Gadgets, Devices & Independence Aids for the Elderly
Boost your quality of life
Growing old can be a struggle as conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and failing sight or hearing can make it difficult to do the jobs and chores that you have previously managed independently.
Common difficulties include lifting, bending, mobility and low energy. Sound familiar? As people in Western cultures are living longer, the problems linked to aging are on the rise.
It can often feel very depressing to have to rely on friends and family because you find it difficult to manage tasks such as dressing, and this can put a strain on relationships. The gadgets below may not work for everyone, but they have been tried and tested, and much appreciated, by many.
Below I am going to outline gadgets that are widely available online and in pharmacies or specialist stores. These gadgets can help you to regain some independence and boost your quality of life!
In the kitchen
Non-slip mats (such as Dycem) can be cut to size and placed almost anywhere. Putting one under a chopping board or plate can make it easier to chop things up, for example. This is very handy if you are limited to using one hard and cannot hold items in place while you work.
A perching stool has adjustable legs and a slightly sloping seat. You don’t sit on it in the normal way but it is designed so that it can rest just under your behind when you stand. It takes the weight off your feet and legs but without you having to bend them far. This allows you to stand very quickly and easily should anything go wrong in the kitchen and keeps you at a standing height so you can still reach counter tops etc.
A kitchen trolley has a tray or two built into a metal frame on wheels. This is great if you find it hard to lift a normal tray or if you have shaky hands. It may not be suitable for people who need a walking aid (stick or frame) as the trolley can “run away with you” and cause a nasty fall.
- Adapted cutlery is not for everyone- some complain that it is babyish and embarrassing to use. However, if you have severe arthritis in your hands or have a weakened grip, adapted cutlery can allow you to eat a meal independently when you might have needed someone else to cut food up for you.
- Do you find it difficult to safely lift and pour a kettle? A kettle-tipper is a metal cradle that holds the kettle snugly so that you need only a minimal effort to pour. Also consider buying a miniature travel kettle that is lighter and easier to manage.
Other kitchen tips include:
- Buying a microwave with a turn-dial rather than a keypad if you have difficulty using your hands.
- Buying smaller packages of groceries, such as milk, that are easier to carry.
- Rearranging your kitchen so that everyday items are easily reached and grouped together, to minimise to-ing and fro-ing.
- Sock/stocking aids are easy to use and really effective if you have difficulty bending to reach your feet - my mum swears by hers! The picture illustrates how you place a sock on the main body of the aid, hold the straps, poke your toe into the sock and gently pull the straps, sliding the sock or stocking into place.
- A long handled shoehorn helps to get shoes and boots on without bending too far.
- A dressing stick hooks onto clothes and can be used in various ways such as guiding a sleeve onto an arm that has reduced function.
Other tips include:
· Putting key-chain rings onto zips so that they are easier to hold and can be reached with tools such as the dressing stick or a grabber.
· Fasten ribbons to bulldog clips. You can clip these onto underwear or trousers, place clothing on the floor and step into it before using the ribbons to pull the clothing up. Easy!
· Also consider looser, elasticated clothing that is easier and less painful to put on/take off.
Bathing and Showering
- Grab rails around your bath/shower or shower are a must if you are unsteady on your feet. If possible, get a professional such as an occupational therapist to make sure the rails are safe and as helpful as they can be.
- Consider a wet room or walk-in shower in the longer term. These require a cash investment but are much easier to use than conventional bathrooms. A wet-room is when there is no division between the shower and the rest of the room while a walk-in shower is enclosed but is step-free.
- A shower seat helps you take the weight off if you get tired or experience pain when standing.
- Long-handled sponges make it easier to reach all over your body when moving is painful or restricted.
- Suction cap foot scrubbers attach to the floor of the bath or shower and provide a brush that you can rub your foot across.
Other tips include:
Want a really non-slip bath mat? Buy a cheap rubber car mat and slip it under the bath mat and it will be very hard to slide around.
It is important that your bath or shower have a non-slip surface- rubber, suckered mats are widely and cheaply available for this purpose.
Seating and Beds
- Buy seating that is upright and supportive and holds your knees and hips at around 90 degree angles (measure from floor to knee and add an inch or two to give good seat height). Seating should have sturdy armrests at approximately elbow height to assist in rising and sitting safely.
- Beds should also be approximately this high.
- Beds/seats can be adapted to a suitable height using bed/chair raisers, which fit under existing furniture and provide a stable increase in height.
- Bed rails can be attached to your bed to provide a lever to help you pull yourself into a sitting position, and to help you stand-up. You can also get chair rails to perform the same job when you are seated.
- Riser/recliner chairs have a controller attached, which the sitter uses to either tilt the chair back, or to gently tip it forwards so that it is easier to stand up. These are not recommended for people whose memory or awareness are affected as they can accidentally tip themselves onto the floor and be injured.
You do not necessarily need to spend a lot of money on specialised chairs for the disabled, which are often marketed alongside these sorts of gadgets. So long as the chair fits the criteria above and the individual is comfortable a more economic option is fine.
- Walking sticks help keep you steady if you have mild mobility difficulties. In the UK you can usually ask your GP to refer you to a mobility clinic that will provide you with a walking stick at the correct height. Walking sticks at the wrong height can cause wrist and hand injuries over time, and may be unhelpful to your mobility.
- Frames and wheelchairs should really only be prescribed by a professional (such as a physiotherapist or occupational therapist) as it can be dangerous if the wrong aid is used. If somebody is likely to be sitting in the wheelchair for longer periods than a few minutes at a time then specialist seating may well be needed to avoid bedsores- this also needs to be assessed by a professional.
- Insoles can now be used to correct some imbalances and ailments of the legs and feet. Podiatrists can offer this service (the insoles are made especially for the individual).
- Footwear is also important. If you feel unsteady on your feet you should consider shoes that fit firmly to your feet, that have a slightly raised (but not high!) heel, and that have good grips on the sole. If you have problems with swollen feet consider specialised Velcro footwear.
This is Just the Tip of the Iceberg!
There are many more gadgets and tools like these out there, and this has been intended purely as an introduction. If you have been feeling your independence reduce lately, it is well worth your tie to explore the vast range of options in the field of independence aids and adaptations.
Whatever your needs, there are probably ingenious gadgets, aids and devices for the elderly that ease the effects of aging.