Innovations and Inventions

The aids to daily living (ADL) market consists of products that touch every category of home medical equipment, including mobility accessories, bathing aids, ambulatory aids, application aids, special eating utensils and medication compliance products. The product range is extensive and new inventions are developed in response to a population that is expected to live longer than ever before. People with disabilities and physical limitations--resulting from growing older--are seeking ADLs in order to remain at home and maintain independence. The need for an ADL market is evident, but the challenge lies in making health care professionals and consumers aware of all the products that exist as well as products new to the market.

There are so many products available, and everyday it seems like more are added to the mix.

General consumer awareness of ADLs is relatively low; typical consumers discover ADL products through referral sources such as occupational therapists, physical therapists or other health care professionals. Many people with physical limitations or disabilities could benefit from several products on the market today but may not know of the technology available to them. And with so many new product introductions each year, combined with such a broad market, it is not surprising that consumers are not aware of every product on the market.

"There are so many products available and everyday it seems like more are added to the mix. It is hard to keep up with exactly what is out there and available. Awareness among the general consumers is low but growing," said Susan Mocek, marketing manager of Maddak Inc., Pequannock, N.J.

Maddak Inc. has introduced the Eating Tool? Eating Aide, a combined fork and knife for people with the use of only one hand. "It allows you to cut and eat an entire meal using only one hand," Mocek said.

Other products recently introduced by Maddak include the Universal Toilet Seat, the Soft Nosey Cup and the Scooper Bowl and Plate with Suction Cup Bases. The Universal Toilet Seat is for ambulatory and semi-ambulatory adults or people with spinal cord injuries. "Maddak worked with the VA Medical Centers in Atlanta and Milwaukee on this design. It is a floor-mounted transfer seat that fits over a standard or institutional toilet. Features include vertical handles for a standing transfer and horizontal handholds for a sliding transfer from a wheelchair," Mocek said.

The Soft Nosey Cup is the same as Maddak's original nosey cup, except it is made of softer plastic that is easier to grasp and hold onto. "It is excellent for people with any type of hand limitation," Mocek said.

The Scooper Bowl and Plate with Suction Cup Bases feature a high rim and reverse curve on one side to help scoop food onto a utensil without spilling over the side. A suction cup base prevents the dish from moving.

More commonly known products such as canes, patients lifts, standers and bed rails also are considered aids to daily living products.

"Our most popular products include our AbleRise Bed Rails. We have three versions: single, double and rail. Originally, we expected the single to be the biggest seller, however, we have been seeing a lot of interest from our dealers who target the long-term care and nursing home markets for the double version and sales on it seem to be catching up with the single," Maddak said.

Unique products such as special utensils, special plates, arm supports and self-feeders are less known to consumers.

"Sometimes the products simplest in design end up being the most innovative in that they serve a well needed purpose. For example, the Inner Lip Plate--nothing really innovative but if you suddenly find yourself with the use of only one hand and struggling to get food from your plate to your mouth, it would seem very innovative," Mocek said.

Sammons Preston, Bolingbrook, Ill., also features a number of aids to daily living including button hooks, inspection mirrors, bathroom aids, medication supplies, household helpers, low vision products and more. "Our most popular ADLs would have to be our reachers, sock aids, dressing sticks and long handle sponges," said Cathy Knittle, assistant product manager.

"This year is a big year for us. Our catalog comes out in January with more than 1,000 new products. People of all ages experience problems that affect their ability to manage their daily lives. With the help of the products offered in our catalog, people can regain a high level of independence," Knittle said.

Global Assistive Devices Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., offers specially designed alarm clocks, door and phone announcers, caller ID for the TV and vibration watches.

Options for the alarm clock include stimulus for wake up such as a flashing light, vibration, extra loud audible and variable tones. "Selecting the silent alarm option when using the flashing light or vibration for wake up is great when you do not want to disturb other household members," said Peggy Hewitt, president.

"Our multi-functional alerting device, the Access 3, includes a door announcer, telephone ring signaler as well as an alarm clock with a halogen lamp. The lamp flashes when it receives the signal from the alarm clock, telephone ringing or the door transmitter accessory," Hewitt said.

This unit also has a dry contact connection that allows hook-up for remote signals such as a smoke detector with a dry contact. Also available is a bedshaker accessory--placed under a mattress or pillow to awaken the sleeping person--that will respond to the alarm clock, telephone ringing, door transmitter as well as what is wired to the dry contact connection.

