There are many different assistive devices available to promote independence and improve all areas of function during breast cancer treatment. Gabriella Kourie tells us more.
The main role of an occupational therapist is to improve the function and quality of life of their patients, by analysing and adapting their various activities of daily living (ADL). That is why each treatment is tailored to the patient’s lifestyle and needs.
A large scope of occupational therapy entails therapists to prescribe assistive devices for patients. In doing so, we are able to ensure independence and function in their day-to-day activities. With any form of physical injury, a person’s ability to carry out their usual daily routine can be impacted, short- or long-term, and post breast cancer treatment is no different.
As stated in a report by the Royal Commission on Long Term Care (1999), assistive technology refers to “any device or system that allows an individual to perform a task that they would otherwise be unable to do, or increase the ease and safety with which the task can be performed.”
Helpful assistive devices
There are various assistive devices that can be prescribed and used throughout treatment that will ensure an easier experience as well as help patients to maintain independence. When looking at the breast cancer patient’s experience specifically, here are devices that may prove useful:
1. A long-handled sponge
This device can improve independence and increase mobility in the patients who are post-surgery as well as during radiation. By using your unaffected or stronger side, this device will make washing your back as well as the lower half of your body easier, acting as an extension of your limb.
2. EZ-shower and basin
These devices can be used as a supplementary shower after surgery. It may sometimes be straining to hang forward over a bathroom basin or bathtub. This setup allows patients to wash their hair whilst lying down, preferably with the assistance of another person. Alternatively, a small blow-up pool and baby shower head can be used. This method also ensures that your bandages remain dry.
3. Shower stool
This will remove the need for you to reach up or bend down excessively, to reach your shower and bath products. This device doubles up as a chair to sit on, if you are feeling weak or tired during treatment.
This device, like the long-handled sponge, also acts as an extension of the arm. The Reacher, with a pincher-like head, can pick up and hold variously weighted items, such as clothes, grooming and cooking products, without you having to flex your shoulder.
5. Universal turning handle and all-purpose opener
These are more applicable for the patients on hormone blockers, who are experiencing joint pain and stiffness in their hands. The turning handle and all-purpose opener allow the patient to use more of their hand in opening things, like a tap, medicine bottle and door handles. These devices are also preventative, as they ensure that you do not strain your hands in these day-to-day tasks.
6. Built-up tubing (grip)
This tubing is extremely useful and can be placed over most handles of the utensils used for grooming (toothbrush, hairbrush and make-up tools) as well as cooking (spoons, cutting knives and baking tools). The larger grip also takes pressure off of the finger joints and prevents flare-up in arthralgia for the patients on hormone blockers.
7. Pillows for support
There are various pillows that you can use throughout treatment. Having a small pillow to keep under your arm during chemotherapy ensures comfort and support at the drip site. A wedge pillow is important to use after surgery, as it keeps you at an angle and will assist you to sit up in bed in the morning without using your core and arms excessively. Using a neck pillow at night may also help to keep you on your back, removing the urge to roll on your side during the early stages after surgery.
There are many different assistive devices available to promote independence and improve all areas of function. Speak to your occupational therapist to find out more about what is available for your personal day-to-day tasks.
MEET THE EXPERT – Gabriella Kourie
Gabriella Kourie is a qualified occupational therapist. She further trained and qualified as a PORi oncology and breast cancer rehabilitation therapist and is currently qualifying in Lymphoedema Assessment and Treatment.
Header image by Adocbe Stock