March 29, 2015

Memory Aids Have to Be in My Face

When I forgot to pick up a friend I felt guilty.  She blamed herself because she thought she had remembered the wrong date.  This painful experience taught me that memory aids have to be in my face.  I can repeatedly ignore reminders that are sitting in an out of the way place.  

1.  The current month sits on my kitchen table where I eat breakfast.  I use 1 colored tab to mark the next important an date and move it when the event is over.                                     2.  I fold the page for each month in half and put them in a napkin holder.  Pieces of paper are stuffed in their respective month.  The arrow is pointing to a month with a postcard from my dentist reminding me to make an appointment.  I got that postcard six weeks ago.  If I had put the postcard on my kitchen counter, who knows where it would be now.    
3.  I keep sticky Post-It notes and a pen every where I sit so I can write notes and stick them on my shirt.  If I leave the note on my shirt too long it falls off when I walk.  When that happens I stop what I am doing and do what is written on the note.

A word of caution about memory aids.  What helps one person remember does not make a bit of sense to another person.  The memory aids I use are only examples that may help you discover memory aids that work for you.  Negotiate with your family to find a prominent place you can put your memory aids.  It may require others to adjust to a few changes, but they will benefit from your improved memory.

March 26, 2015

Arthritis + Stroke = Modified Joint Protection

Five years ago an x-ray showed early signs of arthritis in my sound thumb.  I did not worry about it until this thumb started to ache.  I have overused my sound hand for 11 years and need it to last for another 20 years.  Below are examples of joint protection principles for the thumbs of stroke survivors.  I had to modify these principles which were written for two-handed people with arthritis.

1. Use Stronger Joints.  Pouring from a full milk container forces me to squeeze the sides of the container tightly so it will not slip out of my hand.  Squeezing tightly makes my thumb ache.  So I pour milk two-handed.  The arrow is pointing at my hemiplegic (paralyzed) hand.  The muscles of my hemiplegic shoulder, elbow, and wrist are doing the heavy lifting while my sound hand makes sure the spout is aimed correctly.  I appreciate not feeling pain every morning when I prepare cereal for breakfast.

2.  Minimize Force.  I cannot swallow pills with liquids so every day I open a container of yogurt.  Manufacturers put strong glue on the lid to maintain a tight seal.  Opening the lid makes my thumb ache because I have to grip the tab so tightly.  My hemiplegic thumb cannot help my sound thumb on this task.  I reduce the force I exert by wearing a rubber finger cot
used for counting money.  Greater traction means my thumb can pinch less forcefully.
I cannot avoid using my sound thumb to open the top of a sock to get it on my foot. The photo on the left shows my thumb and index finger stretched far apart.  This makes my thumb ache.  Now I open the sock barely enough to get the sock over my toes.  Other fingers do the hard work of pulling the sock up the rest of the way.

3.  Avoid Static Positions.  Holding a book for a long time with my sound hand makes my thumb ache. So I place my Actto bookrest on a laptop desk covered with non-slip shelf liner.  An arrow in the photo points at a clear colored tab that adjusts the angle (i.e. more vertical or more horizontal).  With the bookrest sitting on my laptop desk I can reach behind and easily release and reclamp this tab with one hand.

The photo on the right has an arrow pointing at a clear colored plastic arm that holds the book open.  There is enough friction to fight the weight of the open book but I can easily reposition the plastic arms (e.g. far out for a big book and close in for a thin book).  I have loved to read all my life so I am glad an assistive device lets me enjoy this activity without pain.

March 15, 2015

Reviewing Adapted Knives

When I eat out I order soft food that can be cut with a fork, like fish and pasta.  At home I have rocker knives that let me press down on the food to hold it still while a rocking motion cuts the food.  The photo shows two rocker knives.  The long knife in the photo on the right is the most commonly used one.  However, the photo below shows that this rocker knife does not fit in my purse.
I use an across-the-body purse because straps slide off my shoulder. This was OK when I was able-bodied because I had a free hand to keep pushing the strap back up.  I found a small purse called the Terrace Shoulder Pouch at  Putting the purse in front of my body keeps it out of the way when I reach forward with my cane.  I have larger over-the-shoulder bags, but they stick out so far I look like a pregnant walrus.  A smaller knife is on the left in photo above.  I think it looks like an assassin's weapon so I use it at home to cut vegetables.   

I love the Verti-Grip Professional Knife from It is held vertically so my whole arm can press down as I rock the blade side-to-side.  The rocker knife shown above is held horizontally so I create downwards pressure only with my index finger. The VertiGrip's sharp blade cuts though steak and pork chops.  It is only six inches long so it fits completely inside my purse.  It has a protective cover that slides off easily so I put the VertiGrip in a small zip-lock bag to protect the inside of my purse.  The Verti-Grip costs $17.95 + S&H, but I think it is worth it.

March 3, 2015

Frustrated by a Right Handed World

I was right-handed until a stroke paralyzed my right side.  Now that my left hand is my dominant hand I've learned the world discriminates against left-handed people.  Switching hand dominance at 58 years old was an eye opener.  The aggravation goes beyond right-handed (1) scissors and (2) can openers.  (3) The shutter button on cameras is always on the right.  When I hold a camera with my left hand a finger often covers the lens when my index finger depresses the shutter button.  (4) Computer labs make sure there is room to maneuver a mouse on the right side, but don't always leave room on the left.  (5)  Left-handed drivers have to reach around or through the steering wheel to put the key in the ignition which is always on the right.  (6) Many credit card machines put the slot you swipe your card through on the right side.  When the slot is on the top, left-handed people have to push the card away from their dominant side unless the card can be swiped in either direction.  The plastic stylus you sign with is frequently attached to the right side with a very short cord.

(7)  Before my stroke my right hand used to close a jar by turning the lid clockwise and the back of my fingers used to get closer to my forearm (see photo on left).  Now that I use my left hand to turn the lid it's my thumb that gets closer to my forearm.  This new wrist position doesn't match 50 years of muscle memory.  It took me three years to stop making a lid tighter when I wanted to loosen it.

Left handers I've talked to say they solve these problems by using their right hand.  The only advantage left-handed people have is the QWERTY layout of a keyboard.  You can type thousands of words on the left side of the keyboard with the the left hand but can type only a few hundred words on the right side with the right hand (  (8) Deciding which hand to write with is only the beginning.  Left-handed people have to decide which hand to use until the day they die.