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Assistive devices and where you can get them

When Diane Leising came home from a physical rehabilitation center last spring, her caretaker had a secret weapon – the University at Buffalo Center for Assistive Technology, a nonprofit agency packed with hundreds of devices designed to help people of all ages with limitations.

The center loans out assistive devices – free – for up to two months so folks can see if they help. If so, staff will connect users to manufacturers and distributors that sell the devices – allowing time to see if purchases might be covered by health insurers.

Retired registered nurse Tina Ziemba reached out to the center while Leising, 65, who had suffered a setback with multiple sclerosis, convalesced in rehab. She arranged to borrow a wheelchair ramp, bed rails and adjustable over-the-bed table to see if they could ease the transition at home.

“They’re just a gem,” Ziemba said, of the center staff. “They were so easy to deal with and very willing to help.”

The Amherst center provides devices and training to improve efficiency for people with limitations at home, school or work. Generally, its staff deals with physical and occupational therapists, and educators and employers, though can directly help individuals and families, said Kim Naus, technology training coordinator of client services. The devices break down into several categories, including:

MOBILITY HELPERS

Items include walkers – some of which stop much more easily for those with Parkinson’s and similar conditions – wheelchairs for people of all sizes, and transfer and assist devices to help caregivers avoid injury while lifting and moving loved ones. There are pivot stools – picture a Lazy Susan you can put on the floor that will twist with you – hydraulic and manual seat and bed assists, and rubberized disc “swivel seats” that can be placed on a chair or car seat to help someone sit and twist into place. There also are couch and pole assists that allow people to get up and down using grab bar; desk tables; knee walkers for those who can’t put weight on an ankle or foot (envision a scooter with handles). “A lot of these devices are adjustable for height and seat depth,” said Tina Oddo, center director of client services.

STEADYING HELPERS

Those with neurological conditions that make eating and drinking a chore can borrow heavy silverware; “scoop plates” with deeper grooves that better hold food and can be suctioned onto a table; and dribble-free cups. There are electric Liftwear forks that will absorb the shakiness of a hand or arm while the prongs hold steady. There are lightweight plates, bed rails, and bathroom grab bars; “hip chairs” with higher seats for those recovering from a hip fracture or hip replacement surgery; grip devices that make it easier to turn stove, washer and door knobs.

REMINDER DEVICES

Wander alarms are available for caregivers with a loved one who has dementia. A device closet at the center also includes voice-activated medication dispensers that will talk to you when it’s time to take your pills, and talking blood-pressure monitors.

TECHNOLOGY HELPERS

Bluetooth-compatible devices include “bunny ears” that can boost the volume of television shows; magnifying technology that blows up the size of newsprint, book and mail type; large-letter computer keyboards; and iPads that can be programmed with FaceTime and other apps and software. There are “quick talkers” for those having speech difficulty after a stroke.

Leising and Ziemba considered the items they borrowed a blessing. “It’s the little stuff that makes such a difference in life,” Ziemba said.

For more information about the Center for Assistive Technology and WNY Technology Related Assistance for Individuals With Disabilities Office, visit cat.buffalo.edu, email ksnaus@buffalo.edu or coddo@buffalo.edu, or call 836-1350.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

On the Web: See a video of some of the center’s devices at video.buffalonews.com.

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