The Most Useful Pieces of Adaptive Equipment

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Occupational therapists strive to help their patients be as independent as possible with meaningful activities. Often times, when a patient sustains a bodily or neurological injury, they are left with weakness or paralysis. Other times, after a joint replacement or bone fracture, there are restrictions placed on the person that limits their safe movement.

Adaptive equipment presents a great way for occupational therapists to help people develop compensatory strategies in order to complete the tasks that are most meaningful to them. The items can be temporarily used until the person returns to their previous functional level, or they can be used indefinitely as a way for the patient to regain independence and control of their environment and self.

In my opinion, the top 10 most useful pieces of adaptive equipment are:

  • Built-up foam grips: These grips can be added to utensils to make the handles bigger, which helps people who’ve suffered from strokes, arthritis or hand weakness.
  • Long-handled reacher: These are great for getting dressed and managing the surrounding area around a person.
  • Sock aid: These allow people to get their socks on. It’s especially helpful for those who have had hip surgery with flexion precautions. Many people struggle to bend down for a variety of reasons, and this allows for the person to load the sock, and pull the sock on without leaving the seated position.
  • Universal cuff: This is a staple within the OT community. This cuff can substitute for grip dexterity and strength by strapping around the hand and allowing a utensil to be inserted. This way, the person can use the ability they have in their arm to feed themselves, brush their teeth, shave or comb their hair despite a weakened grip or dexterity. It’s often used in patients who have muscle atrophy or spinal cord injuries.
  • Scoop plate with suction pad: This is good to be used in tandem with a universal cuff, but can also be used on its own. It allows a person who has an upper extremity that is somehow affected to feed themselves with one hand, as the food can be pushed to one side for easier scooping. Models with a suction cup are nice, but otherwise using a non-slip material can help the plate not slide easily.
  • Adaptive cutting board: This is great for someone who is limited to one arm for functional use. It allows for the item to be fixated with the nails so chopping/slicing is easily accomplished. It can be used in a sitting or standing position.
  • Dycem (name brand non-slip material): This is another therapy staple, and a cost-effective, easy way to introduce more control with devices. It can be used as a grip to open jars. It can go underneath scoop plates so they don’t move on the table when eating. Basically, if you don’t want the item to slide, this material can be placed underneath to prohibit movement.
  • Elastic shoelaces: These are a great solution for those who struggle to tie their shoes. They can be used from pediatrics to geriatrics, and for anyone who might be struggling with hand weakness or dexterity issues. It can also be used for those who have cognitive delays or problems, so that the complex process of tying shoes can be bypassed.
  • Button hook/dressing aid: This is used to apply buttons with one hand when dexterity is an issue. Often they are equipped with a hook on the end that can be used to pull up a zipper.
  • Rocker knife: A great way to cut food with one hand. Often, this is used when the person does not have the strength to push/slice food conventionally. It can be used in tandem with the cutting board or scoop place, or normal plates.

Sam Penkala, O.T.R.L., is an occupational therapist at MidMichigan Health.

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