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Equipment and assistive aids to help the person you care for


When you think of assistive aids you may think only of things like wheelchairs and walking sticks. But you might be surprised how many innovative pieces of equipment are available. They are all designed to make life easier for older people, people who have disabilities or those living with limiting medical conditions.

We briefly explain some of the most common equipment and assistive aids here, to give you a flavour of what is available.

Often when people think about assistive aids, it is ones that help with mobility that they think of first. The most common aids to help people get and stay more active include:

Walking sticks or canes – these are particularly helpful for those people with some mobility, who would still like a good amount of independence. You can even get some walking sticks with multiple legs which can be more stable for people who have balance issues. These are called tripods if they have three legs and tetrapods or quad canes if they have four.

Walking frames and rollators – you may know these as Zimmer frames. They are generally made of lightweight aluminium and give a bit more stability than a walking stick. You can get them either with or without wheels, and some of them also fold up.

Crutches – these allow the person you care for to take the weight off one of their legs, whilst still remaining mobile. You can get ones that you lean on with your hands, known as elbow or forearm crutches, and also ones that you use under your arms. The person you care for might need either a single crutch if they can bear some weight or two crutches if they need to take all of their weight off one leg.

Wheelchairs – there are a huge range of different styles and sizes of wheelchairs available. You can get ones that are a bit more solid and hard-wearing, and ones that are lighter and fold up making them easier to take with you out and about. You can also get ones that can be self-propelled and ones that require a carer to push. You can even get ones that fully recline, or are heavily cushioned to protect the user from developing sores. There are also a wide range of accessories that go along with the wheelchair including headrests, cushions, ramps, parasols, trays, footrests, blankets and rain covers.

Mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs – alongside manual wheelchairs, there are also now a vast range of powered chairs and scooters to help the person you care for to be more independent. Some of these are lightweight and can fold up. Others are more sturdy and can even be used on the road. They can be quite an investment though, often starting at around £800 and going up to as much as £4,000.

Stairlifts – these are crucial to allow people who are unable to climb the stairs to still access all parts of their house. Without a stair lift, the burden often falls on the carer to try and carry them up and down the stairs, which has a high risk of injury to both you and the person you care for. Stairlifts are generally bespoke pieces of equipment and often need to be installed by a specialist company. They can even be fitted round curves if your stairs bend. Again, they are quite an expensive investment– Which? found that the average stairlift price in 2020 was £3,284. [1]

Chair adaptations – even if you have got the right aids for them to walk, if the person you care for has trouble standing up, then they are still not able to be mobile by themselves. Chair adaptations can be as simple as a booster cushion or special ‘feet’ that raise the height of the seat or bed, making it less far for them to have to stand. Or they can be as complicated as hydraulically-powered cushions that physically push the person upwards to help them stand up. You can also get swivel cushions that allow you to turn somebody when helping them out of a car seat.

Alarms, sensors and protecting pads – a vital part of the person you care for being more independently mobile is knowing that there are safety measures in place if they fall. There are a range of alarms and sensors available to help alert you, from those they push themselves to ones that go off automatically. You can also get elbow, knee and hip pads for them to wear, that protect them in the event of a fall.

The kitchen can be one of the more dangerous places in the home, so there are a number of aids which have been designed to help make it more accessible whilst still being safe. Needing someone to feed you can also be one of the more demeaning elements of being cared for, so adaptations that allow someone to feed themselves can make a big difference. Some of these include:

Cups – you can get ones with two handles or oversized handles to make them easier to grip without spilling what’s inside. You can also get ones with special lids and spouts to make them non-spill.

Cutlery – there are knives, forks and spoons that have been adapted to include extra-wide, easy-to-grip handles. These make it easier to hold them so that your friend or relative can feed themselves.

Bibs – these are particularly helpful for those people who experience tremors to protect their clothes from spills, but can also be useful for many people who struggle with eating and drinking. You could even wear one as their carer, to protect your own clothes too.

Kettles – you can get special stands called ‘tippers’ which help to pour from a kettle safely without it being held. You can also get very small lightweight kettles for those who struggle to hold a full-sized one. Both can be helpful for someone who has issues with balance, strength or dexterity.

Chopping boards – you can get special ones adapted in various ways, all of which aim to keep the food steady whilst it is being chopped.

Openers – there are lots of cleverly-designed devices available to help open cans, jars and bottles for people who struggle to grip and turn items. Some of these have large handles or special levers, others are electric and open the item for you.

Utensils – there are a wide range of adapted kitchen utensils from special gadgets that squeeze out teabags to scissors that reopen themselves ready for their next use.

Alongside the kitchen, the bathroom is also a risky place. But many people who need care can struggle to wash, groom and dress themselves without help. Thankfully there have been a large number of aids and adaptations introduced, to make a difficult situation a little easier for you all:

Bath chairs, stools and boards – these can allow the person you care for to sit in the bath or shower and can make a big difference to those people who either struggle to stand or find it hard to get in and out of a bath.