"A very popular item is our Vibration Watch. This versatile Vibration Alarm Watch/Timer will alert, remind and even awaken by vibrations on the wrist," Hewitt said. Global Assistive offers a model that has a repeatable countdown timer that automatically resets to the preset time each time it reaches zero. This model is helpful for people on medication or with medical problems that need several repeating reminders daily.

Know the Customer

To sort out what the customer may need in order to accomplish daily tasks, it is important to know exactly what activity the customer is trying to achieve and what his or her limitations may be. When HMEs are meeting with consumers who may be seeking wheelchairs or bath safety products, they can make these consumers aware of other ADL products that could provide additional assistance. By asking a customer several questions to find out what a typical day involves in his or her life, HMEs can get a good understanding of what products would be useful for that particular customer. This is an excellent way for customers to learn the extent of ADL products on the market.

Marketing to existing customers, cross-selling and gaining referrals through occupational therapists, physical therapists and case managers are the keys to marketing ADLs. "Patients who attend occupational therapy most likely have a therapist that uses these types of products," Knittle said. "We also have an Enrichments Catalog that goes to the end user that a lot of the therapists give to their new patients."

A Summary of marketing tips for ADL products include:

*Send newsletters to referral sources

*Participate in trade shows

*Make products and product displays look fun

*Form partnerships between referral sources and HME stores

*Meet with physicians to obtain new referral sources

*Educate sales people to market add-on items

*Explore consumer needs by determining what his or her day involves

*Ensure accurate product placement by displaying products as they are used

*Have sample products available for consumer demonstration or use

*Show product usage on packaging

*Send a sample product to nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, hospitals or assisted living facilities for exposure

*Group products by category (Example: dining room independence or bathroom safety)

*Use trade publications to market products and for display advertising

Mocek agreed that there are many ways to get the word out about ADLs, including trade publications, senior papers, shows like the Home Shopping Network and point-of-purchase displays in stores. The awareness of ADLs is growing as a result of Internet resources, Mocek said.

Products Via the World Wide Web

Pip Squeakers LLC, located in Lebanon, N.J., offers Baby Squeaker Shoes that emit an audible sound as the baby or toddler applies pressure to the sole. "The sounds are fun and entertaining and thus encourage movement and walking. They are available in sneakers and sandals, sizes 3-6," said Peggy Wells, owner. Pip Squeakers sells directly to the consumer through its Web site as well as discounted quantities to retailers, both store-front and Internet, that resell the shoes to the consumer.

If more professionals were knowledgeable about assistive devices that are readily available and how they work, we would increase consumer awareness.

Wells said she sent hundreds of introduction letters to disability, early intervention and baby-oriented organizations and joined several listservs with memberships that fit into Pip Squeakers targeted market. "We have a link presence on more than 110 Web sites that focus on disabilities, family and babies," she said. "The most important source of our traffic so far has been search engines and focused directories. For example, Fred's Head, a search engine on the American Printing House for the Blind site, included Pip Squeakers, along with hundreds of other great tips, ideas and products for the blind and visually impaired," Wells said.

"We are a brand new company with a brand new product, so becoming known to the consumer is a huge and never-ending task. The Internet has made this much easier for a small start-up company, such as Pip Squeakers, to reach out to the people who can benefit from our products," she said.

While many consumers are not aware of the technology that exists or the affordability of products, the Internet is helping to increase consumer awareness.

"The Internet is playing a valuable role in assisting persons who are searching for such devices. People are delighted to find simple solutions to help with daily living. I believe if more professionals were knowledgeable about assistive devices that are readily available and how they work, we would increase consumer awareness," Hewitt said.

Limitations that result from age or disability can be managed or eliminated with aids to daily living products. People can maintain the quality of life they are accustomed to by finding the products that can assist them with daily tasks.

"The aids to daily living market is absolutely growing. Each day, someone out there comes up with an extraordinary idea to help themselves and others. The hard part is making the product known to the consumer," Wells said.

"With the aging of America, the ADL market can't really help but grow. People are living longer and they expect a certain quality of life. This includes remaining as active and independent as possible," Mocek said.

This article originally appeared in the January 2002 issue of HME Business.


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