At first, Piyushi Dhir, who lives with her parents and grandparents in Ontario, Canada, noticed that her grandfather took longer to get off the couch. Over time, he would need a hand. Dhir worried about him falling. She bought him a portable standing aid, a freestanding rail that he could use for stability as he got to his feet.
Not only did the standing aid improve her grandfather’s quality of life, “it helped him win back some of his independence,” Dhir says. He didn’t have to rely on others as much.
As you age, it may become harder to do certain things, such as read fine print, get dressed, or step into a slippery tub. Assistive devices allow you to do these tasks with less pain. They protect your joints and prevent injuries.
“Assistive devices help make daily activities easier and safer,” says Elin Schold Davis, a Minneapolis-based occupational therapist and older driver coordinator at the American Occupational Therapy Association.
“Assistive devices are a wide variety of tools, devices, and technologies that are designed to help people perform a specific function,” says Lynda Shrager, an occupational therapist in Albany, NY, and CEO of At Home for Life. They range from a simple jar opener to high-tech home renovations. They’re often useful for older adults. For example, a grab bar may keep you from falling and breaking a bone, Shrager says.
What Assistive Devices Do You Need?
“It can be hard to admit that you need an assistive device,” says Scott Trudeau, PhD, the productive aging practice manager at the American Occupational Therapy Association. But it’s important that you invest in them early on. “Get them as soon as you notice that it’s a little harder to do something or you’re unsteady on your feet,” he says. “You don’t want to wait until you fall and break something.”
Talk to your doctor, who can make suggestions or refer you to an occupational therapist. They can analyze your home and recommend the best assistive devices for you. You can also consider the following list of tried-and-true assistive devices for each part of your home.
- Tub bench or shower chair: Your bathroom is one of the most dangerous rooms in the house. According to the CDC, most bathroom injuries happen when you bathe and slip while getting out of the tub or shower. With a tub bench, you sit down and swing your legs over the tub’s edge. “That’s safer than stepping in and out of a tub,” Trudeau says. If you have a shower, sitting on a waterproof chair prevents spills.
- Toilet riser: With an elevated seat, you don’t have as far to travel when sitting or getting up from the toilet. “If you have the room, choose one with handles,” Shrager says.
- Handheld shower head: Instead of contorting your body under a shower, you can aim the water stream where you need it.
- Grab bar: “If there’s one assistive device I recommend over anything else, it’s a grab bar,” Shrager says. They can prevent falls anywhere in your home, but especially in a slick shower.
- Bed rail: This stability bar slips beneath your mattress, so you get in and out of bed safely.
- Button hook and zipper pull: This gadget makes getting dressed easier. One end pulls button through holes and the other hooks into zipper pulls.
- Sock aid: With this aid, you don’t have to bend over, Shrager says. It has a funnel with two straps so you can slip socks on easily.
- Jar opener: Pop off lids with this twist-off device. “It makes opening jars easy,” says Louise Chen of Irvine, CA. “I don’t have to struggle.”
- Ergonomic utensils: You can find cooking tools and utensils with thicker grips, which is easier on your hands.
Home and car:
- Car transfer handle: This portable handle slips into your car’s frame. If you have leg weakness, you can use it as support to get in and out of a car, Davis says. “I recommend the HandyBar.”
- Reacher: This device has a long handle and a grabber on one end. It extends your reach, Shrager says. “If you drop something, you don’t have to bend over to pick it up.”
- Lighted magnifier: “It’s harder for me to read fine print,” Chen says. She keeps a lighted magnifier in her purse to read menus, receipts, and other small type.
- Smart home assistant: These devices, such as Alexa and Google Nest, use voice commands to play songs, control your television, turn on the lights, and more. They can help people with mobility issues, and those who may have trouble with switches or buttons.
- Pill reminder: As many as 75% of seniors don’t take their medications as prescribed. One of the top reasons is that they simply forget. To help you remember, pill dispensers and smartphone apps have reminders and alarms.
- Medical alert systems: These systems act as a safety net. You can get help if you fall or have a medical emergency and can’t reach a phone. Some have sensors that automatically detect trips and falls.