Equipment Corner June 2005

by Tara Wood on Wed, 2005-06-01 17:00

Write on! Low-cost, low-tech items can boost weak hands

In this age of text-messaging and voice mail, it’s easy to forget how important it is to be able to jot down a note, sign your name, or write a grocery list.

Handwriting is indeed one of those “don’t-know-what-you-got-till-it’s-gone” abilities that ALS can diminish by weakening the muscles in the hands and arms.

Fortunately, many options exist for alleviating this frustrating problem whose effects can range from the mildly inconvenient to the severely limiting.

Several “handwriting aids” — many designed for people with arthritis or hand tremors — can also be useful to people with ALS. Plus, most are easy to find at retailers nationwide or online, and are inexpensive to purchase (see items and some dealers below).

However, you may not need to buy someone’s brilliant invention to help you write.

“Even something as simple as getting a fatter pen can make writing easier,” neurologist Valerie Cwik, MDA’s medical director, said.

Thicker-barrel pens and markers can be easier to grip, and certain inks like that found in “gel” pens require less pressure and therefore strength to use than a ballpoint pen, she said.

Writing surface can matter too: Some types of paper are smoother and offer less surface resistance than others. For that reason, some people like write-on/wipe-off boards for brief, written communications.

Ring pen

Cwik suggests seeking advice about handwriting aids from your occupational therapist (OT).

OTs often have samples of different devices and equipment that you can try before you buy. Or, they can design a device or a system that will suit your individual needs, Cwik said.

(If you aren’t already working with an OT, contact your MDA office or clinic for more information or a recommendation.)

If these aids eventually lose their effectiveness for you, OTs can also help guide you to the next level of assistance. That can range from devices like head-pointers and typewriters, to sophisticated voice-recognition computer software or other high-tech, hands-free solutions.

Meantime, here are some options to help you keep writing.

Low-tech handwriting aids

Writing Bird: This pen or pencil holder cradles the right or left hand and slides easily along the writing surface. Gentle pressure on the “bird’s” tail allows the pen to move without smearing ink. $19.95 at Functional Solutions.

Ring Pen: No three-finger grip is needed to write; one finger through the ring creates a solid grip on the ergonomically designed barrel. $17.50 at Maddak/Ableware.

Steady Write Sta-Pen: An easy-flow ballpoint pen is attached to a molded triangular brace with a solid base that balances and guides the hand as you write. $12.95 at

Pencil grips: Slide these plastic or rubber grips onto an ordinary pen or pencil both to make the barrel wider and to provide a nonslip surface. A variety is available for about $5 and up at specialty or office supply stores.

Lite Touch pen: This pen has a built-up, textured surface that makes it easier to hold than standard-size pens, and it requires almost no pressure to write. $6.95 at Functional Solutions.

Arthwriter Hand Aid: The ball-shaped design of this device provides a comfortable grip on a pen, pencil, razor, toothbrush, utensils or wheelchair control stick. $5.85 at Grover Gear.

These dealers are a few of those at which you can find assistive products for daily living. Prices may vary.

EnableMart: (888) 640-1999 or

GroverGear: (866) 666-9680 or

Maddak: (973) 628-7600 or

North Coast Medical (formerly Functional Solutions): (800) 821-9319 or

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