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Home Modifications for Older People - Where to Start

Often when buying a home, you imagine living out the rest of your life there, without taking into account any future challenges. With age can come a deterioration in mobility, potentially a loss of independence, and before you know it, you’re finding it difficult to navigate the stairs to the second storey or unable to climb into the large, beautiful but impractical bath tub that seemed like such a great purchase in your 30s.

Being able to stay in your own home for as long as possible is a goal of many and with modifications (and perhaps with the assistance of family or carers) it’s most definitely an achievable goal.

Modifications range from the minor such as adding handrails to the slightly more complex involving building work, but all aim to assist accessibility, safety and independence for the occupants.

Funding maybe available for some or all modifications depending on your personal situation.

A summary of useful resources for each state can be found here. Our recent blog post '10 mobility aids to support independent living' is also useful to read alongside this blog post. 

Here are some useful home modifications:

Rails

These are a great starting point. Grab rails in the bathroom, especially next to the toilet, as well as handrails on any stairs help with safety and falls prevention. Make sure they are installed securely and consider the surface they are being attached to, is it strong enough? When using a rail, never pull up on it as it may not be able to take your full body weight. They should be used for support and balance only but when used correctly can mean the difference between getting off the toilet independently and needing help.

Lifts

Stair lift

If stairs become too hard despite having a rail, it is possible to install a stair lift. This chair attaches to a tracking system on the wall and by sitting on it, it transports you up and down the stairs. A stairlift can be quite expensive but considering cost per use and by allowing you to have access to the upstairs levels of your home, or prevent you from being housebound, it can be a wise investment.

Platform Lifts

These are usually for wheelchair users, who are not able to push themselves up a ramp in their chair. Platform lifts cover a vertical distance of a couple of meters e.g. to access a building or house.

Ramps

Preventing the need to use stairs at all, ramps allow for wheelchair access. Many people who find walking difficult choose to purchase a light-weight wheelchair for community access and longer distances that their spouse or other carer can push them in. It is even possible to put a small ramp over a single access step e.g. at the front of a house so you can ascend with a walker. Ramps can either be purchased and fitted over existing steps or constructed in place of steps.

Bathroom

Bathrooms can be the trickiest room to navigate with tight spaces, lips and shower doors all impeding accessibility. Turning a bathroom into a “wet room” is the easiest approach, taking the door off the shower and removing any steps or lips. This makes it accessible for a wheeled commode/shower chair to wheel over the toilet and then straight into the shower. Converting a bathroom into a wet room provides more space and ease if you’re needing a carer to assist you with toileting and showering. Other adaptations include a shower stool or a fold down bench and a hand-held shower hose which allows you or your carer to shower you more safely, directing water only where needed, minimising wet, slippery floors.

Single level living

Stairs can be incredibly difficult to manage, especially having to do them on a daily basis. If it becomes too difficult or unsafe, consider having a bedroom, bathroom, living area and kitchen all located on a single (usually lower) level. A bedroom can sometimes be set up in the living room as it’s usually a large open space, big enough to house a bed.

Flooring

Non-slip flooring, whether it be applying tread to the corners of stairs or special non-slip paint on the bathroom floor, helps to prevent falls which are one of the leading causes of injuries in the elderly. Removing carpet and replacing it with an option with less friction such as tiles or linoleum, makes floors easier to walk on (or wheel over if using a wheelchair) and easier for cleaning.

When planning any home modifications, it is strongly advised to consult with an Occupational Therapist who specialises in this specialist area and can advise on the perfect solutions based on your requirements. Additionally, please enlist trustworthy builders for any major modifications to ensure they meet safety requirements.

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