At Home DIY Everyday Gear Gifts Nursing Home

Calendar with Date Marker

call-tag.jpgDistinguishing one day from another is one of the difficulties of living in a nursing home. Sometimes it’s also an issue for people who don’t observe a routine outside of their usual living space.

Knowing what the day and date are and anticipating activities and holidays are important tools for keeping mental skills in good shape.

I was pleased to find this calendar last year for my dad. The daily squares are large enough so that I can note activities in large letters; my dad can easily read the calendar from his wheelchair.

This calendar also has an uncommon feature: a date marker. This is a red rectangle that slides on a transparent strip of plastic. The plastic band wraps around the calendar; you move the rectangle each day to the correct date. If Dad doesn’t remember what activities are on today’s schedule — or if he’s confused about what day it is — the rectangle cues him.

The only drawback is that it’s boring! We solved that in Dad’s room by hanging three different calendars (all showing Golden Retrievers, of course) next to this calendar. They’re folded so that only the glossy photos of dogs show.

On the first of the month when I change the page of the large calendar, I also flip the canine calendar pages, revealing three new dogs-of-the-month. Practicality and glamor; you can’t beat the combination!

I found this calendar in an office supply store last year, but haven’t seen it this year. It’s called AT-A-Glance Wall Calendar with Additional Features, and I found it online at

Members of the DIY crowd could probably find a number of ways to implement a similar date marker on almost any wall calendar by making a bright cardboard rectangle and cutting a clear plastic strip from holiday packaging.

At Home DIY Everyday Gear Gifts

DIY – Laptop Desk for Chair or Bed

ben-desk.jpgI’ve never liked chairs much, and work at my desk only when there’s no other option. My preferred writing mode is in, or on, a bed or couch, stretched out with my laptop in front of me. For a long time, I used a Targus laptop desk that I originally bought for travel. I like it very much, but I don’t much like having the weight of the laptop on my thighs for hours at a time.

Eventually I ran across IKEA Hacker, and discovered this mod of IKEA’s Benjamin stool. If you compute in bed or in a chair by necessity or by choice, this portable desk might enhance the experience. It’s been a great solution for me.

It took me just about 40 minutes to turn this $20 purchase into a terrific laptop desk. I use it every day, and it’s a pleasure every time. Mr. Smiley, on Hacker, used a $6 coping saw to do the cuts; I used my $6 hacksaw.

My version is a little taller than the one shown on Hacker; I had to trim the stool’s legs twice to get the height exactly where I wanted it, and the angle just right. (It’s smart to leave the stool too tall at first, if you’re not sure you’ve got the height calculated perfectly.)

Of course, this laptop desk isn’t adjustable once you’ve made it, but if $140 for a Laptop Laidback is a bit much, this could be a fine compromise.

I cut a piece of gripping mesh to fit between the laptop and the desk, which keeps the computer from sliding around. My laptop stays nice and cool, and so do I, since its underside isn’t in contact with my body. The desk’s relatively high clearance means that my lap and legs don’t feel cramped and don’t get numb when I work for hours, and if I sit up properly, the keyboard is at a perfect ergonomic angle. That’s good for my wrists and hands, too.

If you scroll down on the IKEA Hacker page, you’ll see a few more amusing variations on this theme, though nothing as useful as this particular “hack”.

Books DIY

DIY – Covers and Pouches for Mobility Aids

sew.jpgI didn’t order a copy of this book in time to do a proper review, but decided to go ahead and post anyway when a reader emailed and mentioned it. The holidays are coming, and for those who sew, it’s time to break out the needles and get to work. Let’s consider this an introduction — comments are welcome, of course, from anyone who’s used the book.

boat.jpgWalk and Roll is full of cheerful, sensible and clever add-ons for walkers, wheelchairs and scooters. Author Lynn Gorges’ imaginative designs rely on commonly available household linens; they’re more varied, more colorful and more creative than any I have seen commercially made. I’m guessing that the patterns themselves are fairly simple, but Lynn’s planning could save a lot of precious pre-holiday time.

Lynn has done a very nice job on the details, too. Notice the trim below the seat on the walker on the book cover? A distinctive walker pouch is often a source of pride in my dad’s nursing home — this kind of trim could escalate bragging rights (and the opportunities for social interaction) through the roof!

seat.jpgThere are all kinds of different motifs on Lynn’s webpage: a carrier with a cupholder that looks as if it rivals the ones I’ve written about here and here, and a walker pouch that integrates a license plate. Finding these accessories for men is difficult unless black vinyl gives you a thrill; Lynn’s book lets you incorporate anyone’s interests into an attractive gift, whether the recipient is male or female.

What sets Lynn’s designs apart is the quality of her work. Though these projects are meant to be made by loving hands at home, they look as if they’ve been custom-designed just for your recipient. Lynn’s done the planning and made the patterns; you get the fun of putting it all together.

