Assistive devices are tools that can make life with multiple sclerosis (MS) a little easier. They help you with tasks like walking, dressing, and bathing. And they help you do those things with less energy. A physical therapist (PT) can recommend devices and also teach you how to use them.
They'll teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles in your legs and improve your balance. They can also show you:
- How to walk safely to prevent falls
- Ways to avoid fatigue
- How to conserve energy and improve your endurance
Talk with your doctor or physical therapist before you use any assistive device. Your insurance might cover part or all of the cost with your doctor's prescription.
Mobility Aids for MS
Some of these include:
Orthotics. These lightweight inserts you wear inside your shoes can help keep you more stable and ease fatigue. They also can brace your feet, which helps if you have spasticity in your feet.
Functional electrical stimulation (FES). This is a small device that attaches to your lower leg. It sends out a mild electrical pulse to help your leg muscles contract. FES can help you lift your foot without dragging.
Leg braces. Weakness in your leg muscles can make it harder to go up and down stairs, rise from a chair, or walk. An ankle-foot brace can keep your ankle stable when you have trouble with the muscles that raise the foot. It fits into a regular shoe and keeps your toes from dragging. If you have muscle weakness in your neck, a neck brace may make you more comfortable.
Canes. One of these may be the most useful tool when one leg is weaker than the other or when you have mild problems with balance. Here are some tips for using one:
- Hold the cane on the stronger side of your body while your weight is shifted away from your weaker side.
- A quad, or four-legged, cane can give you more stability than a standard one.
It's a good idea to have a session with a physical therapist to learn how to properly use your cane or any other assistive device.
Walkers. These are best if you have a lot of leg weakness or a balance problem. You can add wheels or platforms to the walker if you need to.
Wheelchairs or scooters. They can give you more freedom to go where you need to if it’s getting harder for you to get around on your own. They’re usually best if you have serious fatigue, are very unsteady on your feet, or you fall sometimes.
Aids for Everyday Tasks
You have lots of options for making everyday life easier and less tiring. Talk to your health care provider about trying some of these for tasks such as:
- Tub bench or shower chair
- Handheld shower head
- Grab bars in the shower or tub
Using the toilet
- Bedside commode
- Grab bars near the toilet
- Toilet seat with armrests (you can put a raised seat over a regular toilet)
- Electric soap dispenser and toothbrush
- Lighted magnifying mirror to improve your view while you shave or put on makeup
- Long-handled brushes and combs
- Velcro, buttons, zippers, and hooks on clothing
- Sock pull
- Long-handled shoehorn
- A stool to sit while you get dressed
If MS has made you feel unsteady on your feet, wearing the wrong shoes can make you more likely to fall. Choose a pair of sturdy but lightweight walking shoes with good arch support and a cushioned insole. A shoe with a small heel of under 2 inches is better for balance than flats.
Rubber soles will give you good traction, but they can catch on the ground if your foot drags. Look for a pair with a light tread that won't get stuck with each step. Your rheumatologist or a podiatrist can recommend other shoe features that suit your needs and abilities.
Get fitted at the shoe store or by a podiatrist to make sure you get the right size. Too-big shoes will slip, while tight ones could cut off your circulation. Press down on the top of the shoe to make sure you have 1/2 to 1 inch of space in front of your big toe.
- Utility cart with wheels
- Electric can opener
- Pot stabilizer
- Reacher devices
- Cutting board with suction cups to keep it steady
- Lightweight pots and pans
- Nonslip mats to stop items from sliding on your counter
- Stool where you can sit to cook or wash dishes
- Kitchen fan to keep you cool while you work
- Special utensils, such as large-handled spoons and forks, rocker knives, and “sporks” (a combination of a spoon and fork)
- Plate guard
- Wrist supports
Working at your desk
- Special grips for pens and pencils
- Wrist supports
- Shoulder rest or headset for your telephone
- Book holder and page turner, or an e-reader
- Magnifier to enlarge print in books
- Anti-glare computer screen to protect your eyes
- Calendars and organizers to keep your memory on track
Working or playing outside
- Cooling vest filled with ice packs to beat the heat. Also, try a cooling wrap that goes around your neck, wrist, or ankles.
- Long-handled gardening tools so you don't have to bend to plant or weed
- Wheeled cart to hold your gardening tools
- Electric beds or mattresses
Driving can be tricky with MS. Muscle stiffness makes it harder to press the brake or turn your head to see the side mirrors. Problems with coordination and thinking can slow your reaction time behind the wheel. These kinds of physical and mental changes can increase the risk of car accidents.
Have a certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS) evaluate your skills behind the wheel and tell you whether it's safe for you to drive. You can find one in your area through the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED).
The CDRS can also recommend adaptive devices like these for your car:
- Mechanical hand controls or a digital driving ring to work the gas and brake
- A spinner knob to turn the steering wheel
- Adaptive steering and breaking
- Large side mirrors and rear-view mirrors
- Seats that turn to help you get in more easily
If driving has become too hard or unsafe, you might take public transportation. Or use a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. Both companies offer wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
Your doctor or physical therapist can help evaluate your needs to figure out which of these tools and devices will help you most. They can also help you find ways to manage costs. Wheelchairs and scooters can be hundreds of dollars, but plans like Medicare, Medicaid, and some private insurance companies may help cover the cost for any mobility devices your doctor recommends.