Stay at Home Solutions
Maintain Your Independence

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Stay at Home Solutions blogs on topics such as aging in place, universal design, adaptive equipment, home modifications, accessibility, durable medical equipment, legislation, and caregiving.

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Can't Open the Washing Machine (Or Dryer) Door?
Pexels

Pexels

I will admit to you all today that I sometimes struggle to open the washing machine or dryer door. There are instances where I do not grip the door handle well enough and my hand slips off! Occasionally, I attempt to open the door and need to tug on it two to three times before it opens! When I experience this I tend to think, "Oh my gosh, why is this so hard?"

Then my occupational therapy brain starts to kick in and think: "How can I solve this? How can I make it easier to open the washer or dryer door?"

Well my friends, let me share some ideas with you today! Let's go through and think about your current situation!

stay_at_home_solutions_laundry

Please go and look at your washer and dryer right now. I will patiently wait for you! (Side note: Hopefully your washer and dryer are on the main level of your house. If not, put that in your three to five year home modification plan! A washer and dryer on the main level of the house helps people age in place in their home!)

Ok, did you look? I am going to ask the following questions:

  • What type of washer and dryer do you have? Are they front or top loaders?

  • Are they a stackable washer and dryer?

  • What brand do you have? 

  • Which direction does the door open and shut on the washer and dryer?

  • Where are the control buttons on the washer and dryer? On the front of the machine? Towards the back on a panel?

  • Where is it located in the house?

The answers to these questions tell me a lot about how you are moving to do laundry. It leads me to other questions about you personally like:

  • What is your dominant hand? Right or left?

  • What is your grip strength?

  • Are you sitting or standing at the machine when moving loads?

  • Are you sitting or standing while folding clothes?

  • How far can you reach while sitting or standing?

  • Are you using equipment, like a walker or reacher?

  • When you do laundry, do you wear out after a short time or can you do everything without rest breaks?

  • Do you lose your balance when reaching for clothes inside the machine?

There are no right or wrong answers! Everyone does laundry a little bit different. Answering these questions helps me think about the best options for you when opening the washer and dryer door. It tells me what your needs are and the possible solutions to making it easier to open the door handle every time.

It is also really helpful to see you in action! Ask your local, friendly occupational therapist to watch how you open the washer or dryer door handle to find a way to make it better for you! Or another option is to have your family member or friend take a video recording. You know your teenage children or grandchildren would be happy to whip out their phones to video record you in action!

After considering all the information and how you open the washer or dryer door handle, perhaps your solution is as simple as switching the door hinges to swing from the right instead of the left or vice versa. Maybe you are able to add some texture around the handle of the washer and dryer door handle, like shelf liner or some other type of non slip grip. The solution varies from person to person!

Clarke Health Care grab bar

Clarke Health Care grab bar

I talked with another occupational therapist about trying a suction cup grab bar on the washer or dryer door. The handle of the suction cup grab bar would be easier to grip. However, the temperature changes on the surface of the machine's door could cause the suction cup grab bar to fall off after several uses. If you have tried to use a suction cup grab bar as a door handle on your washer or dryer, please comment down below! I am curious to hear your experience!

To be honest, this is one of the rare times I encourage people to use a suction cup grab bar at home! Please click here to read why I am skeptical about suction cup grab bars!

After doing some quick research, I found an ingenious way to fix a broken handle on a washer or dryer door. Click here to read this do-it-yourself article on how to change your washer/dryer door handle into a rope handle! I have never seen anyone use a rope as a door handle on the washer or dryer in person. Nevertheless, this option is appealing because it is inexpensive and straightforward to pull on the rope to open the door.

An alternative strategy is an autorelease, or automatic, washer or dryer door. The door would open as soon as the load finished, which lessens the need to open the washer or dryer door. I researched this option and only found it for a dishwasher brand. Manufacturers, hear my plea to be more creative with your washer and dryer handles!

Home Depot Samsung Washer

Home Depot Samsung Washer

In the same technology vein, I looked at several smart washers and dryers. I could not find any with a feature that made it easier to open the washer and dryer door. However, I encourage you to consider this type of appliance because smart washers and dryers cost around the same amount as other washers and dryers. Other benefits include smart washers and dryers running loads when energy usage in your neighborhood is low, monitoring machine parts that need replacement, and controlling the machine from an app on your smart phone.

Hopefully, these ideas will help you open the washer or dryer door effortlessly! These tips will help you stay independent while doing your laundry for years to come. Laundry is not the most pleasurable chore for people, but you deserve for it to be free of difficulty! Please share what you have done to your washer or dryer door handle. Tell me what technology, equipment, or parts that I'm missing! 

Can You Relate?
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Pexels

Breaking a bone in your body is one of the worst experiences you can have in your lifetime. Trust me. I know this experience firsthand!

When I was eight-years-old, I climbed the wobbly, rickety chain link fence in the backyard at home and toppled over to fall to the ground breaking my left elbow. I remember passing out from the pain after seeing my mother’s scared facial expression.

