Seniors and Aging - Assistive Devices

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The Issue

As age advances, some seniors experience discomfort or fear when doing activities they enjoyed in their younger years. If this is happening to you, an assistive device may help you overcome your difficulties.


Assistive devices are items that ease the strains of daily activities at home, at work, or at play. They include medical equipment, mobility aids, information technologies, practical aids, and gadgets to suit many different needs.

These devices can help you improve your quality of life and maintain your sense of independence. There is also a safety factor to consider. Certain conditions that may occur with age, such as loss of vision, hearing, bone density, or balance can pose serious risks. For example, if you have a poor sense of balance, you face an increased risk of falling, which can result in injuries. However, you can reduce your risk of injury by using an appropriate assistive device, such as a cane or a walker.

Examples of Assistive Devices

The following are just a few examples of common activities and the types of assistive devices that can make them easier and safer:

  • Bathing - grab bars, hand-held shower head, bath seat with arm rails, non-slip floor mat.
  • Dressing - long-handled shoe-horn, velcro fastenings, sock pullers, rubber gloves (for gripping tight-fitting stockings).
  • Preparing food - easy-grip utensils, side-opening oven door, height-adjustable cupboards and counters, automatic-stop kettle, pouring aid.
  • Moving/physical activities - cane, walker, wheelchair, slip-resistant flooring
  • Using the telephone - loud-ringing phone, flashing light ring indicator, large numbers and buttons, automatic dialling.
  • Enjoying hobbies - playing card holder, long-handled gardening tools, television remote control with large buttons and a captioning button, modified keyboard that makes the computer more user-friendly, audio books, magnifying glass.

Getting Started

If you think you could benefit from using an assistive device, start by consulting a health care professional, such as your doctor, pharmacist, or an occupational therapist. Find out what is available to suit your needs. You can also obtain information about assistive devices from catalogues and seniors' magazines. In addition, family members and friends may have experience and useful advice regarding assistive devices.

For certain devices, such as corrective eyeglasses and hearing aids, you should be assessed by a medical professional. Professional assessment is also recommended when purchasing an expensive assistive device, such as a wheelchair - particularly if you think you may qualify for complete or partial reimbursement. Most forms of reimbursement (e.g., insurance, funding agency) require that you get a prescription for the more expensive assistive devices.

Many other assistive devices, including walkers, canes, and grab bars, are available in general or specialty stores, including pharmacies and stores that sell medical supplies. Hardware and department stores offer many assistive devices too, including wheeled garbage cans, easy-grip utensils and intercom systems. You can find such items as screen-reading software (for people with reduced vision) and modified keyboards and mice (for people with limited mobility) at specialty computer stores.

Additional Tips on Choosing and Using Assistive Devices

Contact your health care provider if you are unsure as to whether you should be medically assessed before choosing a particular assistive device.

  • If the device is expensive, ask if you can rent or borrow one to see if it meets your needs before you buy it.
  • Be sure to get assistive devices from reliable sources, especially if they are medical devices, such as hearing aids or eyeglasses. Use caution if buying medical devices over the Internet or if buying products second-hand. (See the Need More Info? section below for links to more on these topics.)
  • Read and follow all instructions for using your assistive devices. If you have caregivers, make sure they also know how to use the devices properly.

Paying for Assistive Devices

Some provinces and territories have programs to help seniors or people with disabilities buy the assistive devices they need. Other possible sources of financial help include:

  • community and non-profit organizations (e.g., Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions Club, or the Royal Canadian Legion); and
  • Veterans Affairs Canada, which helps eligible clients with the purchase of prosthetic and orthotic devices, as well as walkers, canes, and wheelchairs.

For contact information, see the Need More Info? section below.

Government of Canada's Role

The Public Health Agency of Canada provides federal leadership on health issues related to aging and seniors. As part of this work, the Agency provides seniors with practical information on all types of health issues, including the use of assistive devices.

Health Canada regulates the safety, effectiveness, and quality of medical devices sold in Canada. This is achieved through a combination of a pre-market review prior to licensing, and post-market surveillance of adverse events after sale. Canada's Medical Devices Regulations classifies medical devices into four groups, with the lowest-risk devices in Class I and the highest-risk devices in Class IV. Many assistive devices are Class I medical devices, which are not subject to licensing. Post-market surveillance applies to all medical devices after sale, both licensed and unlicensed.

Health Canada also helps protect the Canadian public by researching, assessing, and managing health risks and safety hazards associated with consumer products.

Need More Info?

Division of Aging and Seniors
Public Health Agency of Canada
200 Eglantine Driveway
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9
Telephone: 613-952-7606
Fax: 613-957-9938

Also, see:

Assistive devices - Info-sheet for seniors
This brochure lists provincial/territorial contacts for information on financial help with assistive devices.

For information on help from provincial or territorial health authorities.

For more information on the Veterans Affairs Canada benefit to help with assistive devices or call :
1-866-522-2122 (toll-free in Canada)

Also, see the following Health Canada Web sites:

It's Your Health:

For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web site. You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*.

Original : February 2007
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2007

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