Is That Attachment Handier Than the Real Thing?
July 14, 2010 7:29 AM   Subscribe

What attachments are available for someone with a prosthetic arm or hand?

I saw a man in Westminster Abbey this week with a hook for a hand. A hook! My friend and I started discussing various attachments that could be used in place of a hand. An eggbeater for chefs? A paintbrush for artists? A Leatherman Multitool? Sex toys? Is there a market for prostheses custom made to order? What's the most common alternative to a hand?
posted by HotPatatta to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I know a person with a prosthetic hook, which is operated by a cable connected to a brace around her shoulders to operate the mechanism. She helped my wife and I pack, and, by God, she had no trouble wrapping things in paper, closing boxes, using the tape dispenser to seal things closed, etc. Granted, she does have on functional human hand on the other arm, but most of what she did required the use of both and it didn't slow her down in the least. Practice and skill in using a single, multi-function hook is a greater boon than having a bunch of attachments each of which requires its own skill to operate. In fact, from what I understand, the "fake hand" prosthetics are either non-functioning, or masks a hook underneath -- prosthetic hooks are quite common.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:42 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

To add: here's an example of optional hand equipment available. The "quick release" stuff would seem to lead one to believe that a multitude of options are available, but a cup-shaped claw seems to me the most single-function of them. Prosthetics are medical equipment, not OXO cutlery. The baby mitt, however, is simultaneously cute and sad.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:51 AM on July 14, 2010

It would be pretty pointless to have special purpose attachments for all those things. Modern prosthetics implement a small number of fundamental grip types -- key grip, pinch grip, power grip, index point -- which when combined with practice allows the wearer to naturally wield all those things you mentioned. Who would want to have to carry around a bunch of specialized attachments (other than the bad guy in Innerspace)?
posted by Rhomboid at 8:04 AM on July 14, 2010

I do recall hearing about a one-armed chef who had a custom-made set of knives that attached to his prosthesis.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:20 AM on July 14, 2010

See Jay J. Armes.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:24 AM on July 14, 2010

This isn't about arms, but Hugh Herr was a rock/ice climber who lost his legs due to frostbite and he continued climbing with special "feet" attached to his prosthetic legs. He had different feet/shoes to use depending on the route he was climbing, with various feet for friction, crack, or other types of climbing.

He's now an engineer designing prosthetic limbs.
posted by bondcliff at 8:34 AM on July 14, 2010

Here is a homemade prosthetic fishing rod.
posted by joeyo at 8:39 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless you're using it for a specific repetitive task it wouldn't really make any sense to have different prosthetic attachments...seems like every hook user I've ever known had one hook and used it for everything. Also, prosthetic arms (and legs, for that matter) are very expensive due to the customization of fitting necessary to each user, so having a lot of different specific use attachments would be a pretty costly proposition.
posted by motown missile at 6:23 PM on July 14, 2010

I went to culinary school with a guy who had only one hand. (grenade incident in the army) He had a whole kit of attachments he'd pop on & off as needed. but most of the time he used the hook. It was particularly trippy when he'd reach into the oven and pull stuff out with the hook, when the rest of us were flopping around looking for a dry side towel.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 8:58 PM on July 14, 2010

So here's a kicker: two weeks after posting this question, I couchsurfed with a couple in Dublin and it turned out the husband is a designer or prostheses! He had a German book with photos of all types of specialty attachments. There was a swiss army knife-esque multitool and a variety of hooks. He also said wooden hands are quite common among older amputees. Even though there are much more realistic and useful "hands" available, often elderly amputees want something they're comfortable with using already. Athletes ask for very specialized attachments, as do artists, chefs, handymen, etc. Hands and hooks are most common, accounting for around 95% or attachments. He also said Americans opt for function over form, and Europeans opt for form over function.
posted by HotPatatta at 2:48 PM on August 1, 2010

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