Mobility, assistive technology use, and social integration among adults with spina bifida.

OBJECTIVE: Many individuals with spina bifida have impairments that limit mobility and functional independence. Sedentary lifestyles and social isolation are very prevalent. This study evaluated the association between the use of mobility devices and degree of socialization.

DESIGN: A retrospective chart review was performed on 208 adults with spina bifida attending a university-based clinic. Data collected included the Craig Handicap Assessment Reporting Technique-Short Form, Beck Depression Inventory, and data on wheelchair and other assistive technology use. We hypothesized that community and home mobility and social integration, as measured by the Craig Handicap Assessment Reporting Technique-Short Form, would be lower for manual and power wheelchair users than for ambulators, regardless of depression scores or shunt history.

RESULTS: We found that individuals with spina bifida who used both manual and power wheelchairs do have lower daily home and community activity levels compared with ambulators, but that most individuals with spina bifida have low social integration and economic self-sufficiency scores, regardless of whether they can ambulate or use wheelchairs. These findings were not explained by wheelchair quality because most were prescribed high-quality devices. A high prevalence of depression was also found.

CONCLUSIONS: Special considerations for wheelchair provision are discussed. Additional research is needed to identify other barriers to social integration.