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.

Everyday Gear Gifts Wheelchairs

Accessory Bags for Wheelchairs, Walkers, Scooters and More

Managing the ‘things’ of everyday life is complicated if a wheelchair, walker, crutches or the like are also part of life. Where do you put the stuff you want, or like, to have with you as you during the day? I’ve seen a lot of bags that are theoretically mobility equipment friendly; most are poor adaptations of ordinary bags and neither well designed nor well made.

These accessories, from Adaptable Designs, are different. They seem to have been made by people who really understand how they’ll be used. Here’s a sampling of what Adaptable has to offer.

sidepouch.gif The “Sidekick Wheelchair Pouch” is meant to attach just below the seat of a manual wheelchair, on the inside of a manual wheelchair armrest, or on the outside of a power chair armrest. One pocket is fleece lined for glasses; there’s an open bellows pocket for bulkier items, and a zippered pocket for smaller items or for privacy. The zipper has a ring pull for easier use.

pouch.gifAdaptable’s “Versa Crutch Pack” would make even a six-weeks’ tour with crutches much more pleasant. If you’ve ever tried to handle a purse, a cell phone or a planner while swinging through life on crutches, you’ll see the utility of this bag. According to the website, this pouch’s

roomy main zippered compartment fits wallet, checkbook, comb/brush, medicine, etc. — even an occasional sandwich.

This one’s for standard crutches, forearm crutches, some power chairs and some scooters. In a typical thoughtful Adaptive Designs touch, there’s a strap to stabilize the pouch, so it doesn’t develop a rhythm of its own while you’re moving.

armorg.gifIf a backpack is overkill, and something like the Sidekick Pouch isn’t quite big enough, the “Just Right! Organizer” might be perfect. Like the bags above, it uses hook and loop straps to attach to

the inside armrest of manual wheelchairs; the inside or outside of scooter and power chair armrest; scooter tillers; [and] bedrails.

Whew. Here’s a partial description:

Fold-over zippered flap pocket is an ideal place for keeping checkbook, wallet and other valuables. Ring-type zipper pull is particularly helpful for those with limited hand dexterity. Keep the flap out to “hide” the contents of the outer bellowed pockets. Tuck the flap inside the main compartment if open access if preferred — the zippered pocket is still easily accessible.

There’s much more! Adaptable’s website is particularly user-friendly; you’ll find lots of information about which kind of equipment works best with which accessory, and specific size information, too.


DIY – Covers and Pouches for Mobility Aids

DIY – A Simple Cupholder for a Wheelchair

Pockets for a Wheelchair

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”.


Easy-Entry Hammock

ham.jpgThere’s not much fair weather camping time left in most parts of the USA this year, but those who plan ahead, and those who live year-round in warm climates, might be interested in these hammocks. With angles and edges everywhere, they don’t much resemble the traditional backyard snoozing spot, and they don’t seem to have many of the disadvantages of the tippy hammock you’re probably familiar with. These new-fangled slings are touted for just about everyone, but especially for people with back pain and arthritis:

. . . the easy-enter system allows you to settle yourself without leaping over the side of the hammock, wary of the dangers of flipping over or falling out. Climbing into the hammock is as easy as sitting in a chair and exiting is equally convenient.

The bottom of the hammock is split, allowing a person to enter the hammock from below, while standing. You then sit fully supported in the hammock, lie back, and set your legs up along the sides. Once you’re inside, the bottom of the hammock is self-closing.

The website claims that the asymmetrical shape provides a very different experience than sleeping in a regular hammock.

Tall or large campers and campers with injuries, arthritis or bone spurs tell us about finding their first night of comfort in many years in the larger Explorer or Safari Deluxe models.

The website is a lot of fun; one section is labeled “Every Purpose” and, if you’ve got the time, you may very well discover that there is nothing that can’t be done with this hammock.

If you’re someone who’s given up on camping because tent floors and sleeping bags present too much of a challenge, this very different bed might be worth a try. Did I mention that it does triple-duty as a camp chair and lounger, as well? Pictures galore on the Hennessy Hammock website.

