Sometimes life has a way of putting some seemingly insurmountable physical challenges in your path, especially if you are in a wheelchair. I like to think of myself as a problem solver, able to sometimes “outsmart” the problem by thinking outside of the box. A time when I had to use this “I can do this” mindset was an Easter dinner several years ago.
Easter was two days away and the whole family was coming for dinner. If I was going to get the ham thawed in time, I needed to get it out of the freezer and into the refrigerator. I decided I could get the ham on the counter and I would ask my daughter to put it in the refrigerator when she visited that evening. Good plan; the only thing is my daughter came and went and the ham never crossed my mind. Now I had a real dilemma. The ham could not sit out all night and I was not expecting other guests that evening. Every time I tried to lift the ham from my lap to the refrigerator shelf, it would drop. Now it was time for some creative problem solving. To overcome this obstacle, I created a transfer board out of a cookie sheet. I put one end of the board on my lap and one end on the shelf. All I needed to do was slide the ham up the cookie sheet to the shelf. Voila! Sometimes we just have to go about things in a different way to accomplish the task.
MS has provided me with enough challenges to last a lifetime but it has helped me realize how difficult and exhausting even everyday tasks can be. Unfortunately, sometimes these challenges are not evident to the people around us. The suggestions presented in this article are an attempt to help families understand how they can help a physically limited relative or friend. Or, these thoughts might give you insight into how to become more self-sufficient.
TIPS TO INCREASE SAFETY AND INDEPENDENCE IN THE KITCHEN
MS has forced some of us to deal with issues of limited strength and dexterity, poor vision or balance, or lapses in memory. Any and all of these problems can make it difficult and unsafe to accomplish tasks that are necessary in the kitchen. In most cases, the longer someone can be safely independent, the happier they will be.
How families can help:
- Think ready to grab, heat and eat. If some Good Samaritan fixes a large quantity of something, have it stored in the freezer in individual serving containers. Then, it can be microwaved and eaten from the same container.
- Microwave diner plates with covers allow you to make a plate with multiple items and then freeze it. This would be a way for a family member to offer help. Just save a serving of each dish from a meal created for members of your household. Then, when ready to eat, it just has to be thawed and microwaved.
- Use non-breakable containers instead of glass. Opt for small containers that hold one serving and can go from freezer to microwave. Deep walled dishes also provide sides to help scoop food onto an eating utensil.
- Freeze bread, bagels and English muffins to keep them from getting stale. In this way, you can take out one serving at a time. Make sure the bagels and muffins are sliced before freezing.
- People with poor sensation in their finger tips find it difficult to use storage bags that require you to line-up two tracks and press them together. Closing bags with twist ties or plastic clips, likewise, can be frustrating. I have everything transferred to zipper type storage bags.
Modifications to make food preparation easier:
- Induction Cooktop – Because of the physical problems encounter with MS, being around an open heat source poses the risk of burns. An Induction Cooktop uses magnetic waves to cause the coils in the bottom of a pot or pan to heat. The cooktop itself remains cool and accidentally touching the cookplate will not cause burns to the skin. My research leads me to believe a Pacemaker can be affected by these microwaves, so you need to use caution if the person coming in contact with it has this heart aid.
- Counter-top microwave – Many homes have a microwave over the stove which can be difficult to use and unsafe for a person with limited strength. A counter-top microwave allows the user to more easily transfer hot dishes to the counter. Smaller, individual serving bakeware make the weight more manageable. Since the bottom of the container gets hot, I keep a pie or cake pan handy and just slip dishes onto the pan. Make sure you keep items level in the transfer process
- Convection Oven – A hot, open oven door is an accident waiting to happen for someone with poor balance; or it can be a hazard when someone with limited strength tries to lift a hot baking dish out of the oven. A counter-top-convection oven, which is about the size of a regular toaster oven, allows food to be transferred much easier to the counter. Instead of heating food from the bottom, a convection oven uses a built-in fan to circulate hot air evenly through the cooking area. I find my convection oven does a very good job of baking without burning and operating it is not difficult to learn. Basic convection ovens, without all the bells and whistles, cost between $100 and $150.
- Electric Frying Pan – Electric frying pans allow you to cook away from the stove and even permit the cook to sit at a table. The problem with the regular size appliances is that they are heavy and large enough to cook for a group of people. The pan I am suggesting is only 7″ X 7 ” and lightweight enough that it is easy to carry to the sink for washing. An added desirable feature is that it is the perfect size to prepare a meal for one or two small eaters.
- Pull-out-shelves – Objects in the back of lower, cavernous, kitchen cabins can be difficult to reach and are often forgotten. Pull-out-shelves may be a problem solver to help make this area more accessible. These shelves can be found in large, local hardware stores, and someone with some carpentry skills can usually install them.
- Dycem Mat – A stroke or other health problem may leave a person with only one useful hand, without the additional hand to stabilize things. The Dycem Mat is a vinyl mat used to eliminate slipping and sliding problems on shelves, work surfaces, under plates or cups; or it can be used to provide an improved grip on handles, cutlery, arm rests, walkers, wheelchair seats, trays or footrests.
- PenFriend – Someone who is visually impaired may have difficulty distinguishing between foods, medications, ingredients or other products with small writing on their labels. The PenFriend works by placing a label on an item and an identifying message is recorded into the pen. When the tip of the pen is touched to the label, the message is spoken.
There is another assistive product I really prize and that is motorized blinds. Before I had automated blinds, if I wanted privacy at night, I would have to leave blinds closed all the time. My home was always a very dark and gloomy place. Being so cut off from the world, I sometimes did not even know what the weather was like outside. I could stand to adjust the controls but, because furniture was sometimes in my way, this was a fruitless endeavor. With motorized blinds, I just point and click and I have sunlight. These were expensive, so I selectively placed them in areas that were unreachable. For windows that I can reach the controls, I use blinds that are operated with a cord rather than a wand. Because of the physical limitations created by MS, the motion of turning a wand can be difficult for many people. When you see a person sitting in the dark, before making a quick judgment, it might be prudent to consider… which came first, the darkness or the depression?
I have discussed tips to increase independence but do not want to leave out one very important safety tip – an emergency alert button. While achieving independence, it is crucial you can call for help in the event of a fall or in another emergency. Call buttons worn on the wrist can be inaccessible if the hand that will push the button is pinned under you or in some other way inoperable. A pendant is accessible to both hands. Pin the pendant to the front of pajamas at night to keep it readily available but prevent it from flopping around. Check with your local Cancer Society, hospice, or other similar organization for recommendations in your area.
By putting a few modifications in place, you can roll away barriers preventing independence. Maybe you cannot do things the way you used to but, by changing your approach to the task, it is still achievable. Start thinking, “I can do this. I just need to figure out how”.