Let Me Take You for a Ride!

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I went back to work after an extended maternity leave in early April, and soon after, my back problems flared up. After trying PT with no success, I set an appointment with my chiropractor who quickly deduced that my new behavior was long drives–not having a child. I was fine picking up my son and carrying him throughout my leave. It was not until I combined it with the driving associated with my job that the pain kicked in.

A close up of Thelma and Louise along with a shot of them in their convertible driving off into the sunset
Every time I get thinking about driving I think about the movie “Thelma & Louise” and my best friend Cristine–the Louise to my Thelma or vice versa. What a pair! I’m not up for that ending though.

With my chiropractors help, I figured out that the way I was sitting in my car was a problem–hips askew, slouchy, one leg at a bad angle with no support… not a great way to sit for the almost 2-hour commute, especially when you add the tension I hold in my body when dealing with the stress of driving–all those other drivers out there that weave, tailgate, aren’t paying attention.

So, back to some mindful driving for me with awareness of how I’m holding my body, regular stretching at home, and doing some stretching that is safe while driving. I also am implementing some stress relief while driving which for me includes use of my smartphone for funny podcasts, good music, and anti-stress music. In case you haven’t already heard, there are actual songs proven to reduce anxiety so I listen to Marconi Union’s Weightless when I need to.  I’ve even used it to calm my colicky baby with some success. At the very least, it calms me so I can help him when he’s screaming. Another option would be the Lotus Bud (ios) app which sounds a chime randomly throughout the day to remind you to check in for a mindful moment–how is your body feeling? What are you thinking about? Where are you? Another mindful app that is useful that can also do check-ins is Mindfulness Daily (ios). Sometimes I find these mindful apps helpful and other times they annoy me. Its worth giving them a try to see if they are useful to you.

Since I’m talking AT for driving, I’d like to share some other resources and AT for driving:

  • Michele Seybert did a great, extensive webinar for us on vehicle modifications.
  • A woman getting out of her minivan pressing up with the handybar stuck into the doorjamb to aid in pushing to standingThe Handybar is a device which is a sturdy handle with a downward pointing beak that extends about 4 inches. It fits snuggly into the U shaped metal piece in the car
    door frame that the lock engages with. When the door is opened, the device wedges into this closed U shape metal piece, providing a stable, strong handle from which to push yourself to a standing position.
  • a black pancake-shaped cushion sits on a car bucket seatI frequently demonstrate the swivel seat which is a round, gel-filled cushion on a lazy susan bearing that helps people swing their feet in and out of the car (sometimes a plastic grocery bag can do the trick for this too).
  • At a recent presentation, a woman said she keeps long kitchen tongs in her car so she can reach things on the other side of the car or things she has dropped.
  • I use a Bucky every day to help support my lower back which helps my chronic upper back pain. It is a buckwheat filled lumbar pillow.
  • One of our demonstrations sites, Disability Network West Michigan, in Muskegon, recently worked with a person that needed an extended seat belt so she could fit her seatbelt around her body safely. The AT person at Disability Network, was told that extended seatbelts are illegal. They did some checking with the local police and this is not the case. She also learned that you don’t have to purchase the extenders made by the car manufacturer. There are other options online that are much more affordable.
  • My car, a Toyota RAV4 has Bluetooth capacity to let me use my phone hands-free. This will help my upper back pain as well as provide better safety while driving. It also is easier to get into and out of than my old car, a Honda Civic.
  • a close up of a woman's hand holding a handle. The end of the handle has a nut and bolt that runs through a set of keys.Several years ago, my friend Carolyn shared with me that some vehicle manufacturers were selling people expensive key turning aids. People with hand strength disabilities, especially arthritis, have a hard time with the pinching and turning motion required to turn on some cars (some now turn on with a button). There are far more affordable alternatives to the vehicle manufacturer devices called key turners. They give a bigger handle to grip and provide leverage.

What devices help you to drive or ride in a car? What works well for you? What has not worked?

Try it Before You Buy It–Short Term Loans

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Program Staff

Michigan’s Assistive Technology Program has a short term loan program. This program allows you to borrow equipment, free of charge, from our inventory, after you participate in a demonstration of the device(s).

Device loans are useful if you are considering a purchase and want to “test drive” a particular product, especially devices that are more complicated or devices that you will use in multiple settings. This way, you can see if the device works for you in the places you would use it.

Our short term device loan program is not intended as a loan closet, not a loaner while your equipment is out for repair, nor to meet the need for a device for a temporary disability. However, there is a network of multiple loan closets throughout the State of Michigan who do provide this type of loan.

Currently short term loans are available in the Upper Peninsula, the Lansing Area, and Oakland and Macomb Counties. Reports from people who have used short term loans are 100% positive. Everyone surveyed who has participated in a short term device loan has been highly satisfied or satisfied. Vision devices have been most popular but devices for hearing, computer access, and cognition have also been well-received. These included magnifiers, big button telephones, reminder clocks, Livescribe pens, adapted keyboards and mice, and TV amplifiers.

People have also tried out devices they might use in transitioning out of the nursing home, back to the community.

