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Assistive Devices for Bathing, Dressing, Eating, Grooming, Toileting, Walking

What are assistive devices?

Assistive devices are tools that help you do everyday tasks and activities more easily. They are used for many types of activities of daily living (ADLs), including:

  • bathing
  • dressing
  • eating
  • grooming
  • using the toilet
  • walking
  • getting in and out of bed or chairs

Some examples of assistive devices are:

  • braces and devices such as artificial limbs
  • braces, walkers, and canes
  • wheelchairs and scooters
  • tools to help reach and pick up objects, put on socks, or button clothing
  • knives, forks, and spoons with large or custom-shaped handles
  • plates with tall sides to prevent food from being pushed off
  • tools that can be used with one hand
  • bath chairs or grab bars in the shower and around the toilet
  • large-print books or magnifiers
  • voice-activated computers

Why are they needed?

Assistive devices help you do daily activities that are hard for you. They can also help you feel more secure. For example, if you are having problems with balance, a walker can help you feel steadier when you walk.

Why don't some people use them even though they could be helpful?

Sometimes people do not use an assistive device even though it could be helpful because:

  • They don’t understand how to use it.
  • They find it hard to use.
  • It does not fit properly.
  • It causes discomfort.
  • They are embarrassed to use it in front of others.

How do I know if I need one?

Doctors, physical and occupational therapists, and other healthcare providers can help you decide if you need an assistive device. Tell them what daily activities are hard for you. You can learn about devices that might help you from:

How can I get assistive devices?

Some devices, such as grooming and personal-care aids do not need special fitting. These may be sold or rented at pharmacies or medical supply stores, supplied by an agency providing home care, or given to you when you leave the hospital.

If you get a cane or walker, it needs to be adjusted to the right height for you. Usually this is done by a physical therapist.

Braces and artificial limbs need to be specially made to fit you. Specialists, called orthotists and prosthetists, fit and make these devices after your healthcare provider or therapist recommends them. Medicare Part B will usually cover 80% of the cost if these devices are ordered by a doctor.

Some devices are very expensive. Most private health insurance companies, Medicaid, and Medicare Advantage plans require prior authorization before paying for these devices. Be sure to check with your health plan before getting a device.

How do I learn how to use them?

A therapist can show you how to use a device and watch you to make sure you use it correctly.

If you have a custom-made device, like a leg brace, you will be taught how to put it on and use it.

If you need an assistive device for getting around, like a wheelchair, it may take some practice for you to learn how to use it safely to get in and out of bed, to go to the bathroom, and to use it in other places.

If you have a device that isn’t helping you, talk to your healthcare provider or to the therapists or device fitters (orthotists) who helped you when you got the device. Adjustments may be needed, and retraining on how to use the device can be very helpful.

What does the future hold for assistive devices?

Research is bringing engineering and robotics into the design of assistive devices. Some artificial limbs can pick up nerve impulses. The person using them can learn to send very precise signals to the artificial limb. The trade-off for a complex “myo-electric” artificial limb is that a much longer time in training is needed to learn to use the limb.

Written by Carolyn Norrgard, RNC, BA, MEd; Carol Matheis-Kraft, PhD, RNC; and Sally Rigler, MD, for RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2012.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-01-31
Last reviewed: 2011-09-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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