Hennessy is a Canadian company, but ships worldwide.

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


Cycles for People with Disabilites

zsun.jpgI spent part of an excellent afternoon recently at a recumbent cycle shop. Recumbents are a great alternative for many people who love cycling, but who can’t, for one reason or another, use conventional bicycles.

cat.jpgRecumbent cycles allow the rider to sit in a more natural, and comfortable, position — as opposed to leaning over, or into, the handlebars — and let legs stretch out in front instead of dangling. Recumbents are kind to spines, and a recumbent with underseat steering can be an advantage for people with arm or hand issues. Recumbent trikes offer stability for people with balance problems, or for those who worry about falling.

tertri.jpg“Comfortable”, in the case of recumbents, does not mean stodgy. These cycles can go anywhere and do just about anything (and more!) than the familiar two-wheeler. And the trikes? These are not your grandmother’s (or even your mother’s) trikes — they’re sleek and geared to take on hills wherever you find them. I’d never ridden a ‘bent until my recent test drives; the experience was exhilarating and very much like the joy of riding a conventional cycle.

Recumbent Bike Rider is like a ‘bent lover’s candy store. I think I saw at least one version of every recumbent I’ve looked at on the Internet. Rob, the owner, is low-key and accommodating; he spontaneously mentioned that he’s discovered that his customer base is much wider than the recumbent enthusiasts he first encountered when he opened the shop. He’s now dealing with a much broader population, and is customizing models for people with disabilities. If State College is within striking distance, and you have particular cycling requirements that a recumbent might address, you might want to look Rob up.

In general, your chances of finding a bike shop willing to fit a cycle to your personal needs may be greater if the shop sells recumbents. You’re a little more likely to have discovered the kind of enthusiast who tinkers more; recumbents require a little more effort to assemble than your standard two-wheeler.

Top recumbent from RBR (Sun’s website is unusable)

Yellow recumbent from Catrike

Touring Trike from WizWheelz

Update: After a series of unpleasant emails from Sun representative Joe Z., I will not recommend Sun products to anyone, and definitely won’t be buying one myself. If you’re interested in a lower-priced recumbent, I’d urge you to wait until spring, when Sun is expected to have a great deal more competition as newer, less-expensive models from other companies join the field.

In retrospect, I’m glad for the contact. Before a major purchase, especially when product support may be an issue down the road, it’s always a good idea to get in touch with the company ahead of time. If you’re treated poorly as a prospective customer, you can bet that customer service will only be worse after you buy.

Recumbents can’t be serviced at just any shop; if you need parts or assistance and you end up dealing with a manufacturer who isn’t committed to customer service, you’re really stuck. My recent experience with Sun puts it firmly in that category.

Medical Practice

The Origins of Plastic Surgery

trench.jpgFew people alive today (at least in the USA) fully understand what the phrase ‘in the trenches’ meant during World War I. This photo, from an upcoming exhibit at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, UK, illustrates the vulnerability of the soldiers who fought in that terrible war. Deep earthen walls protected bodies, but left heads and faces unprotected, resulting in deadly and disfiguring injuries.

before.jpgNew Zealand surgeon Harold Gillies, sent to France in 1915, radically changed the previous approach to these injuries, which had involved little more than stitching up the wounds. While treating his patients, Gillies developed techniques which ushered in the modern era of plastic surgery: drawing flaps of healthy skin into tubes to grow more skin for grafting; using bone and cartilage to provide structure under the skin; instituting grafting procedures that involved stages rather than one massive graft.

“We remember the dead, but we don’t remember the wounded, the people who had to go on living,” exhibition co-curator Samantha Doty says.

after.jpgThe NAM exhibit features previously unseen images of these literally faceless men, and documents Gillies’ work. For these soldiers, appearance was far more than a matter of self-regard, or of vanity. The crudity of previous methods of treating these injuries not only resulted in death, but created such severe disfigurements in survivors that the ‘cure’ actually caused disabilities. Gillies’ field work, though not always as successful as shown in these pictures of William Spreckley, changed the way these injuries were treated forever.

