How do able-bodied older adults learn to use a wheelchair?

study logo - wheel
Researcher(s): Dr. Bonita Sawatzky

The effect of motor learning-based wheelchair propulsion training on wheeling biomechanics and gross mechanical efficiency in older adults: a randomized controlled trial

Although older adults make up the largest population of wheelchair users, very little research has focused on how to make wheeling easier and less likely to result in injuries for this population. This study will use a new form of training to teach older adults how to propel a wheelchair as efficiently as possible so that they can save their energy for other life activities and help prevent overuse injuries. Older adults are often negatively affected by decreased strength and fitness associated with aging. Therefore, it is important to teach the most effective way to propel a wheelchair.

Purpose of this study: To determine the effectiveness of different methods of wheelchair propulsion training for older adults.

You may be eligible to participate if you:

  • Are able-bodied (non-wheelchair user)
  • Are healthy and do not smoke
  • Are 55 years of age or older
  • Do not have any musculoskeletal problems
  • Can walk for 10 minutes without fatigue
  • Have no manual wheeling experience

What is involved:

This study involves between 6 hours for data collection (3 visits) and 8 hours for data collection and training (9 visits) depending on which group you are randomly assigned to. All visits occur at the Blusson Pavilion in the ICORD Research Centre, 818 West 10th Ave., Vancouver, BC.

If you are interested in taking part in this study, we will phone you to determine if you meet the eligibility requirements. After you provide informed consent, you will complete some general questionnaires. We will take a few physical measurements including height, weight, grip strength, and arm flexibility and fit you to one of the laboratory wheelchairs. You will have five minutes to become acquainted with the wheelchair and-treadmill setup.

The three testing sessions will consist of measuring your oxygen consumption during wheelchair propulsion at a self-selected comfortable speed (5 minutes). This will require you to breathe into a mouthpiece, wear nose plugs, and a heart-rate monitor around your chest. During testing, we will record your oxygen consumption, and your energy that you are using to complete the activity.

A small marker will be taped to your hand to evaluate how you are propelling the wheelchair. After the metabolic testing, you will perform a couple of overground wheeling tasks including a 10 meter wheeling test, a 15 meter wheelchair sprint test, as well as a few general wheelchair skills.

At the end of Day 1, we will determine which group you are randomly assigned to by pulling a sealed envelope. You have equal chances of being randomized to any of the three groups (1) Control, (2) Training 1, or (3) Training 2. If you are randomized to a training group, we will book two 20-minute training appointments per week for three weeks.

Control Group: For those randomized to the Control group, you will be asked to attend three data collection sessions over 6-7 weeks.

Training Groups: For those randomized to one of the two training groups, you will be asked to attend six training sessions over three weeks in addition to the three data collection sessions over the 6-7 weeks. Each training session will involve wheeling for two 5-minute trials with a 10-minute rest break between trials.

Why might you like to participate:

Remuneration is $15 for each data collection session and $5 for each of the six training session if you are randomized to those groups. The information gained from this study will provide greater direction and support for applying training strategies to older adults who use wheelchairs for their independent mobility.

If you are interested in participating or would like more information please contact: Megan MacGillivray (please type AGING in the subject box in your email) or phone 604-619-9733.