According to official NHS figures, over 10 million people in the UK are affected by Arthritis or other conditions which have a similar effect on the joints. Inflammation and pain in various sites of the body are common, particularly in older people.
Discomfort and stiffness in the hands, elbows, hips, knees and feet is routine for many, as is swelling and stiffness. In many cases it can detrimentally impact someone's mobility.
In the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, the tissue found where bones meet wears down over time or by overuse. This tissue, called cartilage, does not regrow naturally so may leave rough areas of bone rubbing against one another. This process is what leads to the swelling and pain experienced by the millions of people who have this form of the condition.
Tasks which require controlled grip, reaching for things on the floor or the act of moving from A to B may become challenging. Fortunately there is an ever-growing range of equipment which may help overcome these difficulties.
As we strive to retain independence without requiring assistance from others, it is vital to be aware of the types of mobility aids and other products which may make a difference.
Essential Aids supplies various devices which assist with the process of getting dressed.
One of the most popular and simple is the 'reaching aid' or 'grabber'. These make it easier to pick up items which might otherwise be out of reach. While they have uses all over the home and garden, they're also great for stooping to pick up socks and other clothes from the floor, for example.
They comprise a set of 'jaws' at one end of a length of plastic or aluminium, and a handle with a trigger at the other end. The trigger engages the jaws, making it possible to reach things from a distance.
Many people experience difficulty when bending at the waist, making various dressing tasks tricky. Shoe horns are a traditional aid to help with putting on shoes, but there are a few other lesser known devices which are also helpful.
Within Essential Aids' range is the 'Shoe Remover'. This helps with taking off your shoes without having to bend down and is excellent for slip-on shoes or those with elastic laces.
Also in the range are various kinds of aids to make it easier to put on socks and stockings. The popular 'Tights Aid' for example is made for those who can't comfortably bend over. As with most dressing aids, this takes practice to master, but once you have the technique, it may make a big difference.
The Tights Aid consists of a flexible frame and two long straps. The tights themselves are inserted into the frame, held open by the frame for the foot to be inserted. The straps are then used to pull up the frame and stocking over the foot and up the leg. It can also be used as a sock aid.
Variations on this basic design of either a metal frame or a flexible plastic gutter with straps, is used in various aids to help put on socks and stockings. At first, the technique required can seem alien, but most people pick it up after a few days' routine use.
Another practical dressing aid is the 'Dressing Stick'. As with the sock aid, it is a staple piece of equipment for those who have difficulty dressing and undressing without assistance. It enables the user to pull clothing over their shoulders, reducing the amount of flexibility required to do so. This particular model also has a shoehorn built in.
A particularly inventive dressing aid for women is the 'Bra Buddy'. Its clever design means that a bra can be put on and taken off again even if you have the user of just one hand.
Another best seller at Essential Aids is the 'Sliplift Pants Aid', which helps the process of putting on underwear. It works using a similar principle to the sock aid mentioned earlier, with the garment stretched across a wire frame.
The person's legs are then inserted into the underwear, and the frame is drawn over the feet and up the legs. It's a great solution for people who have difficulty putting on their underwear because of flexibility issues.
Arthritis affecting the hands is common, particularly in elderly people. A loss of dexterity can leave someone facing difficulties with numerous day-to-day tasks. Anything which requires fine motor control of the hands and fingers can be problematic, like using knives and forks in the kitchen, for example.
Getting dressed also presents issues if you have this symptom - buttoning up clothing for instance. Essential Aids supplies the 'Button Hook / Zip Puller' for just this purpose. It has an oversize, ribbed handle, which is attached to a narrow wire loop.
The wide handle is intended as an aid to stability, while the loop enables a technique for doing up buttons without requiring the fingertips.
At the other end of the tool is a hook which is useful when using zips.
Whether it's the result of joint pain or other symptoms, issues with the feet are commonplace in elderly people. Inflammation and swelling may cause ongoing discomfort and mean wearing standard footwear is uncomfortable.
Essential Aids' 'Foot Comfort' category contains special footwear designed to address this issue and ease pain in the feet. Fleece pads are excellent to protect bony parts of the foot which are painful when they come into contact with hard or even semi-hard surfaces.
The 'Heel Protectors' do precisely this job, strapping snugly around the heel, delivering soft cushioning to that area of the foot. They do this without enclosing the toes, leaving them to breathe.
For swollen feet, special slippers are available which are both larger and much easier to put on and take off than standard versions. They have wide apertures which are easy to slip the foot into, and wide fastenings. These fastenings have multiple settings so they're able to adjust to fit, depending on how much swelling the person is experiencing at a given time.
While wide slippers are great for use around the home, the Essential Aids' range also includes extra wide shoes which are suitable for getting out and about. Available for both men and women, these share similar fastening methods as the slippers, with very wide apertures to ensure putting them on and taking them off again is as painless as possible.
Because of their narrowness and the precision required to use them, writing and drawing with pens and pencils is another task which may become difficult. Hand mobility aids which increases the girth of these items often makes a big difference.
With the Essential Aids range is the 'Lite Touch Pen'. It is much wider than a conventional pen, making it easier to hold and accurately control for those with arthritis or a weak grip. As it requires very little pressure on the nib, the force required to write with it is significantly reduced.
An indentation on the grip where the thumb sits is another feature which helps with easy pressure and control of this device.
For those who find it easier to control something that feels heavier in the hand, the 'Weighted Universal Holders' might be a good option. These attach to a standard pen or pencil, adapting them with a wider, heavier gripping area.
Like the Lite Touch Pen, these devices often make hand control easier. They attach securely by means of an Allen key and can also be used with toothbrushes or pain brushes.
Even simpler aids to adapt pens and pencils are the variety of plastic or rubber grips which simply push-fit. The both increase the size of the gripping area and improve friction. This makes them easier to control and reduces the extent to which they dig-in to the hands.
They are available in multi-packs and are a cheap and effective way of making your current pens and pencils easier to use. They're also available in a variety of colours.
Mobility aids like rollators increasingly give extra consideration to users who have painful arthritic hands. Rollators are essentially larger and more robust walking frames, with three or four wheels.
Most modern models feature brakes similar to those found on a bicycle. In fact, early rollators featured actual bike brakes, rigged to the walking frame. The drawback with these is that the operation levers tend to be narrow and cause pain to the hands when engaged.
Newer designs feature wide, contoured brake levers which don't cause this problem. Instead they are easy on the hands and require only light pressure to engage.
Another way to use rollators both as mobility aids and to lessen strain on the hands, is to transport shopping. Most four-wheeled models come with a built-in basket. Even if you have plastic bags to carry, most models are stable enough to hang a bag from the frame.
As with bicycle brakes, plastic bags containing shopping are notorious for digging into the hands. Essential Aids has a product for just this problem, called the 'Shopping Bag Handle'. It has a clever design which attaches to a standard plastic bag handle and applies only ergonomic pressure to the hand of the user, much reducing discomfort.