Assistive devices and technology are anything that help make activities of daily living (ADLs) easier and increase quality of life for the person with a brain injury. The following is a small sample of the assistive technologies available to help after brain injury. If you are looking for more options, check with healthcare providers, other survivors and your local brain injury association for ideas and recommendations.
DISCLAIMER: the following are examples of commonly used assistive technologies and devices. Your healthcare provider will be the one to make recommendations for your friend or family member’s specific needs, and they should be consulted if you have any questions about assistive technology. Using these devices and technology can be very helpful, but only when targeted for the person’s abilities.
- Walking poles
Walking poles are sometimes used for active walking. They can also be used for people who want extra support and safety when walking outside on uneven ground. These walking poles can be ordered online, or in some cases can be found in sports equipment or medical stores. Make sure to find ones that are good for rehabilitation: there is a difference between sport poles and support poles. It is also important that the instructions are followed so the poles are used correctly.
Canes are a walking aid, generally used by people who have some unsteadiness and need extra support. Canes can be single point or four-point.
Walkers are an excellent assistive aid for people who are able to walk but may be experiencing muscle weakness or unsteadiness/balance issues. Compared to canes and walking poles, walkers provide more support. While most walkers have wheels for easy movement, some do not. The doctor will be able to provide recommendations.
Wheelchairs can be manual or motorized operation and come with a variety of features designed to make mobility easier. If your friend or family member do need a wheelchair, you may have to adjust your home environment in order to accommodate the change. Wheelchairs should be fitted by an occupational or physical therapist who can make sure wheel types, seating and other parts of the wheelchair are suited for the user.
- Bed rails
For people who toss, turn and are at risk of falling out of bed, bed rails are an easy way to increase safety while asleep.
- Low beds and bed steps
Getting in and out of bed can be challenging. Lower beds and bed steps can help. They are also easy to find and add to a bedroom.
- Sleep mask
For many people, they need peace, quiet and darkness to fall asleep, meditate, or just take a few minutes for themselves. One way to do this is to use a sleep mask. A sleep mask restricts light and can help someone if they are feeling overly visually stimulated.
- Special adjustable beds
Adjustable beds can make it easier to find a comfortable sleeping position, improve circulation, and turn a bed into a chair for day use.
- Supportive pillows
There are different kinds of pillows that can be used to help people when the sleep. Pillows can be used to help with neck, hip positioning, between the knees, and more.
In the kitchen
There are all kinds of kitchen items that can make cooking enjoyable and more accessible. An occupational therapist may have recommendations specific to the person’s needs.
- Automatic turn-off switches for stoves
There are several automatic stove turn-off devices that can be used by people who experience challenges with memory. Some even have timers. These automatic turn-off devices can be an important safety tool.
- Grips for silverware
There are grips you can get to add to silverware. This makes it easier to hold a fork or spoon and eat independently. They can also be used for other utensils such as pens.
- Kitchen tools developed for people with one hand ability
There are plenty of kitchen tools such as knives, cutting boards and pots/pans that are designed for people who can only use one hand. This means that people who find traditional kitchen equipment impossible to use can still enjoy cooking.
- A pot watcher
There are different names for it, but a pot watcher is essentially a heat-resistant disc that goes into a pot or kettle. It rattles when liquid starts to boil as a reminder for the person cooking. This is a great tool for people who like to cook but may get distracted.
In the bathroom
- Shower chairs/benches
Shower chairs or shower benches allow people to bathe safely while sitting down to help minimize risks of falls.
- Grab bars
Grab bars can be installed in various places in the bathroom to help a person in an out of a shower or bathtub or up and down on the toilet. These grab bars are installed specifically to support a person’s weight. Towel bars and hooks should not be used as grab bars.
- Handheld shower sprayers
For people who sit down in the shower, a handheld shower head allows for easier cleaning and more maneuverability.
- Raised toilet seats
Raised toilet seats can be incredibly helpful for people who find sitting far down challenging.
