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Medical Assistive Devices: Types & Examples

Instructor: Zona Taylor

Zona has taught Nursing and has a master's degree in Nursing Education and Maternal-Infant Nursing from University of Maryland Baltimore.

This lesson describes various types of medical assistive devices and provides examples of when these devices would be of the greatest benefit and to whom. Some of them may surprise you.

What do the following people have in common?

  • A 10-year-old boy on crutches follows the rest of his classmates out of school when classes end for the day. He wishes he had never broken his leg.
  • A 60-year-old grandmother reaches for her magnifying glass to read the newspaper with her cup of coffee in the morning.
  • A 55-year-old man uses a 'reacher' and a 'sock-donner' to help him get dressed for work and has done so since he had a hip replacement done.
  • A 24-year-old mother is in the kitchen when a flashing light alerts her that her baby is crying in the nursery.

The answer is revealed in the lesson.

What is a Medical Assistive Device?

A medical assistive device is any tool or piece of equipment that helps a person carry out normal Activities of Daily Living (ADL), e.g. moving around, seeing, hearing, talking/communicating, eating, getting dressed. The most familiar ones are crutches, canes, walkers, glasses, and hearing aids. However, the list is actually much longer.

Who Will Benefit Most from a Medical Assistive Device?

When a person has any condition that limits their ability to carry out ADLs, using an assistive device can improve that person's quality of life and sense of independence. A quality assistive device will allow individuals living with temporary or permanent disabilities to live safer and complete ADLs easier. Without such devices, many people would not be able to live on their own.

Hearing Impairment

A person with a hearing impairment has trouble hearing or cannot hear at all. Hearing impairment frequently leads to difficulties in communication. Assistive devices can help a person with hearing loss to hear and understand what is being said more clearly. Digital and wireless assistive devices that help people communicate and participate more fully in their daily lives include:

  • Assistive listening devices (ALDs). These amplify the sounds the person wants to hear, especially where there's a lot of background noise. ALDs can be used with a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
  • Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices help people who are having trouble communicating to express themselves. These devices can range from a simple picture board to a computer program that synthesizes speech from text.
  • Alerting devices. These connect to a doorbell, telephone, or alarm and emit a loud sound, blinking light, or vibration to let someone with hearing loss know that something is happening. Specialized clocks and wake-up alarm systems allow a person to choose to wake up to flashing lights, horns, or a gentle shaking.

A visual alert signaler is able to monitor a variety of household sounds. When the phone rings, the visual alert signaler will vibrate or flash a light to let the person know what is happening. Remote receivers can be placed around the house to alert the person from any room in the house. Portable vibrating pagers can let parents and caretakers know when a baby is crying. Some baby monitoring devices are able to analyze a baby's cry and light up a picture to indicate if the baby sounds hungry, bored, or sleepy.

Similarly, closed captioning (words across the bottom of the screen) allows people with hearing impairments to enjoy movies and television programs.

Physical Disability

A person with a physical disability may:

  • be unable to move certain parts of the body
  • have difficulty walking and/or experience a loss of balance
  • have slow response time
  • have limited fine motor or gross motor control

Depending on the exact issue, there is probably an assistive device to help. Those with physical disabilities may use canes, crutches, walkers, gait trainers, wheelchairs, and scooters to move around. Devices such as bath benches, shower chairs, tub transfer benches, hand-held showers, and grab bars can assist in bathing. Add in reachers, sock donners, zipper hooks, pill organizers, and the list of devices is actually a little overwhelming. Fortunately, there are healthcare professionals to help sort through and make recommendations on what may be needed in a specific situation. Devices also exist to support people who need help standing up, including the standing frame, standing wheelchair, and active stander. Other devices help a person to sit comfortably and safely, including air flow seats and therapeutic seats.

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