By Jill Antonini (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
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Aging brings about challenges for individuals in their ability to provide for themselves. Self-care everyday tasks are referred to as activities of daily living (ADLs). Some ADLs include feeding, bathing, and toileting (Gourley & Davison, 2009). Losing the ability to perform these private, ordinary tasks is challenging not only for older adults, but it can impact family and society as a whole.
Assistive equipment is an umbrella term which describes “devices that lessen or remove barriers faced by persons” (Hasselbring & Bausch, 2003). These devices allow individuals to perform tasks that they could no longer do at all or without difficulty. Assistive devices used by individuals to cope with ADLs do not have to be expensive. In the contrary, this article argues that they can be affordable and simple. This article will address some assistive equipment for toileting, showering, dressing, ambulating, and multiple purposes.
A couple assistive devices for toileting include a raised toilet seat and toileting tongs. A raised toilet seat sits on top of the toilet to reduce the distance an individual must move to go from standing to sitting (Figure 1). Additionally, a raised toilet seat with built-in arms can be purchased. Having this added support can further assist an individual in moving from the standing and sitting positions. Toileting tongs allow individuals to reach further in order to reach their peri-area to perform hygiene (Figure 2).
Portable shower seats, bath sponges, and non-slip bathtub strips are assistive devices which help individuals with showering. Portable shower seats facilitate showering in multiple ways (Figure 3). They assist individuals in getting in and out of the shower. Also having a seat in the shower reduces fall risks and saves energy to decrease exhaustion. A bath sponge is essentially a sponge on a stick (Figure 4). Using a bath sponge allows individuals to more easily reach all areas of their bodies for washing. Non-slip bathtub strips adhere to the shower floor to reduce risk for falls in the wet environment of the shower (Figure 5).
Some assistive devices for dressing include a sock-aide and a shoe horn. Putting on socks requires individuals to stretch to reach their feet and to fit the snug sock over them (Figure 6). A sock-aid eliminates the bending required for donning socks and also stretches out the sock during dressing to ease insertion of the foot. A shoehorn helps individuals put on their shoes by keeping the shoe open and easing the movement of the foot into the shoe (Figure 7).
Walkers for assistance in ambulating have developed over the years. Modernized walkers include enhanced wheels and hand breaks for better outdoor use (Figure 8). Additionally, they include a padded seat for an individual to use when tired. They often come in bright colors which increases their attractiveness and outdoor visibility. A small basket is built-in for holding personal possessions. These features found in modernized walkers increase their utility and design.
The most useful assistive devices are ones which serve multiple purposes. One multi-purpose tool is the universal cuff (Figure 9). This tool assists individuals with limited to no grip strength. A universal cuff can be attached to feeding utensils, writing utensils, and pointers to assist in many tasks. Additionally, a reacher can serve multiple purposes (Figure 10). It can be used for dressing the lower body, reaching into high cabinets, and picking up items from the floor.
The utility of assistive equipment is accompanied by some challenges. These tools are arguably expensive if they are only needed for a short period of time. Individuals who have a lot of support at home may not have the necessity for these tools. Learning to use new devices requires adjustments that cause may frustration and discouragement. Overall these challenges are outweighed by the many benefits perceived by those using assistive devices.
One benefit of proficient use of assistive devices for ADLs is to increase living options. An individual who can continue to perform their ADLs through the help of assistive tools may be able to live independently and age in place. Perhaps in a different situation, an individual needs to leave his/her home and move into a retirement community or nursing home. An individual’s capacity to complete ADLs might increase the number of places the person can choose to live. Overall, maintenance of ADLs gives older adults more control of their life, including where they choose to live in their older adulthood.
The ability to maintain ADLs through assistive devices also has the potential to reduce reliance on caregivers or family members. In a situation where an older adult must rely on caregivers, maintenance of ADLs can reduce the amount of time the caregiver needs to be in an individual’s home. The Caregiver List is an organization which advocates for older adults by providing information regarding eldercare options in the United States. According to an article on the Caregiver List website, the hourly rate for an average caregiver ranges from 15 to 25 dollars for a minimum of 4 hours a day. Live-in care costs approximately 160 to 250 dollars a day (Hourly and Live-in Care Services and Rates, 2011) . Being able to feed, bathe, and toilet oneself could mean the difference between paying for a few hours of care a day and 24/7 care. In 2009 there were about 42.1 million family caregivers in the United States (Feinberg, Reinhard, Houser, & Choula, 2011). This estimate makes it evident that many older adults rely on their family members for care. Using assistive devices to perform ADLs can reduce the burden on family caregivers, reducing the number of tasks they need to do for the older adult.
The greatest benefit of older adults using assistive devices is an increased quality of life. A recent study age (Hsu & Tung, 2010) found that the use of external resources like assistive devices was related to successful adaptation to the changes which occur as elders. Assistive devices can be important mediators which allow older adults to cope with their limitations, and remain as independent as possible. A sense of independence is crucial for an individual’s psychological well-being.
Hourly and Live-in Care Services and Rates. (2011). Retrieved March 25, 2012, from Caregiver list: www.caregiverlist.com/Rates.aspx
Feinberg, L., Reinhard, S. C., Houser, A., & Choula, R. (2011, July). Valuing the Invaluable. Retrieved March 25, 2012, from AARP: www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving/info-07-2011/valuing-the-invaluable.html
Gourley, M. M., & Davison, T. A. (2009). Activites of Daily Living Evaluation. The Gale Encyclopedia of Senior Health, 9-11.
Hasselbring, T. S., & Bausch, M. E. (2003). Assistive Technology. Encyclopedia of Education., 149-151.
Hsu, H.-C., & Tung, H.-J. (2010). What makes you good and happy? Aging & Mental Health , 851-60.