults with type 2 or 3 SMA have ongoing needs that began during childhood. Movement and function often worsen, so they may need different tools. Adults with type 4 SMA may have new impairments that require assistance.

Talk to your care team about assistive devices that can increase mobility and independence. Many wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility aids can be customized to fit your specific needs.

Wheelchairs

Adults with type 2 SMA generally cannot walk. Adults with type 3 SMA may lose the ability to walk later in life. In either case, wheelchairs can increase freedom and independence. Independent mobility can also relieve stress on caregivers. Talk to your insurance provider about the types of wheelchairs covered by insurance.1

Many types of wheelchairs are available for adults with SMA. Manual wheelchairs can be controlled from the chair or pushed by a caregiver. Power chairs are electronically controlled with a joystick.3

As muscle weakness progresses, wheelchair needs may change. For example, different supportive seating can accommodate new complications, such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine). If fatigue becomes a problem, powered reclining and other features may help. Talk to your care team for suggestions on what wheelchair is right for you.1

Standers

Adults with SMA who cannot stand unsupported can benefit from a stander. These help with balance and weight-bearing, which can improve muscle health. Daily standing exercises are important to maintain motor function and range of motion.2

Some standers are stationary, while others can be moved. Standers can be configured to meet each person’s needs. Sit-to-stand standers let adults transition between sitting and standing positions. As mobility changes over time, different standers may be needed.2

Walkers

Walkers can help adults with SMA who cannot walk unsupported. These provide support for weight and balance. Many adults with SMA use a rolling walker, which has 4 wheels and a handbrake. Rolling walkers do not need to be lifted while walking.2

Walkers can be designed based on personal needs. For example, some walkers support more weight in the front if the person leans forward while walking. Gait trainers are a specific type of walker that give support while walking.2

Braces

Adults with SMA may benefit from many types of braces. Back braces can support positioning and prevent scoliosis (curvature of the spine). Arm and leg braces can help with range of motion and walking. If walking and range of motion become more difficult over time, bracing needs may change. Talk to your care team about bracing options.3

Adaptive bikes

Exercise can improve many aspects of physical and mental health for adults with SMA. Sometimes this can be difficult depending on muscle strength and joint complications. Adaptive bikes are 1 way to get exercise for adults with SMA.

Adaptive bikes are bikes modified to fit personal needs. For example, recumbent bikes or trikes place the rider in a seated, reclining position for more support and balance. Tandem bikes built for 2 riders are ideal for people who cannot bike on their own. Talk to a physical therapist for suggestions on adaptive bikes.4

Wireless technology

Even with wheelchairs and walkers, simple tasks at home can become difficult for adults with SMA. For example, turning lights and televisions on and off may get tougher as mobility worsens. Wireless technology can allow adults with SMA independent control of lights, televisions, air conditioning, and much more. Talk to an occupational therapist on your care team about how wireless technology can help you.

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Written by: Matt Zajac | Last reviewed: August 2021