Dr. Eleanor Barbera

My mother has a knack for taking something awkward and, as she puts it, “turning it into a feature.”

For example, the previous owners of our family home placed the living room couch in front of a protruding radiator so that the sofa was oddly and obviously a foot away from the wall. By contrast, my mother had shelves installed above the radiator so that it became a pleasant focal point for books, photos and the stereo system.

I follow this line of thought with regard to the need for assistive devices such as canes, walkers, and eyeglasses. It’s possible to convert something unappealing yet necessary into an item that bestows confidence, evinces a sense of humor or becomes more useful.

Turning assistive devices into a feature creates a psychological shift for the wearer. It gives residents an element of control over mostly uncontrollable circumstances and allows them to retain their personal style in a situation that tends to strip them of their uniqueness despite our best efforts.

An organization providing the opportunity to purchase or design desirable devices can generate a change in their culture. Seeing residents sporting colorful walkers or personalized wheelchairs rather than standard equipment sends a message of individualized care and a zest for life despite disability.

In the spirit of giving your residents an emotional boost and taking the sting out of the need for assistive devices, your organization might try some of the following ideas (found through my handy search engine):

•  Residents can purchase sophisticated walking canes featuring fancy handles or colorful shafts with a wide selection of items under $50. I know many residents who would find that an excellent use of their Personal Needs Allowance (PNA).

•  Another company features a colorful range of walking canes for about $40 each. Choices include floral motifs, Irish themes, US military and biker inspired designs.

•  With PNA funds being as limited as they are, a decorating event is a great addition to the recreation calendar. Help residents embellish canes or create personalized walker or wheelchair bags to carry their belongings using colorful duct tape, Velcro and other supplies, or sew a handy cup holder.

•  While the cost of these incredible wheelchairs is out of reach of most residents, the photos can help us rethink the possibilities for wheelchair use. I particularly like the devices that convert a standard wheelchair into a motorized chair. For an option that’s out of the design phase and ready for purchase, click here.

•  Organize a pop-up shop selling funky reading glasses sold by a local optician or online at a store like this one.

•  Residents who need a port in their arms for dialysis or other medical procedures will appreciate colorful port covers or apparel with openings that allow them to remain clothed while receiving treatments. (They’re dubbed “healthwear” by one designer.)

•  For residents who struggle with the buttons on their shirts, magnetic-closure shirts look great and allow for increased independence – something both they and their aides will appreciate.

All of the above suggestions foster a more positive view of aging and disability, which is something worth promoting as eldercare providers. For a look at fashionable elders who are reveling in their senior years, check out the inspirational photos at Advanced Style.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is a 2014 Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the 2014 American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.