Walk and Roll , via Minding Our Elders

Special thanks to Isabelle from the blog Senior Friendly Libraries

At Home DIY Everyday Gear Travel

DIY – Small, Sleek Cart for Portable Oxygen

Modern portable units have revolutionized the lives of many oxygen users. Unlike the bulky and heavy tanks of former times, contemporary units are quite compact and often can even be worn like shoulder bags. The corresponding increase in mobility has quite literally changed lives, but for many, even the smallest units can be difficult to carry over the course of a few hours.

oxy-cart.jpgMetal carts are easily found and quite common. They’re ugly, though, look flimsy, and aren’t particularly user-friendly. One inventive son came up with this attractive and practical alternative for his mother. The base is a rectangular wooden box with sides just high enough to hold the tank in place. Two sturdy dowels lead from the back of the box to a thicker, horizontal dowel which forms the handle. The wheels are on a simple axle.

The sides of the box drop below the platform so that the cart is stable when upright; it rolls easily whether pushed or pulled. Mom pointed out that the handle was the perfect height for a little support when resting, saying that it felt a lot like having a cane along.

DIY Kids Wheelchairs

DIY – Halloween Costumes

The Bridge School, in Hillsborough, California has a specific mission:

The Bridge School is an internationally recognized leader in the education of children who use augmentative and alternative communication and has developed unique programs and trained highly skilled professionals in the use of state of the art assistive technology.

flying-carpet.jpgLaudable enough, but there’s something on their website of particular interest to GearAbility readers who care for children who use wheelchairs or walkers. The nifty images you see in this post are costumes cleverly adapted to those devices — just in time for Halloween.

drummer.jpgIn addition to Aladdin (upper left) and the Punk Rock Drummer (to the right), there are instructions for George of the Jungle, a Flower Garden, a Bulldozer and (many) more.

The page is full of helpful suggestions; click on the images for instructions for each costume. There’s also a .pdf handbook available (though registration is required to access the download).

The Bridge School’s Halloween Costume Page

DIY Home Modifications

Tools for Planning Accessibility

Image of a Blue Plastic Figure in a Wheelchair with a Handle AttachedThe Visualizer is a clever tool for checking wheelchair access on blueprints. A clear disk is attached to a moulded figure that is, in turn, attached to a wand. The figure — a representation of a person in a wheelchair — and the disk depict a wheelchair “footprint” of 30 by 48 inches, and a turning radius of 60 inches, in 1/8 inch, 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch scale. Running the tool along your building plans gives you a visual check — will the wheelchair fit or not?

DIY Wheelchairs

DIY – A Simple Cupholder for a Wheelchair

Image of a Custom Cupholder on a Wheelchair ArmWhen my dad needed a beverage holder on his wheelchair for everyday use, I was a bit stymied. There are lots of beverage holders out there, like the excellent one made by Valco that I’ve reviewed previously, but the ones that work well tend to have a hardshell design. the Valco worked great when Dad had more control over his chair, but it isn’t a good option any longer — these days he’s way too fond of crashing into walls and other immutable objects. No hardshell can stand that kind of assault on such a regular basis.

At Home DIY Everyday Gear Medical Practice

Make A Medical Record Book, Part 3 – Tips and Tricks

In Make a Medical Record Book, Part 1, I described the parts of a medical record book, and in Make a Medical Record Book, Part 2, how to use it at a medical office. Here are some additional tips and tricks for making your medical notebook as useful as possible.

At Home DIY Games/Recreation

DIY – Guitar or Banjo Pick Adapted for Large Knuckles

Image of Various Guitar Picks, Including Metal OnesArthritis and other joint problems can cause enlarged or swollen knuckles, making it difficult to keep a guitar (or banjo) pick on the finger. I adapted a steel pick like the ones shown here (on the right in the picture) so that my dad could keep playing his instruments a little longer.

My ‘fix’ is a little crude, but it worked well for Dad. I bought two metal picks, and used pliers to bend the ‘pick’ portion on one (that would be the blade part, not the band) back and forth until it broke off. (I made sure to bend it so that the rougher edge would be on the outside of the band, not next to Dad’s finger.) This left me with a ring-like band.

At Home DIY Everyday Gear Medical Practice

Make A Medical Record Book, Part 2 – How to Use It

In a previous post, I described the components of the medical notebooks I use for my dad and family. The notebook comes along on every medical appointment, and this is how I use it.

Before each appointment, I fill out a form I made on my computer and printed up in advance. It’s my Medical Appointment Record form, which goes in Section 2. I’ve typed in cues on the page (date, doctor’s name, current symptoms, any questions or concerns). Before we go, I fill in the blanks. This ensures that we have a clear idea of what we want to know and that we’re organized and able to use the appointment time effectively.