At the hospital, I was given pain medication that completely knocked me out. The radiology tech had to keep prodding me to stay awake while taking x-rays of my arm. Eventually, I had surgery to realign my bones with two pins.

I remember the whole experience vividly! I was small and nimble enough to not need any home modifications. BUT I needed help with getting dressed, going to the bathroom, taking a shower, and brushing my hair. The pain from my arm would wake me up sometimes at night. I had to sleep lying on my back with my arm propped up on pillows.

Pexels

Pexels

I HATE sleeping on my back!

Luckily, I am right handed and had all the benefits of youth while waiting for my arm to heal! I was able to easily manipulate brushing my teeth, drawing, feeding, playing card games, and anything else you can think of with my right hand. Recovery took no time at all for me as a child. As soon as I was able to use my left arm, I quickly returned to dance lessons and playing piano.

I could never forget how my injury impacted my life in such a profound way. My mother was wary and extra protective while my arm healed. She made sure my sisters and cousins were careful when they played around me. Mom did not want me to be hurt again!

Looking back, I not only see the physical impacts a broken arm had on my life. I also see how I changed the way I took care of myself and how my family members and friends treated me.

As an eight-year-old, I was very independent in taking care of myself prior to the injury, especially as the oldest of four children. When I broke my arm, it felt like going in reverse needing even more help from my mother. She even tied my shoes again. I saw myself as an independent person changing into an interdependent person.

That’s hard even for an eight-year-old child.

I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I was to resume my independence again after my arm fully recovered. But not everyone can experience this type of relief.

As an adult, injuries like broken bones can be more damaging and long lasting than what children experience. This is where it gets deep, people!

Adults have decades of being independent in taking care of themselves and others. A broken bone drastically changes how they view themselves. Accepting help can sometimes be seen in the same vein as becoming older or aging.

Of course, as occupational therapists, it’s easy for us to reassure adults with injuries that they are not old people (there’s nothing wrong with that anyway!). We educate them on all of the ways they can still do what they need and want to do. However, we do need to remind ourselves that when people break a bone, they are grieving the loss (temporary or permanent) of their independence and the way they used to do daily activities. Even little eight-year-old me grieved over not being able to play tag and ride my bike for a couple of months.

Pexels

Pexels

Whoa. Grief? Yes. Here’s an example!

Dave broke his tibia stepping off a sidewalk into the street while heading to a coffee shop. He had surgery and needed to use a walker to help balance while hopping on one leg to get around. He quickly realized he needed a lot of help with getting in and out of his house, bed, shower, and going up and down the stairs. Dave was frustrated he could not move easily around his house anymore.

Pistola squat by Workoutlabs.com

Pistola squat by Workoutlabs.com

He thought, “Dang, I never thought I would need to do a pistola squat to get on and off the toilet! I don’t want my wife to help me with this every day!”

Dave even needed help picking up his dog’s bowls to put water and food in them! He felt like he had to rely on his wife to do everything. Dave started to feel depressed while his leg was healing because he wanted to do more by himself. Dave loved his wife, but he didn’t want to be soooo intimate with her while toileting and bathing.

He missed his ability to move around and take care of himself on his own time. Dave wondered if he will be able to continue living in his current house as it was. “What if I could never walk again? What will I do?”

In this situation, it’s easy to see why Dave would grieve the loss of his privacy, caring for himself, and moving around. He feels frustrated on how much effort he has to put in to simply move around the house. These emotions are very normal for any person. Have you every had this type of experience? Can you relate to Dave?

There are some things we cannot control whatsoever, like accidents. But we certainly can control our environment! Since we know breaking bones is such a challenging physical and emotional time, I am happy to say there are ways we can prevent lessen some of the pain and maintain our dignity by making changes in the home.

Yes, as a kid, I easily navigated my environment with a broken arm. However, poor adult Dave struggled to move around in and outside of his house with a broken leg. Let me tell you three things he could do to his house to make recovery better:

Stanton Homes

Stanton Homes

1) Create one entrance at home with ZERO steps. This will make it easier to use a walker to hop on one leg in and out of the house. Dave will be able to escape the home in case of emergency, see the doctor, go to outpatient therapy, spend time with friends at the ball game, etc. Dave can just enjoy not struggling to get in and out of his own house! He will not feel like a trapped prisoner!

Barrier free shower by Accessible Solutions

Barrier free shower by Accessible Solutions

2) Build a bathroom on the main floor of the house. Preferably this will be a full bathroom, but a half bathroom will certainly suffice! Put blocking in the walls in order to install grab bars later if needed. The blocking will allow you to install grab bars at any height! How neat! Grab bars could help Dave get on and off the toilet by himself, but there are a lot more options I can talk about with Dave and his wife.

3) Install a barrier free shower. Dave can easily use this shower with or without a broken leg! A barrier free shower lets you walk in and out without stepping over anything! This type of shower is perfect for all ages and abilities from wheelchair users to people who walk on two legs. Learn more by clicking here or here!

