It would take far more than 10 fingers to count all the tasks we use our hands to accomplish each day. From eating to typing to driving to combing our hair, we rely on our hands nearly every waking moment. But what if one hand is out of commission—either temporarily from a broken wrist, torn tendon or other injury…or permanently, because of a bigger setback such as a stroke, rheumatoid arthritis or an auto accident?
When you lose the use of one of your hands, it becomes difficult or impossible to button a shirt, for example, tie your shoes, wash a glass or cut your food…in other words, to function normally.
Good news: There are several effective—and simple—ways to fight back and regain your independence.
2 QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
When only one hand is working properly, answering two key questions will give you the best possible combination of coping tips for your particular needs…
Is your dominant hand affected? As you might expect, it’s generally a much larger problem when your dominant hand—whether you’re a righty or a lefty—is the one that’s out of commission.
Is your hand problem temporary or permanent? Before buying any adaptive equipment, consider how long you may need it. Someone with a wrist fracture may be one-handed for only a few weeks. Those who’ve suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury may be challenged long-term. Some insurers may cover the cost of certain assistive products if they are considered a medical necessity. Check with your insurer.
TRICKS AND PRODUCTS
Tricks and products (widely available online) for one-handed tasks…*
• Typing, texting or writing. Speech-to-text tools, such as voice-recognition computer software or smartphone options, can reduce the need for bilateral hand involvement when typing or texting.
Or you can try the one-handed Matias Half-QWERTY Keyboard ($575). With this keyboard, your functional hand does traditional touch-typing. Letters that would ordinarily be typed with the
nonfunctioning hand are accessible by holding down the space bar with your working thumb so you can then use the same finger movements you would normally use with the other hand.
For people with wrist fractures, a “fat pen” is easier to grip while your wrist is in a cast. These pens can be found for just a few dollars.
Another option: You can make a pen “fatter” by taping pipe insulation or layers of tape around it. Find out by trial and error the thickness that is most comfortable for your limited grip.
• Cutting food. A pizza cutter can help stabilize meat as you cut it. Another option: “Rocker knives,” such as the Ronco Rocker knife ($8.99).
If you’re chopping vegetables, a nonskid polyurethane cutting board with aluminum spikes that secure the food can be found for about $40. And when eating out, ask to have the chef cut your meat before it leaves the kitchen.
• Cooking. Dycem makes a nonslip mat (starting at $14) that stabilizes mixing bowls while stirring.
• Opening jars. A variety of one-handed jar openers are available for less than $10. You can also try this: If you have a stable drawer, place the jar in it and lean into the drawer to stabilize the jar, then open the lid with one hand.
• Playing cards. One-handed cardholders (starting at less than $10) make it easy to play your favorite card game. For do-it-yourselfers, cardholders can be made from a block of wood or even a trimmed, flattened pool foam noodle with a narrow slit cut out for the cards.
• Washing dishes. A brush with a suction cup that can be secured to the sink (starting at just a few dollars) allows you to wash dishes with one hand. If you’ll be one-handed only temporarily, you may prefer to use paper plates/cups and plastic utensils…or order in so you won’t need to worry about washing pots and pans.
• Bathing. A long-handled brush can help you wash under your arms and reach farther. You can find an 18-inch-long brush with natural bristles starting at about $10.
When it comes time to dry off your back, slip on a cotton terry cloth bathrobe (put the weaker arm in the robe first). Use a towel on the floor to dry off your feet and a reacher or dressing stick to pull the towel up onto your legs. A dressing stick is made by securing a rubber-coated hook on the end of a dowel rod. Dressing sticks are also available online.
• Hair drying. Mount your hair dryer on a wall. With a hands-free hair-dryer holder that’s mounted with suction cups, you don’t need to hold the dryer at all. Models are available for less than $10.
• Dressing. Always dress the weak arm first. A good way to remember this is “in first” and “out last” when dressing the weaker extremity.
Fastening a bra can be challenging, so donning a sports bra instead can help, especially if you place the weaker arm in first. When removing the bra, take the stronger arm out first. This makes it easier to remove the bra from the weaker arm. Or you could try the Buckingham Bra Angel Dressing Aid (available online for about $25) to help stabilize one end of the bra fastener.
Slip-on shoes or those with Velcro fasteners eliminate the need to tie shoes.
When putting on socks, insert all the fingers of your stronger hand into the open end of the sock and spread to enlarge the sock opening. Then slip the sock over your toes and pull up with your stronger hand. Or you can try a “pull-on sock aid,” available for around $20.
Pants and skirts with elastic waists can ease dressing.
Buttons or zippers on your clothes can be replaced with Velcro. You can also try a zipper pull and button hook, available for less than $10.
*An occupational therapist or hand therapist can also help with exercises and strategies. To find one near you, ask your doctor for a referral or contact The American Occupational Therapy Association at AOTA.org or the American Society of Hand Therapists at ASHT.org.