For most of the year, I’m chilled to the bone. While most people are comfortable at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, exposure to such a temperature for half an hour results in loss of hand function until I warm up. That is a common issue for those in wheelchairs, as our circulation is poor. Furthermore, the problem is compounded for me as it’s often fairly cold where I live. While there’s no way to change the climate or my mobility situation, I have developed strategies that help mitigate the effects of the frigid temperatures.
Hot feeding tube bags
Store-bought hot water bottles are not ideal for warming me. They’re probably more useful as a bulletproof vest. The rubber they’re made of is absurdly thick, meaning that little warmth permeates through, and they’re also too heavy. I have a better alternative. Well, actually, my grandma came up with the idea: feeding tube bags. Snip the tube, tie it off, and fill it with hot water. It’s not a waste because you don’t need to destroy new bags — recycle used ones. I use them daily.
There are many types of hand warmers. I recommend some above others. The ones I prefer are any that form to the hand.
The most popular ones seem to be those little packets of iron powder that you shake to warm up. Although they last a few hours, they’re nonreusable and don’t form to the hand, so I’m not a huge fan. The cheap, microwaveable ones that seem filled with fish eggs work well, but they only stay hot for about 10 minutes. Still, I recommend having a few on hand (I know, bad pun) for convenience.
The warmers I like the most are Green Heat Reusable Heat Packs. They’re actually used to treat pain, but they work great for keeping warm. They come in a set of multiple sizes, so you can heat other body parts besides your hands. After flexing the metal discs inside the pack, the liquid turns into a gel substance, and quickly reaches a temperature of 130 degrees. You do have to boil the packs to reuse them, but they’re still the best hand warmers I’ve found.
Portable heating pad
Of all the items I’ve mentioned, this is my favorite. I’m not fond of normal heating pads because they’re not portable. However, my dad came up with the idea of installing a 12-volt heating pad on my chair. It’s by far the most convenient, as all you have to do is flip a switch to activate it, no water or microwave necessary. Caution: Be careful about how you hook it up. Many wheelchairs run on 24 volts, so plugging your pad into that voltage could damage the pad or the chair. It’s imperative to hook the pad to one of the chair’s 12-volt batteries.
Lightweight down coat
For most of my life, I never wore a coat because I thought they were too heavy and restrictive. Most of them are, but a couple of years ago, I got a lightweight down coat. It has been a tremendous help. Does it restrict my movement? Yes, but only minimally and not nearly as much as the cold weather does. Patagonia makes great coats but you can also find other brands of similar quality that cost less.
Staying warm when you have SMA is incredibly challenging. There are no full-proof solutions, but the methods I’ve shared here go a long way toward helping.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.