If you can relate to Dave, you may want to consider planning on making changes to your current home. Life is unpredictable, but if you do it before you need it then you are setting yourself up to maintain your independence and dignity in your own home. Please comment below if you or someone you know has had Dave’s experience of grieving the loss of taking care of yourself.

Look at My Garden Design!

I love gardening! As an occupational therapist, I feel delighted when my clients tell me they enjoy gardening as well. Since gardening is a great activity to stay healthy and strong, I like to help people figure out how to stay engaged in it.

I found that most of the time, people stop gardening because they can no longer access their garden beds at home. These people can not get down to the ground and stand back up. They find it difficult to walk on uneven ground in their yards. Reaching for weeds or tools on the ground can cause people to lose their balance. Nobody wants to take a tumble in front of the neighbors!

These gardening problems are caused by losing strength and balance over time as we age. When we stop doing certain activities, we lose the ability to participate in that task. Of course, I could tell people, “Just start exercising”, but in all actuality very few clients follow through on that suggestion.

Other hurdles to gardening include arthritis pain and joint problems. These two common complaints make my clients feel unable to resume gardening how they used to. So with these biological barriers blocking my clients from enjoying time outdoors with their plants, what am I going to recommend to them?

I wrote an article in May, “Easy Gardening Tips”, that focused on tool and self care recommendations when gardening outside. Today, I am going to go into detail about the physical changes you can make in your yard to access the garden easier!

Let me give you an example about my own garden. My husband and I want to make a raised 16'x16' garden bed for produce in our yard. We wanted to include a path in the garden bed to be able to walk and reach plants in the middle. Here is a picture of the design my husband created:

Design by Cole Lindbergh

Design by Cole Lindbergh

We call it a "Big Garden" because we are amateur gardeners, okay people? Sometimes I kill plants unintentionally, but I always love to try growing them.

To make the garden accessible for most people, I asked my husband to make the entry and garden path inside of the square 36 inches wide. This will allow plenty of room for any person with a walker or cane to come look at my plants or weed for me (for free of course). Anyone who walks will have no problem carting a wagon of tools around a pathway this size. My clients who find it difficult to lean and reach for items will like this type of design to avoid losing their balance.

The garden path width will also allow a wheelchair user to come inside, BUT this would be a very tight squeeze for that person when you include hand rims. Ideally, the width of the path would be 60 inches or have one spot that is 5'x5' to turn in any direction. My garden design works for people with smaller width wheelchairs and only gives them the ability to go forwards or backwards.

The other bone of contention is my power wheelchair user friends would not be able to come into the garden. They would need a 6'x6' turning space to safely navigate my garden without bumping into the bed walls. Power wheelchairs can often cost the same as a car! So we wouldn't want to accidentally damage my friend's mode of transportation!

Another thing to consider is how tall to make the garden bed walls. The minimum recommended height for raised garden beds is one foot for plant roots to spread. There is no rule for a maximum garden bed height, but be wary of the need to reach up too high to tend to your plants. For our purposes, we are going to make the bed walls two feet high. If that is too low, we can certainly add on to the wall height in the future. 

Building taller raised garden beds, like four feet high, will work better for people who feel pain while bending to the ground. I would recommend bringing a light stool in your garden wagon in order to sit and work on the plants. Sitting to garden conserves energy, limits pain, and improves your balance. You can also use a raised garden bed with legs that will give more room for your lower body while sitting to tend to plants like the picture below.

Costco

Costco

Lastly, it's important to think about the material to use for the garden pathway. For obvious reasons, dirt and grass will make it very hard for someone to walk or push a wheelchair in the garden. Mud is a mortal enemy to power wheelchairs and is incredibly hard to clean off of wheels!

You want the garden pathway material to be non slip and smooth for wheelchair users and people who use walkers or canes. The ability for a wheelchair user to access certain areas depends on their equipment and upper body strength. Some ideal materials include crusher run, concrete, or asphalt. Wood pathways are another option, however, you need to make sure they are sealed properly to avoid the pathway to become slippery when wet and to prevent the wood from breaking down from the elements.

Do not be tempted to put in brick or other stone pavers! They look really pretty, but cause unnecessary bumps for wheels. Also, I cannot tell you how many times I watched people with walkers get stuck in the spaces in between pavers and sidewalk cracks. Bumps and cracks on pathways can easily lead to falls in the garden. Again, we don't want the neighbors to watch us fall!

If you are interested in learning more about making gardens accessible for all, please check out Enabling Gardens: Creating Barrier Free Gardens by Gene Rothert. Mr. Rothert is a wheelchair user and gives first hand experience on how to make gardening available to people of all ages and abilities.

Everyone deserves to enjoy what they like to do, including gardening. If you or someone you know has a hard time with gardening, try some of these tips to get back outside! Comment down below if you have tried ways to make gardening easier for you!