If you would like to borrow a device for a short period of time to see if it might work for you in your day-to-day life, contact:

Kellie Blackwell, Disability Network Capital Area (Lansing) 877-652-0403

Carolyn Boyle, Superior Alliance for Independent Living (Marquette) 800-379-7245

Traci Comer or Jenell Williams, Disability Network Oakland Macomb (Southfield) 248-359-8960

Sharon Lotoczky, Macomb Library for the Blind/Low Vision (Clinton Twp) 855-203-5274

Top 5 AT Items for Dressing

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

While I have chronic back pain and other hidden disabilities, I didn’t have a need for AT for dressing until I was very pregnant. Now, I have a new appreciation for it! I’m interested to hear what others use for dressing, but in the meantime, I’ve compiled this list from my personal experience and my work advocating for supports for community living.

  • Elastic Shoelaces or slip on shoes plus long handled shoehorn: Elastic shoelaces have been a revelation to some people I’ve met—they turn tied shoes into slip on shoes. Easily and cheaply obtained, they are a great piece of AT. Pair them with a long handled shoehorn, and getting shoes on in the morning just gets easier.
  • Dressing Stick: Dressing sticks tend to be 18-24 inches long with one side with a “c” hook on it for pulling zippers and shoelaces and the other end has a puller/pusher hook on it for putting on shirts and pants/skirts or pushing down skirts/pants and socks. It is especially helpful when you have use of one arm or have limited arm movement or trouble reaching or bending.
  • Sock Aid: Another item beneficial when reaching or bending is a barrier—I used my sock aid often in my third trimester. The one I used has a terry cloth side to help grip the sock and hold it in place until you get it on your foot. I’ve seen videos featuring the Sock Slider on Facebook and it, too looks promising—like the sock aid I used but no need to pull on handles, it sits on the floor with the sock opened by a plastic tube for you to slip your foot through and into your sock.
  • Doff N Donner: A lot of people have shared with me the need for something to help them get compression stockings on. The Doff N Donner is a newer product designed to help with this taxing task. Shaped like a very large, ribbed, rubber cuff for a sweatshirt, this product can be used with an accessory called a cone (the cone really just looks like a mini Washington Monument to me with a suction cup base) to load the stocking on the cuff. You can also use a baseball bat or your arm to load the stocking on the cuff. According to the manufacturers website, people can use the Doff N’ Donner themselves or with the help of an assistant. It can be used with a sock aid to reach your foot with practice as well.

It’s hard to describe the action needed to make the Doff N’ Donner work but there are great videos on the manufacturer website and a couple on YouTube. There is even one showing how the Doff N’ Donner can be used to put stockings over bandages.

We have these devices available to try through our AT demonstration kits throughout the state so you can see and try them and decide if they work for you. Our website lists locations for these kits.

  • Adaptable Clothing: So… in looking for resources for adaptive clothing, all of the websites I came across were pretty ableist and most were geared toward older adults with all the models on the website being older white men and women. Many used outdated language like “handicapped” and some just looked like medical gowns and hospital gear. If you have some more inclusive adaptive clothing resources to share, please do! Adaptive clothing includes items like shirts with back snaps so that you don’t have to raise your arms to put them on or put them over your head and ponchos that cover wheelchairs for warmth instead of the hassle of a coat. It also includes easy on and off items, and even shoes that are adaptable for swelling. In my own life, I’ve found that more universally designed clothes helped a lot. I had swelling and back pain—and a growing stomach—during pregnancy so found the tall and curvy leggings from Lularoe and yoga pants with a fold down waist from Target were easy to get on and worked really well. I could not get maternity pants to stay up. Tunic tops were also a necessity with changes in my body size. I found a pair mesh clogs that kept my swelling feet cooler and were not tight to begin with. I also wore a lot of dresses that were breathable cotton and had ruching on the sides that allowed for expansion.

What devices or clothing hacks have you devised to help with dressing?

Modify Your Home and Age in Place

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Program StaffThe outline of a home with the words Home Sweet Home inside it

A study, Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE), funded by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, showed that home modifications and access to AT (assistive technology), helped older adults age in place. The study results indicate 75% of participants were able to perform more activities of daily living than before they entered the study and symptoms of depression also improved.

The older adults who participated were paired with a team including an occupational therapist, nurse, and handyman who worked with them over a period of five months. Together, the team helped choose and install AT and make home repairs to improve safety and access. The budget for the AT, repairs, and handyman work was $1300.

Everyone in the study was on both Medicare and Medicaid and had barriers to completing activities of daily living including bathing, dressing, using the toilet, and walking across a small room.

A key aspect of the program was supporting the older adults to set their own goals instead of the professional team setting the goals for them. After the study was completed, participants are continuing to contact the researchers and share goals they are setting and achieving. This important work illuminating the benefits of AT and home modifications is expanding. One group is replicating the program in Michigan through Michigan State University—calling it MiCAPABLE and working with people who participate in the MiChoice Medicaid Waiver program in the state. We are always excited to see increased access to AT!

What programs and services have you accessed to improve your ability to age in place? Were they medical-model driven, or did you steer your goals? What kind of AT or home modifications improved your life?