Wheelchair Prejudice: The Social Ramifications of Wheelchair Assignment in Nursing Homes

Posted by Dr. El - January 25, 2011 - Transitions in care - 11 Comments

I was a dork in high school.  Oh sure, some of the people who knew me best realized I wasn’t quite as dorky as I appeared on the outside, but to most of the kids in my class I was not a sought-after individual.

Residents in geri-recliners are the dorks of the nursing home.  For the uninitiated, geri-chairs are like chaise lounges on wheels.  They are often difficult to maneuver, take up extra room in the elevator (thus reducing the chance of being transported to activities), and make it virtually impossible for residents to go out on pass with their families to enjoy a meal at home or in a restaurant.  In addition, people tend to assume that residents in geri-recliners aren’t “with it.”

By contrast, those residents lucky enough to be able to use electric wheelchairs are like the captains of the sports teams, the shining stars.  Residents who can wheel themselves around are the jocks, people in regular chairs are the cool kids, those in high-backed chairs are in the band, and residents who need their feet elevated are in the math club.

People are given geri-recliners to reduce pain and prevent skin breakdown, as they’re easier on the body than other chairs.  There are good reasons for such chairs, but this post is a pitch for making these conveyances the chairs of last resort because of the effect they have on the social and psychological health of the residents confined to them.

If you know a method or product that allows residents to stay in other types of chairs with the same level of comfort as the geri-chair, or are aware of a geri-recliner that’s designed for maneuverability and user-friendliness, please add your thoughts in the Comments section.