Helpful Products For Older Persons – Devices for Leisure Activities

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As we grow older, important daily activities, like dressing, bathing, cooking, and eating, may become increasingly difficult to manage alone. Many people depend on helpful devices to help carry out these activities. Using such devices often makes it possible to participate in more activities without help from others.

Leisure activities are a necessary part of a satisfying and healthy lifestyle. They provide a sense of achievement and an opportunity to enjoy companionship, mental stimulation and spiritual satisfaction. Leisure evokes different meanings for each person. Leisure may mean curling up with a good book or a needlework project. It may mean spending time in the company of others with a card game or board game. Leisure includes outdoor recreation—a challenging golf game or an invigorating fishing trip. Leisure activities are as limitless as the personalities of the people who pursue them.

Retirement often brings more time for leisure and recreation. Although as we get older, we often have more free time to pursue leisure activities, physical limitations may prevent participation in activities we most enjoy. Aging may bring vision loss from cataracts or macular degeneration. Arthritis or stroke may cause loss of dexterity or strength in fingers and hands. These conditions however, do not have to get in the way of leisure activities. Many devices are available to help us engage in leisure activities despite physical limitations.


Creativity evolves from a person’s life experiences. Since as we get older, we have longer lifetimes of experiences to draw upon, we may enjoy creative activities like sewing and needlecrafts, ceramics, painting, and woodworking. Working on crafts stimulates the imagination and provides a sense of achievement. However, most crafts involve working with the hands, which may be extremely difficult for persons with physical or visual impairments. Many devices are available to assist with sewing and needle crafts.

Threading needles is difficult for anyone, but it is nearly impossible if we have poor eyesight, arthritis, or unsteady hands. Automatic needle threaders (a) help by pushing thread through the eye when you push a button. Other special needles, called spread eye needles, have a split center. Spread eye needles pull apart for easy insertion of the thread.

Knitting and crocheting also requires finger dexterity. Knitting needles can be built up with foam for a person with a weak grasp. Other helpful aids make the yarn easier to manipulate. Some devices (b) use rings and bands to hold the yarn steady and close to the fingers.

People who knit and enjoy other needle crafts sometimes wish they had an extra hand. Needlepoint frames help by providing a stable working surface, while resting easily on one’s lap. Other devices exist to hold projects securely, helpful for persons with arthritis, weak hands, or the use of only one hand.

Many crafts require the use of scissors, which can be tricky for persons with arthritis or muscular disorders. Fortunately, many scissors are designed for use by persons with hand limitations. Self-opening scissors (c) operate with only a simple grasping motion, so little finger control is necessary. Electric scissors require only a gentle squeeze to activate. Rolling scissors operate simply by pushing them through material—no squeezing is necessary to cut the material.

The beauty of needle crafts, ceramics and woodworking appears in finely detailed designs. These crafts require careful, precise work, which may be difficult for persons with poor vision. People with limited vision can stay active in crafts by using magnifying devices, such as free standing magnifiers or binocular glasses (d).

a. An automatic needle threader threads the needle quickly and easily.
b. This crochet aid uses rings and bands to hold the yarn steady and close to the fingers.
c. These lightweight scissors open easily with the help of a plastic spring.
d. Binocular glasses allow you to focus each eye separately for close work.


Reading, whether for intellectual stimulation or pure entertainment, is a leisure activity that many people enjoy. With today’s technology, a vision impairment no longer prevents a person from enjoying a good book. Magnifying devices, such as hands-free magnifiers (a) and binocular glasses, can reduce eyestrain and squinting for persons with poor vision.

A CCTV (b) is a closed circuit television system that magnifies printed text. By positioning the text under the camera, it will appear as enlarged text on a video screen. Reading machines are helpful for persons with more serious vision impairments. These devices scan a printed page and read it back to you with an internal synthesized voice. Reading machines can be purchased, or you can build your own using a personal computer, a scanner, and a voice synthesizer.

Publishing houses are aware of the needs of persons with vision impairments. Books printed with large type are now widely available. Popular novels and magazines on audiocassette (c) are increasingly available from bookstores as well as from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

a. This hands-free magnifier is worn around the neck, which makes it helpful for craft activities as well as reading.
b. When text is positioned under the CCTV, it appears enlarged on the video screen.
c. Popular novels on audiotape are available from bookstores and libraries.


Socializing with others while playing games is an enjoyable leisure pursuit for many people. Thanks to helpful devices, even with hand or vision impairments we can share in the friendly competition of card and board games.

Because of their thin, flat design, playing cards can be very difficult to hold if we have limited dexterity, hand strength or arthritis. Card holders (a) eliminate the need to hold a hand of cards. Automatic card shufflers (b) turn a complicated task into an easy one.

Large print and Braille playing cards (c) are helpful for persons with vision impairments. Many also have color coded suits—not just the usual black and red—for easy identification. For games that use dice, tactile plastic dice (d) with raised dots are available for people who are blind or have poor vision.

If we have limited fine motor skills or a visual impairment we can still play checkers, with large, easy to grip cones (e). Many popular games are available in Braille or large print for people with vision impairments (f).

a. Card holders hold a hand of cards for you, while concealing them from other players.
b Push the button on the automatic card shuffler, and it shuffles one or two decks.
c. Large print and Braille playing cards (b) are helpful for people with vision impairments.
d. Tactile plastic dice have raised dots for people with poor vision.
e. The large cones on this checker board are easy to grip, helpful for people with arthritis.
f. Many popular board games are available in Braille and large print.


