When my 98-year old father had a mild heart attack, I had to scramble to find him some mobility aids. This meant running to the nearby drug store and grabbing the first cane and walker I could find, and then paying whatever the store asked for them. Since Dad was on a fixed budget, though, it would have been nice to have taken my time and looked around for some cheap mobility aids.
With time and some research, you can find programs that offer free or cheap mobility aids for seniors. In the United States, Great Britain (U. K.), and Canada read on to learn about:
- Government assistance programs that supply free mobility aids for the elderly
- How to get free canes for the elderly
- Where to get used walkers for seniors (walking frames in the U.K.)
- Wheelchair assistance programs
- Can I get help getting a mobility scooter?
- How to get a free electric wheelchair
- Will Medicare pay for a wheelchair?
Government Assistance Programs That Supply Free Mobility Aids For The Elderly
Mobility aids (also known as assistive technology (AT) help maintain independence and improve the functioning of those who are disabled or who may have trouble completing activities of daily living (ADLs). On the less technical side, AT devices are things like walkers or canes and wheelchairs or scooters. AT devices could also be very high tech, such as home automation solutions as computers that are controlled by eye movement. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on the less technical devices and looking into the programs that can supply (or help you get) free mobility aids for seniors.
- In the United States, Medicare provides some basic medically necessary mobility aids (called Durable Medical Equipment (DME).
- Also in the U. S., the Assistive Technology Act provides resources in all 50 states, Washington DC and 5 US territories that helps make “assistive technology devices and services more available and accessible to individuals with disabilities and their families”. These resources may include such things as loans to help buy needed assistive technology (AT), Durable Medical Equipment (DME) reuse programs, or online AT equipment exchange programs. Click here to find out what might be available in your local area.
- The Pass It On Center has coordinated a national Assistive Technology reuse program with resources in the U. S., as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U. S. Virgin Islands.
- U. K. programs through the National Health Service (NHS) provide some home adaptions (modifications) and equipment to seniors in the country.
- Canada –
- Alberta has an Aids to Daily Living (AADL) program, which may help low-income elderly residents reduce or eliminate their portion of a mobility aid’s cost-share amount. Seniors must apply to be considered for a temporary or permanent cost-share reduction.
- Manitoba’s Home Care Services may cover equipment and supplies for low-income seniors.
- Ontario offers help covering costs for certain mobility aids through the Assistive Devices Program (ADP). In some cases, seniors can get these items for free.
- Although it doesn’t specifically list a free mobility aids benefit, Prince Edward Island’s low-income elders may get help with home modifications if they qualify for the Seniors Safe @ Home Program.
- Saskatchewan’s SAIL program provides a basic level of coverage (including some mobility and assistive devices.
How To Get Free Canes For The Elderly
Canes are probably the easiest mobility aid to get for the elderly. They can be found in many places – online, in the local drug store, or at garage sales or thrift stores. That said, some seniors cannot afford them, so there are some programs to help you get free canes for the elderly.
In addition to Medicare and the Pass It On Center (see the section above), if you or a senior loved one live in Virginia, check out the F.R.E.E. Foundation. They are a volunteer organization and non-profit that “collects, sanitizes, repairs and gifts donated mobility equipment to uninsured and underinsured adults in Virginia.” The foundation must be used as a last resort and is for those who have exhausted all other means of getting a mobility aid.
Along with canes, the F.R.E.E. Foundation provides other aids like walkers (both wheeled and standard), bathing and toileting aids, wheelchairs (both powered and standard), and even some types of specialty equipment.
To get one – at minimum, you’ll need to submit an application and provide a doctor’s prescription. For equipment that’s worth more than $500, you’ll also need to meet other requirements.
The Canadian government’s website recommends checking with the senior’s province or territory of residence for specific sources of financial help with paying for mobility aids. They also recommend that seniors check with Veteran’s Affairs Canada, as well as community and local non-profits, such as the Lion’s Club, Royal Canadian Legion, or Kiwanis.
Where To Get Used Walkers For Seniors (Walking Frames in the U.K)
Garage sales, estate sales, and thrift stores are great places to get used walkers (walking frames), canes, and other mobility aids. It can be time consuming to visit several places to find everything you want, but it can be well worth checking out. Remember that inventory changes daily in thrift stores, so if you don’t find what you’re looking for the first time you visit, check back periodically to see if someone donated that item.
