Devices make aging in place more possible

Most Maui residents prefer to grow older in their own home or live with family members. And universally designed products are making it easier to do that.

Universal design is a broad concept that refers to products, buildings and public spaces that are accessible to all – regardless of age or ability. A quick look around the community will find many examples:

* Curb cuts. Sloping curbs at crosswalks make it easier for those using wheelchairs, walkers, canes, people pushing a stroller or those with stiff joints from arthritis or injuries.

* “Kneeling” buses. Buses that lower when the door opens to make the step smaller and easier for children with small legs, or adults with crutches, stiff joints or other walking aids.

* Lever handles. Door handles that can be opened by pushing down on a lever rather than gripping and turning a round knob make it easier for people with their hands full as well as those unable to grip a knob because of limited grip strength or stiff finger joints.

* Closed captioning. Text on a movie, television or other audiovisual device that makes it easier for people with low hearing or people watching a clip in a public place where the volume cannot be turned up.

Many of today’s homes and apartments create challenges for those with differing abilities – particularly those of older adults. For example:

* Most doorways are not wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through.

* Kitchen sinks are difficult to access with a wheelchair or walker.

* Throw rugs create tripping hazards.

* Bath tubs are difficult to get in and out.

Some of these challenges can be costly to remedy. But there are many simple and inexpensive devices that can make a home or apartment more accessible for those who prefer to stay in their homes. These universally designed devices are helpful for all – adults, caregivers, kupuna and children.

There are many ways to find assistive devices.

A quick Internet search can bring up many items that help with a variety of challenges. Some searches may include: arthritis aids, low-tech assistive devices, mobility aids, stroke aids and daily living aids.

Local durable medical equipment stores sell many assistive devices. They also have catalogs to browse.

Pharmacies carry many assistive devices.

Here are some examples of simple devices that cost under $20:

* Plastic food guard. For those with limited hand use, eating can be a challenge. Food such as peas and other items easily move around the plate and sometimes roll off it when “chased” by a fork or spoon. A food guard attaches to any plate and creates a barrier that can be used to stop food from rolling off the plate.

* Jar opener. The most simple is a rubber gripper. A more complex device is attached under a cabinet and has metal teeth that grip the jar lid. They are helpful for those without a strong grip or anyone working with a tight lid.

* Long-handled toilet brush. This allows individuals to clean the toilet without bending over. It is also useful for people who are tall.

* Hands-free cardholder. Most can hold up to seven cards. They allow children with small hands and anyone with stiff fingers to play without gripping the cards.

* Pen and pencil cushions. These are commonly used with young children learning to write. They are also helpful for those with arthritis and have difficulty gripping a small writing tool.

* Gas cap wrench. Gas caps are easy to tighten and often difficult to loosen. For those with limited hand flexibility, they can be very challenging. A gas cap wrench attaches to the cap handle and extends out to a lever. It can then be pressed down to open. It’s similar to the concept of a lever door handle.

The University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension in Maui has developed a one-hour workshop on low-tech, low-cost assistive devices. Participants learn about and then practice with more than 30 devices. Each is rated on effectiveness and ease of use. The free workshop is available to any group in the community.

For more information, contact Heather Greenwood at 244-3242, ext. 226.

* Heather Greenwood is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters will cover topics of interest to the aging Maui community and will appear on the third Sunday of each month.