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home-medical-equipment: Home Medical EquipmentBetty Barnstable's bedroom on the first floor of her Blue Ash, Ohio home is a large, cheery room with large windows that look out on her shady backyard. the room is decorated with angel dolls that sit on shelves along one wall and lacy curtains at the windows. At first glace, it looks like any other bedroom.

If you look closely, however, you notice the bed is a hospital bed, complete with side rails and controls that raise and lower the bed. You notice the bedside table is on wheels. You see the wheelchair folded and waiting off to the side. You see the portable commode sitting discretely in one corner.

"She's not real mobile any more, " Betty's daughter Jen explains about the medical equipment. "We wanted to keep her at home, but needed the equipment they have in a nursing home or hospital."

"We often use durable medical equipment in the home, " explains Jan Eckart, Betty's hospice nurse. "It makes caregiving easier. For instance, the bed can be raised for giving a bath. It's easier on the back. For meals, the bedside table can be moved over the bed so Betty doesn't have to get up. With the portable commode, Jen doesn't have to try to maneuver the wheelchair into the bathroom where it doesn't really fit."

Durable medical equipment (DME for short) is equipment that is used over and over again, such as hospital beds, wheelchairs, walkers, portable commodes, chairlifts, and the like, as opposed to disposable equipment like adult diapers, bandages, syringes, etc. Durable medical equipment is typically seen in hospitals and nursing facilities, but can be purchased or rented for use at home. As Jan Eckhart explained, it can make caregiving easier.

Whether it's better to buy or rent depends on the piece of equipment, how long you're likely to need it, and whether or not you have any special needs or if standard equipment will suffice. It may also depend on what your insurance covers.

Belinda Daniels had to have a wheelchair specially made for her daughter Tamara. Insurance covered most of the cost. "She's too small for standard adult wheelchairs, plus she needs a special kind of headrest with a strap on it because she can't hold her head up on her own, " Belinda explains.

Sandra Kivkovich of Cincinnati, Ohio, bought a walker for her mother. "We knew Mom's balance wasn't going to get any better, and the cost wasn't over the top, " she says.

On the other hand, when Greg Weber of Mason, Ohio broke his hip, his wife Marti rented a hospital bed for him. "He wasn't going to be in it for very long. It wouldn't have made sense to buy it, " Marti explains. "We set it up in the living room, and we were glad to get rid of it as soon as we could."

While the cost of a walker may not be too high, what about things like hospital beds or specially made wheelchairs? Medicare part A will pay 80% of the cost of durable medical equipment. Medicaid will usually cover the cost of DME. The Veteran's Administration will help cover the cost for those eligible for VA benefits. Other insurance carriers will likely cover some of the cost as well. Check with your insurance company to find out if they will cover rental or purchase of equipment. You can also purchase used equipment as long as it is in good condition.

Durable medical equipment can be purchased from any medical supply store. Specialized equipment, such as Tamara's wheelchair, will have to be special-ordered. Other equipment should be in stock and can be picked up or delivered to you right away. If insurance is covering the cost of the equipment, check with the carrier to find out where you can buy or rent it from. You can look for used equipment in your local newspaper classified ads.

Your loved one's doctor, nurse, or physical therapist can help you make the decision about when your loved one needs durable medical equipment for use in the home and let you know what kind of equipment is needed. In order for insurance to cover the cost, a written prescription will be required.

Some common types of equipment include:

Walkers - used when your loved one needs something to hold on to for balance when on their feet and walking.

Wheelchairs - used when your loved one is unable to walk. Sometimes a walker is used for short distances while a wheelchair is used for long distances.

Hospital beds - these have many purposes. They have side rails to protect loved ones from falling out of bed. They can be raised to facilitate bed baths (you don't have to bend over and risk getting a backache). They can be adjusted for your loved one's comfort and for your loved one to take meals and do other tasks in bed if necessary.

Special mattresses - there are a number of special mattresses available to protect against bedsores if your loved one has to spend a lot of time in bed. These are designed to fit hospital beds.

Portable commodes - these are useful if your loved one is unable to get into the bathroom easily for any reason.

Shower chairs - these are chairs that sit in the shower or tub. They are great if your loved on is not able to stand long enough to take a shower.

How do you keep a room from looking like a hospital room with all this equipment? Betty has a red, white, and blue quilt on her hospital bed. She's not at risk of falling out of bed, so the side rails are down. The wheelchair is folded and draped with a crocheted afghan. The commode sits in a corner, half hidden by the dresser. At first glance, it looks like any other bedroom.

While buying medical equipment for use at home can be confusing, your loved one's doctor, nurse, or physical therapist are great resources. Rely on their assistance. The staff at medical supply stores can help, too. Look for equipment that will help your loved one but that will also help make caregiving easier for you.

By Kelly Morris - I am a former social worker and in that capacity, worked with teens and their families to address issues like domestic violence and school violence. I now make my living as a freelance writer. My work has...  

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