Back in California, I had a terrible time convincing Dad to buy the first wheelchair. No way he wanted it or even wanted to think about it. He was falling like crazy though — sometimes managing to bruise both of us in the process — very unstable, and short on stamina. Just getting him into and out of a car was adventure enough — we were really in trouble when we finally got to the doctor’s office, and going much of anywhere else just didn’t work well.
Every now and then I see a product that just screams “DIY” — not at all, presumably, the response an entrepreneur is looking for. At a recent WCDExpo, one booth featured a wheelchair shower system. Cool, potentially, since it was meant to use an existing sink (probably in a kitchen), and could be collapsed and put away when not in use.
Round door knobs are a bane on the face of the earth. Face it, people, they’re just not user-friendly. Wet hands, mittens, gloves, an armful of groceries . . . everyday something makes turning that knob a pain, even if nothing else is going on with your arms or hands. Add arthritis, grasp impairment, carpal tunnel syndrome or whatever and whooeeee . . . standard doorknobs aren’t really very user-friendly.
You probably know this type of wheelchair — it’s light, with small wheels, and designed to fold up fairly compactly for travel. At the Guggenheim Museum in New York last month I met a woman in a similar chair, but with a difference — hers had gears attached to the sides so that she could propel the chair herself.
She was delighted to talk about the chair, which was an old Convaid model, now discontinued. She’d used it for years, and still loved it — it did everything a travel chair does, but also gave her the autonomy everyone wants.
Research on AbleData suggests that the model is the Convaid Compax Self-Drive (” . . . has a self-propulsion mechanism consisting of two plastic- coated handrims located on either side of the chair above the rear wheels and a positive belt drive connecting the rims to the rear wheels . . .”), discontinued, apparently, in 2004.
So the question is, why was it discontinued? Anyone out there have any idea? Anyone else have any experience with it?
Over the holidays, we bought a hand-held game called 20Q thinking that it might be entertaining for everyone if the family was visiting, and we couldn’t get out due to weather. The idea is simple — you think of an object — an apple, a bicycle, a brick — and the game asks you 20 questions in an attempt to figure out what it is. Using artificial intelligence technology, 20Q interprets your answers, guessing right a surprising amount of the time. (OK, almost all the time.) We were pretty cocky to begin with, but 20Q has a lot of personality, and didn’t mind humbling us one bit. The thing’s sassy — it taunts you as you play!
The beauty of it is that you don’t need any prior knowledge to play. You just need to know the names of objects, and to have the ability to answer relatively simple questions. The trickiest of the questions are along the lines of “is it a mammal?” In our experience, even if you don’t know an answer, though, the game goes on just fine.
Ours was the pocket version. Because it was so small and round, I thought my dad might have trouble holding it and using the buttons — and he did, a little. But he was too involved to mind much.
Naturally, we went out and picked up the big screen version so Dad could have it at the nursing home. It’s rectangular and easier to hold, and the buttons are also further apart and simpler to use.
When we first played the game with the family over the holidays, we read the questions out loud and answered them together. It was noisy and a lot of fun, with a lot of laughing. But even when my dad played the game by himself, 20Q seemed almost social — he’s interacting, not just reading the questions. And it’s addictive . . . the day we gave the big screen version to him, he hustled us on our way, and headed back to his room so he could play more! It’s gotten increasingly difficult to get him engaged with new things, so it was a treat to see how he took to this neat little toy.
The game is battery-powered and has several options for answers: yes, no, sometimes, rarely. There’s a backlight on the pocket version to make the text more readable. The big screen version doesn’t have the backlight, but the text is quite clear if you just change the angle when you’re holding it.
The text is surprisingly large — it scrolls, and you can slow it down or speed it up on either version. We were able to set the big screen version so that Dad had no trouble reading the questions, even though he’s not at all used to electronic games.
For the right nursing home or assisted living resident, this could be a fine independent activity. Anyone confined to bed or inactivity (however temporarily) could do worse than while away the boring hours tussling with this ‘intelligent’ little device. It could also be just the thing when conversation lags during hours spent in waiting rooms, or when hospital visits threaten to become stultifying.
Beware — it’s very competitive, and you’ll really need to stump it. Dad loves knowing that he might get the upper hand . . . next time! Even when you can’t win, it’s amazing and amusing to be awed by this clever little box.
Recommended for ages 8 and up. Available just about everywhere you find toys (except around Christmas time, when we couldn’t find it locally at all), and at Amazon.com (which sold out at Christmas). The pocket version is available in a slew of languages, but you may have to order online to get those.
Posting about call buttons made me think about the low-tech system my dad used to call his caregivers on the west coast. He kept this bell on his night stand, and rang it when he needed help in the middle of the night. It worked well — at least it served to wake me up, so I could wake up the caregivers — but that’s another story.
Here in the USA we love our vehicles. Maybe we take it to an extreme, but to lust for wheels seems so . . . human. For those among us too young to drive, or for whom bikes are not a possibility, may I present the PlasmaCar? No pedals, no batteries, no fuel, no pollution, and it looks like an utter blast. It’s arm-propelled — make it go by turning the steering wheel back and forth. Use it in the living room, the basement, or take it to the park. Look at those lines — could aerobic exercise get any cooler?
U Silly Goose carries it online, and has a nice succinct description of it. Prepare to share — the weight limit is 220 lbs. on a flat surface, 120 lbs on a rough surface — weight, not age, is the only limitation here!
There’s a video of PlasmaCars in action on the PlasmaCar homepage, and a link to a Discovery Channel physicist explaining centrifigal force and how it works. You can read many glowing customer comments on the site, too, but comments aren’t moderated and there’s a ton of spam, too, some of it not exactly family-friendly.
An engineering student at the University of Toronto has designed a computer game for children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. The purpose of the game is to get kids to engage the weaker side of their bodies. According to this article, kids use their stronger arm to hold a button under a chair, and then use the weaker one like a joystick to play the game.
The idea, of course, is to strength muscles and develop full potential, but a big plus is that this is therapy that can be done at home — and it’s meant to be entertaining. Motivation is everything in all kinds of therapy, and play-as-therapy is one good hook.
No reviews from kids yet . . . but the concept is very exciting. And strange — can’t you hear it now? “OK, kiddo, get that nose out of your book and over to that video console . . .”
I don’t have arthritic hands (yet), but the things that annoy me most on a daily basis are light switches. Ours are the ones that snap when they get pushed. When they get pushed hard, that is. Try pushing one of those babies when you’ve got a plate of crackers-and-cheese in one hand and a glass of juice in another. Pow — the wall needs washing and the crackers are a-slippin’. Even without arthritis, I don’t have an iota of the strength required to control the awesome power of a sprung light switch.
Late in the summer, we took my dad to a local folk music festival, not quite sure what we’d encounter bathroom-wise at a park with no permanent amenities where a large crowd was expected. Hedging our bet, we took along a male urinal (the standard urine bottle available at any drugstore), which worked out just fine.