Non-slip mats – these can be used anywhere around the bath or shower, where the person you care for might be trying to step on a wet surface.

Taps – you can get specially-designed taps with large handles that make them easier to turn. You may have seen these in some clinical settings like hospitals.

Plugs – if you are worried about the person you care for forgetting to turn off the taps when running a bath, you can get plugs which automatically let the water out when it reaches a certain level to prevent flooding. You can also get heat-sensitive ones that change colour when the water gets too hot, to warn the user visually that the water might scald them.

Soap – even though it’s not technically an aid, one simple change that can make a difference is swapping any bars of soap for liquid soap instead, thereby removing one potential slip hazard.

Long-handled tools – you can get nail-clippers, hairbrushes, combs, sponges and scourers with long handles attached, to make it easier to get to hard-to-reach places.

Clothes hooks and sticks – there are a range of hooks and sticks available that make it easier to do up zips and buttons and put on items of clothing. These can allow the person you care for to more easily dress themselves.

Commode – these are chairs with a hidden toilet bowl. Some are static and others have wheels so are portable. They can be useful if your friend or relative struggles to get to the bathroom. You will have to empty the container after use though, which some carers can find unpleasant. You can also buy portable commode screens to give the user some privacy.

Bed pan – if your friend or relative struggles to get out of bed, then bed pans can be helpful. They can be tricky to get the hang of as a carer though. The first few times you use them, you might end up with some spills so it is worth combining this with a mattress protector or waterproof pad (see below). You may want to ask your friend or relative's medical team to help demonstrate it to you, even just by talking it through over the phone.

Urinals and sheathes – you can get contraptions that fit over or around the person’s genitals to catch the urine in a bag or other container. These are also helpful for people who struggle to get to a toilet.

Toilet flushes – sometimes even small changes like swapping a level flush to a button flush can make a big difference to enabling the person you care for to go to the toilet independently.

Toilet seats – you can get seats that are raised, which help if standing up or sitting down is a struggle. You can also get ones that are in bright colours or have lights on them, to help people with sight loss be able to see them.

Bottom wipers – you can get a range of long-handled aids which help the person you care for to clean their own bottom, which can make a large difference to how independent they feel.

Protectors and pads – if your friend or relative struggles with incontinence, you can get mattress and seat protectors and pads to help if there are any accidents. You can also get wearable continence pads, some that go inside their existing underwear and some that replace their underwear entirely.

Stomas or catheters – while these can be really important tools to help people go to the toilet, they are only really to be dealt with by medical professionals like nurses.

There are a number of aids that can make the person you care for’s experience of being in bed more comfortable, hopefully helping them to sleep better. These include:

Pillows – you can get specially-designed pressure-relief pillows, ones with cooling gel pads and ones that are v-shaped or contoured to provide extra support.

Mattresses – you can also get pressure-relief mattresses which help to distribute a person’s weight more evenly and therefore reduce the likelihood of bedsores developing. There are also mattress toppers which can make the person you care for more comfortable and also help with stopping pressure sores developing.

Leg support – there are special pillows that you can place between your friend or relative’s knees to help keep their hips aligned, or ones that can raise their legs up to help improve circulation and relieve foot swelling. You can also get straps called leg lifters to help them lift their legs when getting into bed.

Bed rails – these attach to the side of the bed and help with getting in and out, but also with stopping them from falling out of bed in the night.

There are a number of aids that can help with day-to-day chores around the home. These include:

Long-handled cleaning implements – although some cleaning items already have long handles, like brooms and vacuum cleaners, you can also get some amended versions of ones that don’t such as dusters and dustpan and brushes.

Reachers and grabbers – these are usually a long stick, with jaws at one end and a trigger on the other to open and close them. They can help with everything from picking things up from the floor without having to bend to putting things away on high shelves. They are cheap and can be very helpful.

Plug pulls – if the person you care for struggles to do tasks around their home because they find it difficult to get plugs in and out of sockets, these can help. They fit around most plugs and increase the leverage.

Equipment and assistive aids is a vast topic. What will be of particular help for the person you care for will be unique to them and their own individual circumstances. These include not just their medical condition, but also what they want to be able to do, their living conditions and your abilities as their carer. It is therefore best to request an assessment by an occupational therapist. They will be able to look at the space where your friend or relative lives, find out in depth about their condition and what support they might need, and provide and install a wide range of different equipment and aids for them. To find out more, see our section on 'Occupational therapist assessments'.

If you want information about more permanent adjustments that can be made to your friend or relative's home to make it easier for them to live their day-to-day lives then take a look at our guide 'Home adaptations to help the person you care for' for further details.

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