How to Use Assistive Devices
Today, there are many devices that help you live a full and active life. In the old days, the choices were a cane, wheelchair or a home duty nurse. If you were lucky, you had a relative who could take care of your needs. Without the many corrective surgeries and physical therapy methods available today, you had little hope of improving. In addition to those, you can purchase a variety of implements what will help you stay independent.
Today’s canes are a far cry from the old-fashioned walking stick of yore. Most are made of metal, both stronger and longer lasting. The latest innovation is the four-leg base. These canes give you more support when you rise and while walking. Perhaps the most important feature of the four-leg cane is that it stands up without support when you aren’t using it.
This self-support means that the cane won’t fall over, thus creating a significant trip-and-fall danger. If you already have a cane, you can purchase a separate set of legs to easily fit on the bottom. The cost is negligible and well worth it.
The right way to use a cane is important to learn before you take a walk around the block.
- When purchasing or setting up your cane for use, be certain to fit it to your body. The technique is easy. The top of the cane should be as high as your wrist when it’s hanging down. Don’t use the cane until you make the adjustment.
- Use the cane on the opposite side of the affected side. For instance, if your left hip is the problem, then hold and use the cane on your right side. It’s confusing, but it works. If you use the cane on your affected side, it won’t help you at all.
- Climbing a step or stairs, go up first on the unaffected side, then follow with a step using your cane with the affected side.
- Going down steps or curbs, use your stronger leg first, then follow with the weaker leg and your cane.
If you find that you are putting too much weight on your cane, that is, if the cane slips out from under your hand, or you become affected on both sides of your body, consider moving to a walker. You will be able to put more weight on the walker and will have a much better balance to prevent falls.
There are basically two types of walkers. One is the aluminum walker that has four immobile legs. These must be lifted and put down with each step. While people used tennis balls with a slice in it to help the legs move more smoothly in a gliding motion, they didn’t work well for long. Now, there are ski-like devices you can purchase for a small price that will work permanently. In this case, you needn’t lift the walker. The devices will run smoothly over carpeting and flooring.
The second type is a rolling walker, sometimes called a rollator, has four rolling wheels usually along with a seat. There is a back to the seat, so that when you need or want to, you can sit and rest. Many of the rolling walkers include a soft-sided pouch under the seat. You can keep purses, umbrellas, or other things there so that your hands are free to steer the walker.
Choosing a walker or rollator
When you select your walker, take your abilities into consideration. Weak hand strength and cognitive abilities can make walker use dangerous. You must have the strength in your hands and the presence of mind to operate them safely.
Here are other factors to keep in mind:
- Consult your physical therapist. They can ensure that the size and height are proper, and they can teach you to use the walker safely.
- Make sure that the doorways in your home can accommodate the width of your walker. Measure to ensure that you won’t be stuck on the outside of the bathroom.
- Handlebars and sometimes the seats can be adjusted for height. The handlebars should meet your wrist when your arm is hanging down.
- The seat should allow you to sit with your feet flat on the floor.
- Walkers with seats have ratings for maximum weight. Make sure it will handle yours safely.
- Retain any paperwork that refer to parts and warranties. Parts will occasionally need maintenance or replacement. Never use a walker without parts fastened securely.
- Depending on your normal use of the walker, take the wheel diameters into consideration. Indoors, 3 to 5 inches work fine. If you walk a lot outdoors, 6 to 8 inches are a better fit.
- If you are using glides on the legs of a walker, read through users’ reviews or test before you buy. You’ll want to avoid scratches on flooring.
- You or the person who will be helping you should make sure that you can fold the walker easily. Trigger releases on a folding frame can be accidentally released by an unintended grip. A strap that you can wrap around the walker will help keep it folded once it’s closed.
- There are baskets or pouches with some rollators or frame walkers. The closed pouches keep your valuables out of sight and perhaps more secure. You can also add storage bags and cup holders.
Following are directions on how to navigate with your walker.
- Push yourself up from either your bed or the armrest of a chair to stand.
- Firmly grasp both sides of the walker.
- Move the walker forward a little way.
- Move forward using your weaker or injured leg first and put your weight onto the palms of your hands.
- Next, take another step with your stronger leg. Always keep your feet within the bounds of the walker.
- Ask your physician or therapist how much weight you should place on your weaker leg.
- If you are told not to put any weight on the weaker leg, use a hopping step.
- Don’t keep looking downward. Always look up to see where you are headed.
- If you sit on the walker seat, be certain to lock the wheels to prevent the walker from moving.
Take little steps when you turn by moving the walker a short way ahead followed by your legs. If you wish, turn the walker in a large circle to avoid twisting your knee.
To sit in a chair:
- Walk in reverse, stopping when you feel the chair seat against your legs.
- Put both hands onto the arms of the chair.
- Lower slowly onto the chair seat.
To climb and go down stairways:
It is not safe for you to negotiate stairs with a walker of any kind. Ask someone to carry the walker from floor to floor.
Preventing falls from walkers:
- Be certain that your walker is in good condition and all screws, nuts, and bolts are tight.
- Grooved rubber tips should cover the bottom of each leg.
- Throw rugs and waxed floors are dangerous and can cause spills.
- If you walk on a slippery or wet surface, be especially careful.
- Wear the right footwear. Athletic shoes with ties are ideal.
- Follow your physician’s orders about any limitations on activities.
Stepping up on a curb:
- Walk close to the curb.
- Move the walker onto the curb.
- With your hands, push down on the walker.
- Step up onto the sidewalk with your stronger leg.
- Follow with your weaker leg.
Alternative way to step up on a curb:
- Back up from the street close to the curb.
- Push down on your walker with both hands.
- Step up onto the sidewalk with your stronger leg.
- Next, step up with your weaker leg.
- Lift the walker onto the sidewalk.
Stepping down to a curb:
- Walk close to the curb.
- Place the walker onto the street or ground.
- Step down first with your injured leg.
- Push downward on your walker with your hands.
- Next, step down to the curb with your stronger leg.
Bathroom Assistive Devices
Bathrooms are notorious for causing slips, falls, and sometimes severe injuries. If you are having trouble with balance, reaching, and taking care of your personal needs in the bathroom, don’t wait until you have an accident. Look into available safety equipment right away.
- Take your phone within reach in case you fall. You will then be able to call 911 or the phone of a friend or neighbor. If you fall, you might break bones making it impossible to call otherwise.
- If you have trouble sitting all the way down on the toilet because of a bad hip or back, purchase a raised seat. These are usually padded for extra comfort and raise the seat up enough to greatly reduce pain from lowering your body too far.
- A shower chair is a great device that can make it possible to safely shower. There are several types. Don’t select the very lightweight stools with aluminum wheels. One of the legs can easily bend out of shape, dumping you on to the bathroom floor. There are also sturdy chairs with a wider seat and a back for extra stability. Finally, the transfer tub bench has an extra-wide seat for moving from the floor over the tub side and onto the seat. This is the most stable of the three. When assembling the transfer seat, notice that the inside and outside legs will need to be at different heights to make the seat even without any rocking. This seat is good for transferring people in wheelchairs into the tub.
- A handheld showerhead is necessary if you use a shower chair of any type. This will let you wash and rinse easily because it can reach anywhere you need. After you are finished bathing, allow the showerhead to hang down rather than replacing it in the holder at the top. You won’t need to stand up and reach the next time you shower. It will be right within hand’s reach.