Peripheral Neuropathy and Daily Life
Peripheral Neuropathy is a disorder that impacts the signal delivery from the brain and spine to the muscles of our body resulting in weakness, pain, coordination, sensation, and/or dysregulation of blood pressure.1 These changes can impact a person’s balance and fine motor control in their hands, leading to challenges in maintaining safety and independence in daily activities. The emphasis of this newsletter is discussing strategies to maximize your independence and safety with simple strategies and equipment to facilitate your function and enhance quality of life.
Devices in Daily Tasks
Devices used for modifying activities can be broken down into two categories: assistive technology and durable medical equipment. The focus of this particular newsletter will be on the assistive technology category. Assistive technology is defined as “products, equipment, and systems that enhance learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities.2 This encompasses a broad range of low-tech and high-tech devices. Considering the diverse challenges that stem from peripheral neuropathy, the range of devices is broad and offer benefits in specific activities. One of the main categories of activities in which assistive technology can assist is what are called ‘basic activities of daily living’ or BADLs. These activities are those “oriented toward taking care of one’s own body”3 encompassing bathing/showering, toileting, dressing, feeding, and functional mobility. Common devices that would facilitate independence in these activities would include:
- Button hook
- Zipper pull
- Built-up handles for utensils
- Long handled sponge/loofah
- Elastic shoe laces
- Rocker knife
- Sock aid
- Reacher with locking mechanism
- Nightlights in rooms and hallways or rope lighting beneath cabinets and the bed
- Grab bars
- Adhesive shower strips
‘Instrumental activities of daily living’ (IADLs) would involve those more complex activities to “support daily life within the home and community…”.3 Examples of these activities would include: care of others/pets, communication management, financial management, meal preparation, and home management. General recommendations for devices in these tasks would include:
- Pen grips
- Oven rack puller
- Use of phone Voice Assistants and supportive devices
- Speech-to-text programs for the computer
- Rolling kitchen cart
- Foldable shopping cart
One frequently asked question is: will my insurance cover this? Given the diversity of insurance companies and their specific requirements, it is not an easy question to answer. In general, however, Medicare will not cover these devices as they are not medically necessary. We recommend consulting your insurance company to further discuss.
Consult with Your Rehabilitation Team
The above recommendations are generalized rather than personalized. Finding the perfect device for you and your specific activities is best evaluated by a skilled-rehabilitation professional. These professionals can include physical or occupational therapists, specifically ones who are neurologic-based.
- Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/peripheral-neuropathy-fact-sheet. Published 2020. Accessed July 13, 2020.
- Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process (3rd Edition). American Journal of Occupational Therapy. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006. Published March 1, 2014. Accessed February 14, 2020.
- What is AT? Assistive Technology Industry Association. https://www.atia.org/at-resources/what-is-at/. Published 2020. Accessed February 14, 2020
Written by Sarah Dahlhauser, OTR/L, OTD and Sarah Boyd, PT, DPT