Caring for a garden is a satisfying and pleasurable leisure activity. Gardening involves much physical work that may deter us if we suffer from arthritis or back pain. Fortunately, the right tools can help make gardening easier and more accessible.

Gardening requires bending, which can be difficult or dangerous for people with back problems. For example, digging entails repeatedly bending and straightening the back while lifting heavy soil. Besides being tiring, this action causes strain to the back, shoulders, and arms.

For digging and other activities done while standing, it is helpful to use long-handled spades or shovels (a) that require less bending. These tools are also less tiring to use because they help the gardener apply greater leverage and thereby expend less energy. Extra handles (b) can be added to long handled tools, making them easier to grip and safer on the back. The second handle should be attached at a place where it is comfortable to grip. The extra handle also provides better balance, and reduces the body’s natural tendency to bend at the waist.

It may be less tiring and easier to sit while working, using a garden cart or stool (c & d). Sitting is safer and more stable than standing, and allows both hands to be free for holding tools.

For those of us with a weak grip or arthritis, we may find it difficult to hold gardening tools. This is also true for people who use canes, or have the use of only one arm. Light tools with wide handles give the best results. Larger handles are more comfortable and easier to grip. Handles can be built up using sponge rubber or plastic foam. Tools with resilient rubber handles or ergonomic designs are comfortable for people with weak or limited hand use.

a. Long-handled tools simplify many gardening activities.
b. For safety, extra handles can be added to gardening tools.
c. It may be less tiring and easier to sit and work, using a garden cart.
d. Use this device as a kneeler or a stool. Handles help you safely kneel and rise.


With the right equipment, people of all ages and abilities can lead active healthy lifestyles by participating in sports.

Golfing is a sport that many people actively enjoy. Golf clubs can be fitted with adaptive grips to help people who have difficulty holding and grasping the club. Electric golf carts allow persons with mobility problems to get around the golf course. Special lightweight golf cars allow a person to drive anywhere on the course, including up to the greens. Some of these cars have swivel seats that allow persons with mobility problems to play from their seat.

Fishing is an enjoyable hobby for many people. Helpful fishing devices are easier to use, yet in no way detract from the excitement and “feel of the fight”. Fishermen or fisherwomen may benefit from electric reels, which require less strength and can be used with one hand. For those of us with a weak grip or the use of only one arm, we can use rod holders (a). Some rod holders mount to a wheelchair or lawnchair, swiveling at the push of a button.

Special gloves help in firmly gripping the pole. These gloves (b) are also adaptable to other sports, such as ping pong, tennis, and pool. Tying fishing knots is a tricky and complicated process, requiring much finger dexterity. Devices also exist that make it easier to tie knots, thread hooks, and cut lines (c).

Bowling is another sociable sport enjoyed by many people. Persons with limited strength can use lighter weight balls. Handles are available that attach to bowling balls. They help people with limited hand movements grasp the ball without the usual three finger grip. When the bowler lets go of the ball, the handle retracts into the ball. People with limited use of arms or legs can use a bowling ball ramp. The ramp is placed in front of the lane, and a ball is pushed slightly to roll it down the ramp and towards the pins. It can be used while standing, but is especially helpful to people in wheelchairs. People who use wheelchairs or walkers can also use ball pushers to push the bowling ball down the alley.

Cycling is another excellent activity for recreational fitness. Three-wheeled cycles gives more stability than a bicycle.

a. Rod holders are helpful for people with limited hand use.
b. These gloves provide a firm grip around a fishing pole, pool cue, or tennis racket.
c. This device helps people who like to fish with tying knots, threading hooks, and cutting lines.

Watching Television

Devices are available to help people who enjoy watching television.

Some magnifiers are available that appear to turn a small television into a large screen television for people with visual impairments. Persons with visual or hand impairments often have difficulty manipulating the tiny buttons found on most remote controls. Remotes with fewer and larger buttons (a) are easier to use for most people.

Telecaption decoders are useful for persons with hearing impairments. Subtitles appear on the TV screen whenever programs are broadcast with closed captions. These decoders are now built into most new televisions sold in the United States. With most television sets, captioning can be turned on or off very easily using the hand held remote.

Various assistive listening devices are available for people who need television sound amplification without necessarily turning up the volume on the set. These devices allow a person to adjust the sound level to one’s own comfort level without disturbing others.

a. The simple buttons on this oversized remote control are easy to see and feel.

Further Information

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provides free loans of books and magazines on audiocassette to qualifying persons. For more information or for an application, contact:

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
The Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542

(202) 707-5100

Occupational therapists are trained to assess home environments, including telephones. They can make helpful recommendations to make daily tasks easier and increase home safety. Contact the American Occupational Therapy Association at 301-948-9626 for a list of occupational therapists who work in your region.

Project LINK is a free, national information service that mails catalogs and other product literature from companies that make or sell helpful products. Since no names or addresses are released to companies, the confidentiality of the consumer is protected. To join Project LINK, call: (voice/TTY/TDD) 1-800-628-2281 or 716-829-3141, or write to:

Center for Assistive Technology
University at Buffalo, 515 Kimball Tower
Buffalo, NY 14214-3079

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Aging offers a number of videos, pamphlets, and articles, some directed at health care professionals, and others designed for consumers. One consumer oriented video focuses on leisure activities. To receive a free product catalog, call (voice/TTY/TDD) 1-800-628-2281.

State Assistive Technology Programs provide a variety of assistive technology services. RESNA is a national association that provides information and technical assistance to these programs. For information on your state’s Assistive Technology Program, write to:

RESNA – Technical Assistance Project
1101 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036

Voice: 202 857-1199 • TTY: 703-524-6639