Limitation of independent operation of wheelchair within environment


• Impaired ability to operate a manual or power wheelchair on curbs,

even surfaces, uneven surfaces, and/or an incline or a decline


• Cognitive impairment

• Environmental constraints

• Deconditioning

• Impaired vision

• Deficient knowledge

• Limited endurance

• Depressed mood

• Musculoskeletal impairment

ASSESSMENT FOCUS    (Refer  to  comprehensive  assessment  parameters.)

• Activity/exercise

• Physical regulation

• Pharmacological function

• Neurocognition


The patient will

• Have no complications associated with impaired wheelchair mobil-

ity, such as skin breakdown, contractures, venous stasis, thrombus
formation, depression, alteration in health maintenance, and falls.

• Maintain or improve muscle strength and joint ROM.

• Achieve the highest level of independence and safety possible with

regard to wheelchair use.

• Express feelings regarding alteration in ability to use wheelchair.

• Participate in social and occupational activities to the greatest

extent possible.

• Demonstrate understanding of techniques to improve wheelchair



Ambulation: Wheelchair; Balance; Mobility Level; Muscle Function


Determine:  Assess wheelchair status: Seat is wide and deep enough

to support thighs, low enough for feet to touch the floor, yet high

enough to allow easy transfer from bed to chair; the back is tall

enough to support upper body; brakes on wheels lock; and seat belt

is present (may attach at waist, hips, or chest). Assessment ensures

chair meets patient’s physical needs (identifies need for modification),

promotes comfort, and prevents injuries (e.g., falls).

Assess patient’s level of strength in arms, and if chair is easy for

patient to operate when weak. This determines the need for a

motorized wheelchair to help maintain mobility and independence.

Identify patient’s level of independence using the functional mobil-

ity scale. Communicate findings to staff to promote continuity of

care and preserve the documented level of independence.

Monitor and record daily evidence of complications related to

impaired wheelchair mobility. Patients with neuromuscular dysfunc-

tion are at risk for complications.

Assess patient’s skin on return to bed and request a wheelchair

cushion, if necessary, to maintain skin integrity.

Perform:  Perform ROM exercises for affected joints, unless

contraindicated, at least once per shift. Progress from passive to

active ROM as tolerated. This prevents joint contractures and mus-

cle atrophy.

Inform:  Explain to patient location of vulnerable pressure points and

instruct to shift and reposition weight to prevent skin breakdown.

Ensure patient maintains anatomically correct and functional body

positioning to promote comfort.

Demonstrate techniques to promote wheelchair mobility to the

patient and family members and note the date; have them perform a

return demonstration to ensure continuity of care and use of proper


Attend:  Encourage patient to operate her wheelchair independently

to the limits imposed by her condition to maintain muscle tone,

prevent complications of immobility, and promote independence in

self-care and health maintenance skills.

Encourage attendance at physical therapy sessions and reinforce

prescribed activities on the unit by using equipment, devices, and

techniques used in the therapy session. To maintain continuity of

care and promote patient safety.

Manage:  Refer patient to a physical therapist to enhance wheelchair

mobility and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal deficits.

Help patient identify resources for maintaining highest level of

mobility (e.g., community stroke program, sports associations for

people with disabilities, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society)

to promote reintegration into the community.


Exercise Promotion: Strength Training; Exercise Therapy: Balance;

Exercise Therapy: Muscle Control; Positioning: Wheelchair


Gavin-Dreschnack, D., et al. (2005, April–June). Wheelchair-related falls: Cur-

rent evidence and directions for improved quality care. Journal of Nursing
Care Quality, 20(2), 119–127.

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