Ching-Yuan LIN, Senior Occupational Therapist,
Taipei Rehabilitation Center, Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation
Discover four sources of inspiration to fuel your creativity and address the unique needs of burn patients when designing assistive devices. From conferences and websites to dollar stores and hardware stores, explore various avenues to unlock independence and enhance daily living for burn patients.
In this blog...
Creative assistive devices to bridging the gap for burn patients' independent living
Regaining independent living ability can be challenging for burn patients after hospital discharge. Assistive devices serve as a vital strategy employed by therapists to bridge the gap between patients' capabilities and the requirements of daily activities. However, due to the diverse physical limitations, life contexts, and resources available to patients, therapists often need to be exceptionally creative. In this article, we present four sources of inspiration for developing post-burn ADL (Activities of Daily Living) assistive devices. By exploring these sources of inspiration, therapists can discover their own innovative solutions to address the unique needs of burn patients and unlock their independence.
Many burn patients face challenges resuming independent living after hospital discharge due to reduced functions. This can be caused by scar contracture, decreased muscle strength, or caused by more permanent impairments like amputation. To help our burn patients regain ADL functional independence, assistive devices can be used to make up for the gap between the patient’s capacity and the actual requirements for performing activities of daily living.
Assistive devices can be ready-made or bespoke. Even everyday items can be repurposed or modified. The key is to match the assistive device to the physical functional limitation, while taking into consideration other factors like patient preferences, cost, ease of use, etc. Below are our four sources of inspiration for coming up with creative assistive device strategies.
Four sources of inspiration for creative assistive devices
1. Conferences or trade fairs
Conferences or trade fairs offer a valuable platform for therapists to stay updated on the latest trends in assistive devices and explore available options in the market. These events bring together industry representatives, enabling therapists to establish connections and gain in-depth knowledge about products. For example, in Taiwan, the Assistive Technology for Life trade Assistive Technology for Life trade fair is held every year and brings together close to 200 exhibitors from Taiwan, Asia, Europe and America.
Access to numerous companies and distributors in one place.
Diverse range of assistive devices on display.
Ability to observe, interact with, and test exhibited devices.
Ready-made devices might be expensive and unaffordable for many patients.
Devices exhibited may not be tailored to the specific needs of burn patients.
2. Websites of assistive device suppliers
Apart from being platforms for purchasing ready-made devices, websites of assistive device suppliers offer valuable inspiration for therapists. These websites showcase various products, allowing therapists to explore simpler or more cost-effective methods for creating similar devices. A quick search online for assistive device suppliers will come up with many website results, like Our Obligation in Taiwan. These websites usually have online catalogues listing different products available under different categories (type of functional limitation or type of daily living activity) and browsing them is a great source of inspiration.
Suppliers' products cover a wide range of needs, offering convenience as a one-stop shop.
Many suppliers provide online shopping, ensuring easy and convenient device procurement.
Limited online photos and descriptions may make it difficult to assess device suitability.
Ready-made devices may be expensive and beyond the financial reach of many patients.
3. Dollar stores, home accessories stores or variety stores
Dollar stores, home accessories stores or variety stores present an unexpected yet fruitful source of inspiration for modifying or repurposing everyday items into assistive devices. These stores usually sell inexpensive items that are designed to make life easier or more convenient. These stores offer inexpensive items designed to enhance convenience in various aspects of life. For instance, Daiso, a renowned dollar store across Asia, offers items suitable for cooking, cleaning, self-care, and more, many of which can be repurposed to meet the needs of burn patients.
Items available at a low cost
Wide variety of items to choose from
Easy accessibility of these stores
Lower quality of products compared to specialized assistive devices.
4. Hardware stores or DIY handicraft stores
Hardware stores and DIY handicraft stores serve as treasure troves of raw materials for creating assistive devices from scratch. While this approach demands greater creativity and dexterity from therapists, it can be highly cost-effective when patients have limited financial resources and ready-made devices are not suitable.
Availability of inexpensive materials.
Easy accessibility of these stores.
The materials may not be of "rehabilitation-grade," making manipulation, shaping, molding, or modification more challenging.
Some materials may be less durable or resistant to wear, and certain materials might be less comfortable for patients.
How patient ADL needs can drive our creativity
One of my burn patients experienced electrical burns, leading to bilateral amputation (above-elbow for the left arm and below-elbow for the right arm). Following the provision of a prosthesis for the right arm, my patient began expressing specific requirements for activities of daily living (ADLs). Because of the level of difficulty, each ADL need was like a challenge that pushed me to think outside the box for solutions.
Example 1: Preparing food independently
Among these needs was the ability to independently prepare food. During my search on assistive device suppliers' websites, I came across a versatile board initially designed for stroke patients with limited hand functions. By incorporating an anti-slip mat beneath the board, my patient can utilize the hook on his prosthesis to independently open cans or containers.
Example 2: Showering independently
Because my patient cannot use his prosthesis in the shower, it’s difficult to wash certain body areas, like his back. While looking around in a home accessories store, I came upon this inexpensive plastic mat that was originally marketed as a “foot cleaning and massage mat.” We repurposed it as a “back washing mat” simply by hanging it on the shower wall, so that my patient can wash his back by rubbing against it.
Example 3: Eating independently
My patient loves instant noodles, but encountered difficulties in opening the small flavoring packets. In the left picture, the patient attempts to secure the packet between his legs while using his prosthesis to cut it open with scissors. Notice that we devised a technique using splinting material to create loops on the scissor handles that accommodate the prosthesis hooks. However, manipulating the small packets posed risks such as self-injury or getting dirty. In the right picture, we devised an alternative solution by cutting a slit into a regular sponge and inserting the flavoring packet into it. The patient then secures the sponge between his legs. This method provides improved stability and grip, and even if the sponge becomes soiled, it can be easily cleaned.
Therapists play a crucial role in assisting burn patients in reclaiming their independence through the use of assistive devices. By exploring these four sources of inspiration mentioned above, therapists can expand their creativity and find innovative solutions to meet the unique needs of their patients. Whether it's attending conferences or trade fairs to stay updated on the latest trends, browsing websites of assistive device suppliers for ideas, repurposing everyday items from dollar stores, or finding materials at hardware stores for DIY projects, the possibilities are vast.
However, it's important for therapists to keep certain key principles in mind during the device selection process. They should consider the temporary or permanent nature of the patient's impairment, and also consider the role, lifestyle preferences, and economic situation of the patient. Additionally, factors such as ease of use, care, adjustment, and repair, as well as patient safety, must be carefully evaluated to ensure optimal outcomes.
By staying informed, remaining open to new ideas, and constantly seeking innovative solutions, therapists can empower burn patients to regain their independence and enhance their quality of life. Remember, the journey to independent living after a burn injury may require creativity, adaptability, and a willingness to think outside the box. Together, therapists and patients can overcome challenges and pave the way for a brighter, more autonomous future.