- Computer programs that change screen colour & contrast
For some people with visual challenges, regular screen settings (colour, contrast and brightness for example) don’t work. There are computer settings and additional programs (free or for purchase) that can be used to alter screens to make them more comfortable for users.
- Journaling applications
For people who don’t want to keep a physical/paper journal, there are free and paid smartphone/tablet applications. This is also an excellent option for people who struggle with writing by hand.
- Photo shortcuts
Some applications for smartphones are available to create photo shortcuts for actions people perform all the time. For example, a photo of a family member could be a shortcut to their phone number. This can make calling loved ones or visiting frequently used websites quick and easy. Please note: these applications are not free.
- Screen readers
Computers, tablets and smartphones can be equipped with screen reader software that will read out text and image descriptions on screens. Some computer operating systems even have screen readers (or narrators) built in. This assistive technology is helpful for people who have difficulty using screens or vision problems.
Not all screen readers are the same and some may cost money. You can find the right screen reader by asking specialists on the rehabilitation team for their recommendations. It may be beneficial to look at free vs. paid programs and reviews from other users to determine which recommendation would be best.
- Scheduling applications
There are plenty of smartphone and computer applications available for free or for purchase that make keeping a digital calendar or setting reminders easy.
- Smart-pen and paper
Smart pens (along with the appropriate smart paper) can turn handwritten notes into digital notes and audio recordings. Some can even store pages or audio notes directly on the pen.
- Speech to text software
For people who are unable to write, speech to text software can take what a person says and turn it into text on a computer, smartphone or tablet. This is helpful for emails, text messages, reports, and more.
- Talking clock/calendar
There are digital clocks and calendars that go one step further. They not only show the date/time: they say it. Depending on the model of clock/calendar, they may also show other relevant information such as temperature and weather.
- Use smart technology to send alerts, change settings
Smart technology is becoming more and more integrated into homes. Using smart technology and applications, it’s possible to do things like send alerts to a caregiver when a person leaves their bedroom (ideal for people with memory or balance issues), set up automatic reminders, and more.
Smart technology does cost money and will need professional installers. Healthcare professionals may have some recommendations for smart technology that other patients have found helpful.
- Voice recorders
Taking notes in any form may be difficult for some. Audio recorders can be used to record conversations, important meetings, doctors’ appointments, and journal entries. The recordings can be saved on a computer or compatible device.
- Wearable timers & smart watches
Smart technology watches and timers can be worn and used by people with brain injury to remember the date and time, set timers for activities, and set reminders to complete tasks. Some can even take voice memos.
- Hearing aids
Hearing aids are for people who have hearing problems and need technology to help them with communication. If the person has hearing problems, they should consult with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist or their doctor about whether a hearing aid would help.
- Large print calendars and schedules
Standard print size may not be suitable for some people. There are large print calendars and schedules that can be ordered. These make it easier for people to read, especially from a distance.
- Prism glasses
Prism lenses are designed for people with double vision. The prisms help align the two images into one. Eye doctors prescribe prism eyeglasses based on specific tests.
- Medical bracelet
A medical bracelet isn’t a tool or device, but it’s a valuable way to convey information about brain injury to medical professionals (such as emergency personnel), caregivers, and even the person with a brain injury if they are experiencing memory issues.
An alternative to a medical bracelet is an emergency identification card or storing the information on a smartphone. Many smartphones now have a feature that enables the owner to make someone their emergency contact, which can be accessed by first responders.
Financial aid for assistive technology/devices
There are several different funding programs available to provide assistance to those with disabilities. They can be run by provincial/territorial governments, local nonprofits, or community organizations. Funding programs for assistive devices will have different eligibility requirements, so not all programs may be available. Check with your local brain injury association to see if they have information on funding programs.
There are grants available at the federal and provincial/territorial levels that can assist with home environment accessibility renovations. You can find the list of current renovation grants on this page