Aids for Daily Living
Every one of us has fumbled with a button, a toothbrush or a razor. But stiffness, pain, weakness, or paralysis can make dressing, undressing, and personal hygiene particularly difficult. Eating a healthful, well-prepared meal can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. If a person has difficulties handling food and preparation tools or silverware, meals can be a real challenge. Assistive technology can help people who have problems with movement, balance or coordination with many of the activities of daily living. Many of these aids are inexpensive or can be made easily.
An assistive technology device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain, or improve a person’s functional capabilities. An assistive technology service is any service that helps a person select, acquire, or learn to use an assistive technology device. These services include customizing, adapting, maintaining, and repairing devices, assistive technology evaluations, funding, and technical assistance and training on device use. This fact sheet provides examples of some of the many aids for daily living that can help people remain more independent.
Food Preparation and Eating Aids
Cutting boards can be bought or made with stainless steel nails pointing up, to hold food securely while cutting it. A peeler mounted on a clamp can be attached to a tabletop or cutting board so that the apple or potato can be pushed or pulled across the blade with one hand. Graters with suction feet and a bin to hold grated food are also available. Jar openers come in many designs and are widely available. Many devices can keep bowls from slipping: a rubber ring on the base, a mat from a medical/surgical supplier, a damp cloth, or a hole set in a piece of plywood. There are also devices to hold a pan steady while food is stirred. Clip-on handles can be used to make a one-handed pot into a two-handed one, for easier carrying. A tipping platform can make handling a teapot easier and safer.
Many plates, bowls, cups and eating utensils are designed to help people overcome problems like a weak grip, lack of flexibility, limited range of motion, or poor coordination. Partitioned plates, plate guards, non-slip scoop dishes, and plates with a curved inner wall and a slightly raised outer rim help a person guide food onto a fork or spoon. A pedestal cup makes drinking easier for people with a weak grip. Any eating utensil can be modified with a built-up handle. This can be done with a child’s bicycle handlegrip or a length of rubber hose or foam rubber bought at a medical supply store. Some utensils attach to the palm. Extension handles can make it easier to reach the mouth with food. An ordinary pizza cutter can be sharpened and used as a one-handed food cutter. Many of these items are available in kitchen, hardware, or even grocery stores.
Personal Care and Grooming Aids
Toothbrush and hairbrush handles can be built up for easier gripping in the same way as eating utensils. A denture brush can be attached to a sink or counter with a suction cup device. A hairdryer mounted on the wall leaves hands free. A soap mitt helps avoid slippery bars of soap, and can be made easily with a small amount of terry cloth. Electric razors are easier to use and safer than blades. A bracket or clamp can be rigged to hold a razor firmly to a counter wall while a person moves his face against it. A Velcro strap holder can help secure the razor in a person’s hand. In the bathroom, safety is the first consideration. Safety treads or rubber mats at the bottom of tubs and showers are simple and inexpensive. Pressure balancers to prevent surges of hot or cold water are available from plumbing supply stores. Many different long-handled brushes and back scrubbers are available in stores. One can be easily made with terrycloth or a sponge and a strip of fabric or plastic.
Clothing Adaptations and Dressing Aids
Clothing with side or front closings, deep armholes, pull-on, elasticized waists, and “breathable,” soft surface fabrics is practical for people who have trouble getting dressed. Clothing can be adapted by sewing cuff buttons on with elastic thread and keeping them buttoned, so that the hand can simply slide through the cuff. Buttons can be sewn on the front of a shirt or blouse, and Velcro used to fasten the opening. Attaching a ring or loop to the zipper tab makes it easier to pull with fingers or a dressing aid. Loops or tabs of ribbon or seam binding can be sewn inside clothes, to make them easier to pull on and off. Both dressy and casual shoes are available in slip-on styles. Elastic shoelaces stay tied and stretch open when shoes are taken off and put on. Shoelace clips slide up and down the lace ends and lock into place. A well-designed dressing aid should be lightweight but sturdy. A simple dressing aid can be made by attaching a clothes peg, hook or clamp to a length of wood. Two of these aids can be used together to pull on slacks, pantyhose or a skirt. An instant dressing aid can be made by bending a wire coat hanger into a long, thin handle, using the hook to reach, pull or zip.
Reaching and Mobility Aids
Pushing, pulling, grasping and turning are movements that can be easier with a reaching aid. Made of lightweight aluminum and plastic, reaching aids are available in a tremendous variety of sizes and lengths. A magnet on the end can help hold metal objects. Reaching aids can be purchased at medical supply stores and hardware stores. A grab bar should be chosen with a person’s physical abilities in mind. The bar and its location should let a person use his or her strongest muscles most effectively. The bar should be long enough to enable the movement to be carried to its conclusion, and not run out of support before the person is fully standing. Canes and walkers can make a tremendous difference in a person’s ability to walk in and outside of the home. Canes should be bought with care, taking the height, weight, handle and base into consideration.
Personal and Home Safety Aids
A personal response system (PRS) is an electronic device that can be worn around the neck. If the wearer feels ill or has a concern about security, a simple press of a button activates a telephone call to a central monitoring location. An employee can then send police, an ambulance, or whatever is needed. Another type of PRS device rings the home at pre-arranged times during the day. If no one answers the phone, emergency personnel come to the house. Cordless telephones can also provide the peace of mind of a PRS. A small sound amplification device fits into a shirt pocket and can help people hear the television, radio and conversations more clearly. Large print dials and switches are available for many home appliances to make settings easier to read. Call or write the manufacturer’s customer service for more information.
program Link is a free information service to help people learn about assistive devices. Its members receive free information in the mail on assistive products, and in return, they review the catalogues for usefulness to consumers. To join, call 1-800-628-2281.