If you are in the Philadelphia or the south New Jersey area, Goodwill operates the Goodwill Home Medical Warehouse in Bellmawr, NJ. This is a huge warehouse that has a giant inventory of used mobility aids.
In Virginia, check with the F.R.E.E. Foundation, which has various locations across the state.
No matter where you are in the United States (or it’s territories), it’s worth the time to try calling some of the hospitals, nursing homes, or hospice centers in your area to see if they have used walkers that they would sell to you.
In many cases, people leave a facility and leave things behind. In the case of a hospice facility, when someone passes away, often the family donates their loved one’s walker, cane, etc., to the facility because they have no use for the equipment.
You may need to specifically ask to speak with the facility administrator or to one of the hospital’s social workers to get a factual answer: the receptionist or switchboard operator isn’t going to have any idea if there is leftover equipment available.
One nurse we know, who works in a nursing home, mentioned that there were several walkers crammed into a closet because they had been left behind. They just kept getting shuffled around because no one needed them.
The National Healthcare System (NHS) allows for some free mobility aides, no matter the senior’s income, provided the item costs less than £1,000. A walking frame is on the list of approved aides, however, to get one, the senior must request a home assessment from an occupational therapist. This is done through their local council’s adult social services department.
The province of Ontario helps cover 75% of the cost of wheeled walkers for adults who live in Ontario, have a valid health card, and have a disability that requires them to use a mobility aid for six months or longer. In some cases, they may cover 100% of the cost if a recipient is on certain government financial assistance programs. The senior has to apply for the Assistive Devices Program (ADP) and also must be examined by an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist to determine their needs.
Some other provinces and territories have similar programs (see the section above – Government Assistance Programs That Supply Free Mobility Aids For The Elderly).
Wheelchair Assistance Programs
The Pass It On Center “is creating national and state resources to foster the appropriate reuse of Assistive Technology so that persons with disabilities can get the affordable AT they need in order to live, learn, work and play more independently” The Pass It On Center has resources in the U. S., as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U. S. Virgin Islands.
Also, try your local Area Agency on Aging. They may also be listed under the County Office on Aging (example: Broward County Office on Aging). This is a nationwide network of organizations that receive federal funding under the Older Americans Act, and usually get state
Aside from the mobility aides a senior can obtain from the NHS, they can also look into charitable trusts for funds for wheelchairs and other mobility equipment. One resource that lets seniors and carers search organizations who give grants that may be used for equipment is Turn2Us charity search.
Alberta residents can apply to the Aids to Daily Living (AADL) program, which may help low-income elderly residents reduce or eliminate their portion of a mobility aid’s cost-share amount.
Manitoba’s Home Care Services may cover some or all of the cost-share for equipment and supplies for low-income seniors.
Ontario residents may get help covering costs for certain mobility aids through the Assistive Devices Program (ADP). In some cases, seniors may even be able to get these items for free.
Prince Edward Island’s low-income seniors can possibly get financial help with home modifications through the Seniors Safe @ Home Program.
Saskatchewan has a SAIL Program which provides a basic level of coverage (including some mobility and assistive devices.
Can I Get Help Getting A Mobility Scooter?
The answer to whether you can get help getting a mobility scooter (powered wheelchair) is a definite “maybe”. To get one through Medicare, the user must meet certain conditions:
- They must be unable to complete their activities of daily living (ADL) because they are unable to get around the home.
- Their mobility concerns cannot be solvable with the use of a cane and walker.
- They must need the scooter for use inside the home, not just outside it.
Aside from these qualifications, the person must have a written order from their physician, stating the type of wheelchair the person needs and the medical reason for needing it.
Medicare usually will cover 80% of the covered cost – this means the senior will be getting a basic scooter.
The senior will need to cover the remaining 20% of the cost, but this is typically done through their Medicare Supplement plan, if they have one. Also, the Veteran’s Administration may cover some or all of the remaining 20% for veterans who qualify. Likewise, Medicaid may cover some or all of the remaining costs, depending on the state and if the senior qualifies.
If you are elderly or disabled in the U. K., you may be able to purchase a mobility scooter VAT-free.
