Low-tech, Low-cost Assistance for Daily Living

by Bill Norman on Mon, 2008-09-01 09:16

Some of the living costs associated with ALS have big price tags (power wheelchairs being a prime example), but many low-cost aids are available to make daily around-the-home activities easier for both caregivers and people with ALS.

Ingress and egress

Expandable Door Hinge

Two big challenges for people in wheelchairs are fitting through doorways and traversing abrupt changes in elevation, like thresholds and curbs.

For the first situation, a doorway width of 36 inches usually is sufficient for wheelchair traffic. However, an open door may infringe on doorway space because of the way it’s hinged to the doorframe. Up to 2 inches of doorway width can be gained by replacing standard hinges with offset door hinges. They’re available at hardware stores, medical supply houses and online for about $12 per pair.


Make thresholds wheelchair-navigable with threshold ramps made of lightweight aluminum or rubber. Ramps start out at about $40 for models that can handle a 1-inch threshold, and go all the way to versions able to accommodate a 6-inch rise (about $200).

Transfers, such as from a wheelchair to bed or toilet, require less exertion with some form of transfer device. One low-tech version is a pivot disk (about $50), which essentially is a “lazy Susan” capable of holding 300 pounds. Caregivers place the disk under the seated person’s feet, raise the person to his or her feet onto the disk, then pivot the person and lower to the new location. Check medical supply stores and online.

Let there be light

Touch Lamp

A touch lamp converter (about $25) modifies lamps so they turn on or off by a mere touch to any metal part of the lamp. The device is particularly helpful for those who have difficulty gripping and turning a switch. Converters attach easily to existing lamps, and also make regular bulbs function as three-way bulbs. Available at local hardware and home improvement stores, as well as online.

In most homes, wall light switches are out of reach for people in wheelchairs, especially if arm mobility is compromised. One way to overcome the reach challenge is with a wall light switch extension handle (about $8 for a package of two).

Handles are slender lengths of clear plastic that attach to standard toggle switches and extend downward 12 inches. Screws and bushings for installation are included. Check hardware and home improvement stores, and online.

TV Remote

TV remote controls

Extra-large-button universal remotes (around $25) are easier to manipulate than standard remotes with small, tightly-clustered buttons. Some models light up for easy visibility. Check the electronics departments of local stores, as well as online.

Sartorial assistance

Trying to button clothing — shirt, blouse, trousers or what have you — can be exasperating. To avoid tangling with those contrary little contraptions, consider using Velcro button aids (about $20 for a package of 10). They look like regular buttons, but hold garments closed with just a small amount of pressure on the hook-and-loop fabric. Check sewing departments of local stores or online.

Rub-a-dub scrub

If muscles don’t feel like cooperating, getting clean can be a chore. Long-handled bath products, available at local bath stores, bath departments and online, can help wash backs, feet, hair and other hard-to-reach places. Prices usually run under $20. If rigid-handled bath sponges don’t give adequate performance, try a sponge with a bendable handle that can be custom molded by hand (usually after warming it up).


Mobile storage

One capability that most wheelchairs lack is storage space for the user’s belongings. Packs that attach to the wheelchair back often are hard to reach. Get around the problem with a wheelchair armrest pouch (around $25). Available in a variety of materials including fleece, these handy pouches keep necessities close at hand. Check medical supply stores as well as online.

Controlling cuisine

Food guards

Food sometimes has a habit of escaping the plate if the diner’s hand control is uncertain. Plate guards are a good way to avoid that problem. Available either in plastic (about $10) or stainless steel (about $13), these semi-circular guards attach to the edge of a regular plate and provide help loading up a spoon or fork with food. Plate guards — and adapted plates that already include a guard — may be found in baby supply or medical supply stores, and online.


Getting some altitude

Bed risers (from $10 to $40 for a package of four) are plastic or wood cones that come in heights from 2 to 5 inches. They’re useful for raising the head of a bed for people with respiratory difficulties, or the entire bed to save a caregiver’s back. Short risers placed under the back legs of an easy chair shift people’s weight forward over their feet to assist in rising. They also can be used to raise the height of desks and tables to accommodate wheelchairs. Some risers come with assorted adapters and can support up to 3,000 pounds. Check local discount department stores, home improvement and hardware stores, and online.

Suppliers of adapted daily living products such as those mentioned above include:

(A division of Maddak, Inc.)
661 Route 23 South
Wayne, NJ 07470
(973) 628-7600

(A division of Independent Living Products)
10799 N. 90th St.
Scottsdale, Ariz. 85260
(800) 377-8033

AliMed, Inc.
297 High St.
Dedham, MA 02026
(800) 225-2610

1833 West Main St.,, Suite 131
Mesa, AZ 85201
(800) 861-3211

Duro-Med Industries
1931 Norman Drive South
Waukegan, Ill 60085
(800) 622-4714

EZ Mobility Solutions
11344 Dakotah Beach Road
Detroit Lakes, Minn. 56501
(866) 300-6100

3000 Pontiac Trail
Commerce Township, Mich. 48390
(800) 333-8282

Hy-Tek Manufacturing Co., Inc.
1998 Bucktail Lane
Sugar Grove, Ill. 60554
(630) 466-7664

A Patterson Medical Co.
1000 Remington Blvd., Suite 210
Bolingbrook, Ill. 60440-5117
(630) 378-6000

Bill Norman
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