Faces of Battle opens on November 10; the BBC online has a series of images from the exhibit.

Via: medGadget

Related: The Tin Noses Shop

Clothing Everyday Gear Nursing Home

Soothing Adjustable Slippers

old-friend.jpgMy dad’s circulatory problems are worsening, and he’s finding his shoes to be more and more uncomfortable. Severe edema in his legs means that the heels of his shoes hold his feet at an uncomfortable angle, but he still prefers wearing something shoe-like along with his compression stockings.

The adjustable slippers we gave him a couple of years ago were fine for casual wear at the time, and I’d still recommend them highly. Now, though, dad’s legs and feet need a bit more coddling: These sheepskin slippers, made by Old Friend, are just the thing. The heel makes them feel like shoes, and helps to keep them on Dad’s feet; the velcro over the top of the foot allows the slipper to be readjusted day-by-day as needed.

The wool fleece lining is light and airy, keeping pressure off Dad’s feet, and the open toes keep air circulating around his nails to minimize problems in that area.

Best of all, these slippers are cozy and luxurious, just like the traditional sheepskin slippers he used to wear and love.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it took me several days of diligent hunting to find them in Dad’s size. One shop owner told me that he’d gotten a huge number in last year but had a terrible time “getting rid of them”! My advice? Snatch them up as soon as you find them — they’re a great idea, but I don’t think many people know they exist.

I found Dad’s at Muldoon’s in Wisconsin; Zappos also carries them, but they were out of his size, and I didn’t want to wait.

Note: Old Friend recommends freshening sheepskin footwear by dusting the interior with baking soda and letting it sit over night. Shake or vacuum the soda out the next day. Fashionistas who are slaves to the ubiquitous sheepskin boot, take note!


Journalist Sally Young, Formerly an Osteosarcoma Patient, On UK TV

with-koala.jpgSally Young, a BBC journalist who writes the blog Out on a Limb , is the subject of a BBC ‘Inside Out’ story that will air tomorrow in Great Britain. Like other ‘Inside Out’ stories, I’d expect that this one will be available on the Internet for seven days afterward, for those of us who aren’t in the UK. (Check the ‘Inside Out’ “Yorks-and-Lincs” tag in the sidebar for the link once the show’s aired.) It should also turn up in the archives next year.

Sally was diagnosed with osteosarcoma just before she was to be married. Her initial chemotherapy failed, and her leg was amputated as a result; the BBC has covered her story, and her blog has covered it in detail as well. Although Sally was told she was infertile, this year she and her husband Pete unexpectedly became parents. In addition to life “out on a limb”, Sally’s now writing about life with daughter Holly.

There’s an excellent interview with Sally on the ‘Inside Out’ site; if you, or anyone you know, is facing a similar situation to Sally’s, it’s well worth reading, as is Sally’s blog.

Games/Recreation Gifts

Attractive Interlocking Cards for Construction Play

cards.jpgBuilding structures with playing cards is a fine amusement, but requires an extremely stable surface, a good eye and a measure of simple good fortune. These cards, produced by Eames Office and designed by Charles and Ray Eames, have six slots each, which allows them to interlock securely while minimizing the need for exceptional skill or luck.

From the Eames Office toy page (which also explains the history of the cards):

The images are of what [the] Eameses called “good stuff “, chosen to celebrate “familiar and nostalgic objects from the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms.”

The related Eames Gallery offers the House of Cards in several styles and sizes: Small ( 3 3/4 by 2 3/4 inches), Medium ((7 by 4 1/2 inches), or Giant (11 by 7 inches). Quantities and images vary by size; there’s also a set featuring images of Eames textiles.

These visually stimulating cards lend themselves to all sorts of uses. They’d be great as entertainment for anyone stuck in bed (or hospital); as a tool for practicing dexterity and hand-eye coordination; as a cooperative interactive game between people of varied ages; or as a story-telling motivator in a nursing home.

The Eames Gallery online store is bizarre and impossible to navigate, but you’ll probably have to shop there to buy the Giant or Textile versions. If you’re going for the medium or small sizes, try MOMA instead.