Additionally, the AFTAID charity has been providing grants to low income people who are over retirement age, however it was transferred to the UK Community Foundations on 15 May 2019. They will not take applications until the new fund has been set up under UKCF. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ontario – Under the Assistive Devices Program (ADP), senior Ontario residents who qualify may be able to get a power scooter, of which 75% of the ADP price is covered. The senior must pay for the remaining 25%.
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) may be able to assist eligible senior veterans under their Programs of Choice (POC). POC 13 covers specialized equipment that is prescribed by a VAC-approved healthcare professional. The need must be supported by a second medical professional. Coverage may differ depending on the senior’s province/territory of residence.
There are also other province/territory funding programs that may give seniors help with getting a mobility scooter:
- Alberta – Alberta Aids To Daily Living program
- Manitoba – Disability and Health Supports Unit
- Prince Edward Island – AccessAbility Supports
- Saskatchewan – Saskatchewan Aids to Independent Living program (SAIL) program
How To Get A Free Electric Wheelchair
There are a couple of different types of motorized wheelchairs available for seniors – the scooter and the power wheelchair. When someone isn’t strong enough to push the wheels on a traditional wheelchair they can still get around by using one of these. Powered wheelchairs and scooters might also be used while someone is recovering from an injury or surgery.
The obvious difference between the two is that a person who uses a scooter needs to have the use of both arms for steering. Also, scooters can be broken down into sections for easier transport, while most powered wheelchairs cannot. Although “travel” power wheelchairs can be folded or be broken down for transport, in many cases vehicles must be equipped with a lift to transport powered wheelchairs because they can weigh a couple hundred pounds.
Medicaid may be able to help you get a free power wheelchair or scooter. The requirements for eligibility differ from state to state, so check with your state to see if you qualify (you must have a low income). For a comprehensive list of contact information for each state, click here.
To get a free scooter or powered wheelchair, try LifeNet’s Wheelchair Project. They are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that redistributes unused wheelchairs to those who need them. Don’t get too hopeful about getting something from this charity, though – when I did a search for available wheelchairs on their website, there weren’t many available. However, it never hurts to try!
The Wheelchair Foundation distributes manual wheelchairs internationally, but also maintains a list of other non-profits that may be able to help you find a powered wheelchair or scooter. Click here to see that list.
Additionally, although not free, you could check with online markets such as Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace to see if anyone is selling a used scooter or motorized wheelchair. Garage sales and estate sale are also places where you might be able to find these mobility aids.
In the U.S., Medicare Part B covers “power-operated vehicles (scooters) and manual wheelchairs as durable medical equipment (DME) that your doctor prescribes for use in your home.”
You must qualify to get one of these by having a face to face exam by a Medicare-approved doctor or other provider. In addition, the scooter or wheelchair must be medically necessary.
When you go to a supplier, they must also be approved and enrolled as Medicare suppliers. Your scooter or wheelchair will not be covered if they aren’t.
Starting September 1, 2018, there are 33 types of power wheelchairs that require the DME supplier to request “prior authorization” before Medicare will consent to pay for them: Click here to see if the type you need is on this list.
Assuming you qualify for a scooter or powered wheelchair, you will still need to pay the Medicare Part B deductible and 20% of the Medicare-approved cost of the device.
NHS – You may be able to get a powered wheelchair or scooter via the NHS, provided the use is not only for when you are outdoors. You must qualify to get one – ask your GP, Consultant, Physiotherapist or Occupational Therapist for a referral to your local wheelchair service. Each wheelchair service has a strict eligibility criteria that you must meet in order to get one of these mobility aids. More information is available through the National Wheelchair Managers Forum or the NHS website.
The Motability Scheme enables people to exchange their mobility allowance to lease a new car, scooter or powered wheelchair. You must join the scheme and there may be financial help available through charitable grants if you need financial assistance.
To be eligible to join the Motability Scheme, the senior must be receiving one of the mobility allowances in the list below and also must have at least 12 months’ award length remaining:
- Higher Rate Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance (HRMC DLA)
As of 10 April 2019, this allowance is £61.20 per week.
- Enhanced Rate Mobility Component of Personal Independence Payment (ERMC PIP)
As of 08 April 2019, this allowance is £61.20 per week.
