Anyone who has professionally worked in the rehabilitation field will tell you that they have accumulated an extensive list of stories about clients and their personal creativity. In fact, efficient strategies for using adaptive equipment start with clients in need of getting a task done by any means necessary. However, there are some instances in which adaptive equipment designed for a specific purpose should remain that way for the safety of the user. The following examples on how NOT to use a reacher are based off of occurrences that have actually happened:
- Your reacher is not a cane: If a standard reacher like the Duro-med product can snap after sustaining a 5-10 lb item weight capacity, then it should be pretty obvious that reachers are not built to withstand human body weight. Patients have attempted using reachers by pushing them into the ground to support themselves in a sit-to-stand transfer from toilets, wheelchairs, and beds. Others have blatantly used them as cane replacements for a leisurely walk. Understand that reachers were never designed for such activities and will increase your likelihood of falling if such attempts are made.
- Your reacher is not a tool for harassment: You would think full-grown adults wouldn’t have to be told this, but depending on the circumstances you would be surprised. Nursing facilities will have their share of stories about patient’s inappropriately communicating with the staff through abrasive language or unwanted touching. Such patients often have a cognitive condition including dementia, stroke, or various forms of traumatic brain injury. Note, professionals should think twice before assigning patients with these conditions with reachers or any sharp object that could be used as a weapon. If the patient cannot demonstrate appropriate use of the reacher, and uses it as an extended opportunity for groping, then the patient will not be needing the reacher for a while.
- You reacher is not a kid’s toy: Many elderly individuals are fully aware that toddlers live for destruction of personal property. To a child, a reacher is just another toy that can be used in a scary form of “tag” or sword-fighting. If you care about your reacher living a long and healthy life, and if you also care about young children keeping their eyeballs intact, keep the reacher away from them at all times.
- Your reacher cannot withstand scalding temperatures: The majority of reachers are made of metals and plastic. Do not attempt to use the reacher for activities in which it will be submerged in hot temperatures such as a pot of boiling water. Increased temperatures WILL melt all plastic features on the reacher and potentially send a heat wave down the extension causing potential burns to your skin.
- Your reacher is not a heavyweight champion: Reachers are designed to lift light-weight items such as papers, small toys, light clothing, etc. Reachers were NOT designed to lift heavy items, especially when items that are overhead. One example includes an individual who is unable to stand attempts to grab a glass dish from an overhead cupboard using a reacher. In some cases, by sheer luck, the individual can safely bring the dish down to the counter. It is not recommended for users to attempt overhead lifts like this. Most of the time, the reacher will not support the weight and lack of traction from a glass dish resulting in a broken item or a head injury.
- Your reacher is not a toilet aid: Toilet aids commonly look like pasta tongs but with longer extensions. They are designed for people to wipe themselves after toileting if they have trouble reaching behind due to limited shoulder range. A reacher is not meant to be a replacement for a toilet aid. The results are often very uncomfortable and the pressure from the wiping can warp the trigger band. If posterior reaching, such as toileting hygiene, is a concern then contact a medical equipment provider or rehabilitation specialist to consult with them about toilet aids.
- Your reacher is not a dressing stick: This item is less concerning since in some cases, using a reacher like a dressing stick can be successful. A dressing stick comes with specific hooks angles to pull socks and pants up or down the legs. Reachers can similarly accomplish those tasks, but the angle of the claw is not specifically designed for that. If the sock is really long or stretchy, or the pants are too heavy, then the reacher can be rendered useless and might crack. Additionally, attempting to get dressed with a reacher may be a longer process than it is worth causing soreness in the joints and unnecessary muscle pain.
- Your reacher is not a back scratcher: This item is mentioned just for the sake of efficiency. Although it is not necessary dangerous to use a reacher as a back scratcher, it would be worth someone’s time and money to just purchase a back scratcher for its intended purchase
- You reacher does not pick up pills: Although many rehabilitation therapists applaud clients who successfully complete this task, picking up spilled medicine or pills from the floor is not necessarily a recommended use for a reacher. It usually just ends in frustration, and the pills are still on the floor. Elderly people who have visible tremors, or movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease will only have increased frustration with stabilizing the reacher for such a task.
Like with any product, thoroughly read the instructions including the intended purpose of the reacher. Depending on what materials the reacher is made of out, some may tolerate higher weight capacities than others. Conveniently, reachers are pretty straightforward when it comes to typical use in daily living situations. If users or caregivers have any questions about how to use a reacher, they can always contact a medical equipment provider or rehabilitation specialist (physiotherapist or occupational therapist) for more information.