- War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement (WPMS)
As of 10 April 2019, this allowance is £68.35 per week.
- Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP)
As of 10 April 2019, the mobility element of the allowance is £61.20 per week.
For more information, visit The Motability Scheme’s website here.
If you’re over 60 and in genuine financial need, Charity Search is a free service that helps people find a grant-giving charity that may be able to help with getting a free scooter or electric wheelchair.
Although it wouldn’t make the mobility aid completely free, VAT relief may help lower the cost of certain types of wheelchairs if you are disabled, have a low income, or are a senior who is not able-bodied. More information is available here.
Ontario – The March of Dimes Canada Assistive Devices Program may be able to help you get a powered wheelchair or a scooter, as well as replacement batteries or repairs to your existing mobility aids.
To qualify, you must be a permanent resident of Ontario, must meet certain income requirements, and must have an ongoing physical disability that requires the use of an assistive device. More information is available here.
Across Canada – Easter Seals Canada may be able to help with financial assistance for a scooter or powered wheelchair. They have offices in each province and territory. Keep in mind that provided services vary, depending on location. To find out which services you might be eligible for in your area, visit their province page or the Easter Seals Canada home page.
Will Medicare Pay For A Wheelchair?
Yes and no.
Medicare does have a wheelchair and scooter benefit, but it doesn’t completely pay for these mobility aids. Medicare pays 80% (after you meet your Part B deductible for the year in which you are getting the device), which means that you still will have to pay a 20% copay.
The Medicare Part B insurance designates wheelchairs, scooters and walkers as durable medical equipment (DME) In order for DMEs to be covered, Medicare requires that your Medicare-enrolled doctor sends a written order to Medicare, stating that you have a medical need for the equipment and that you’ll be able to operate it safely.
Keep in mind that the physician must be approved/enrolled as a Medicare provider and the equipment supplier where you get your wheelchair must also be Medicare-approved supplier.
Furthermore, in order to get the wheelchair or other DME, Medicare requires that you meet all of the following conditions:
- You must have limited mobility.
- You must have a health condition that makes it “significantly” difficult for you to get are in your home. (Notice that it says “in your home”. If you can get around fine inside your dwelling, but want the wheelchair or scooter for outside the home, they will not cover the device).
- You are unable to complete the activities of daily living (ADLs) “even with the help of a cane, crutch, or walker”. In this situation, the ADLS they are concerned about are things like bathing or showering, getting dressed or undressed, getting into or out of beds or chairs, or using the bathroom.
- You must be able to get in or out of the wheelchair safely or have someone who can always help you do so.
- You also must be able to safely operate the device.
- You must be able to use the wheelchair or scooter inside you home. In other words, it will fit through doorways, can roll over the flooring in your house or apartment, and won’t be impeded by furniture or other things that would keep you from otherwise getting around in the dwelling with it.
Medicare also notes that: “In some areas, you may need to get your power wheelchair or scooter from specific suppliers for Medicare to pay. Visit Medicare.gov/supplier, or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for more information. TTY users can call 1-877-486-2048.”
Did you know that you may be able to rent a manual wheelchair or a power scooter if you won’t be needing it on a long term basis? Your supplier can tell you more about this, but this can be a great option for someone who only needs the equipment for a short time. This could be, for example, if they are recovering from an injury or a surgery.
Fraud Safety Regarding Government And Other Assistance Programs
United States – Remember that Medicare will never call you and ask for personal information. Never give out your Social Security number or your Medicare number over the phone – particularly if they initiated the call! Also, never trust Caller ID – it can be spoofed to look real! This goes for your credit card information and your banking info, too.
- Contact your bank to report and stop unauthorized automatic withdrawals from your account.
- Report telephone scams to the Federal Trade Commission, either online or by phone at 1-877-382-4357.
United Kingdom – Be mindful that the police, your bank, or any government organization will not ask for your personal or financial information by telephone or text. Never believe your Caller ID – it can be spoofed to look like a phone number is coming from a trustworthy source
- If you have fallen victim to a scam, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
Canada – The Canadian government will never as for personal information via the telephone or text messages. Remember not to trust Caller ID – it can be spoofed to look like a government agency.
- If you have become the victim of a scam, report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.