Home Modifications for Elderly and Disabled Persons - Making Life Easier In Every Room
Every year, thousands of people are forced to move from their own home into assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
You don’t have to be one of them.
People are often forced to move because their home environment does not fit their needs, or is unsafe, or there is no one available to help them with activities of daily living.
With some advanced planning and simple home modifications, you can stay in your home for longer than you may have thought possible, and age in place for as long as you wish.
There are simple modifications you can make in every room of your home to make your environment fit your needs. Some of these modifications are based on universal design guidelines, others are common sense, and some relate to specific physical needs.
We’re going to go over general tips for modifications throughout your home, and then dive into what you can do in specific rooms of your home to improve your safety, independence, and peace of mind.
Some of these modifications you can handle yourself if you like to DIY, others require professional installation.
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Home Modifications Throughout Your Home
Improve Lighting and Reduce Glare
My parents lived through the Great Depression. They were very thrifty and tended to worry about having enough money, so growing up we learned to do what we could to conserve energy and lower costs. I can still hear my mom telling me to turn the lights off when I left a room.
I spent late nights reading in bed with a flashlight under the covers. Partly because I was supposed to be going to sleep and didn’t want to get caught staying up past my bedtime, and partly because I didn’t want to get discovered with the room light on. I’m not sure which one I would’ve gotten in trouble for the most.
If any of you lived through similar situations, I give you permission to put as many lights on in the house that you need! You’ve got to be able to see where you’re going and what you’re doing.
Recommended Lighting (in Lumens & Foot Candles-FC):
Living Room 3,000-5,000 – 50 FC
Kitchen 5,000-10,000 – 50-100 FC
Dining Room 3,000-6,000 – 20-30 FC
Bedroom 3,000-5,000 – 50 FC
Bathroom 4,000-8,000 – 100 FC
Hallways/Stairways 4,000-8,000 – 40-50 FC
A good rule of thumb for lighting is, if you can see clearly and easily, you have enough lighting. If you can’t, increase the overall lighting or add some task lighting – desk lamps, under counter lighting, etc.
If you want to geek out, get a light meter then multiply the square footage of the room times the room foot candle requirement. This will give you your total lumens. Add more if you have any vision impairments or just want the room or area brighter.
You can also use this online converter that will convert foot candles to lumens per square meter.
As we age, our risk for eye diseases and conditions increase – things like glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye, and lower vision overall. These diseases and conditions may result in impaired vision, and increased lighting can help.
Tips to Improve Lighting:
- Increase lighting in every room to recommended levels listed above
- Increase task lighting (desks, kitchen sink & counters, bathrooms, garage workshops)
- Increase area lighting (under counters, along steps, etc.) with motion sensor LED strip lights
- Use illuminated rocker switches instead of regular switches
- Use motion- or sound-detected lighting or smart home lighting throughout the home and outdoors for all entry areas
- Place LED night-lights in every room
- Place/move electrical outlets to at least 20″ from the floor
- Have a 30-48″ clearance to access manual light switches or use light switch extenders
- Use LED lights for longer use (fewer trips up a ladder or step-stool)
- Always have more than one light source in a room
- Have high-lumen flashlights in every room in case of power failure
Reduce Glare – Glare can be reduced by using a variety of multiple light sources. For example, you can have a combination of overhead lighting, table lamps, wall sconces and track or canned lights.
When using lamps and sconces, be sure that the shades are at eye level – anything above or below may result in contrast glare and become hazardous to someone.
Also try to use non-reflective flooring, countertops, desktops, tabletops and furniture whenever possible.
Doors should be 36″ wide, but anywhere from 32″-36″ is an improvement over narrower door widths. Doorways over 32″ wide will accommodate most wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters.
A doorway should have a minimum of 18″ of clearance to the doorknob/handle to allow for accessibility. This may need to be increased depending on how the door swings open.
You can also reverse the swinging direction of the door to allow for better access – i.e., swinging out to a hallway instead of swinging into the bathroom.
If you aren’t able to hire someone to reframe and widen the doorways in your home, you can install offset door hinges to give you a few more inches.
Raise Electrical Outlets and Lower Switches and Thermostats
Electrical Outlets should be raised to about 18″-24″ from the floor for easier access.
Light switches and thermostats should be lowered to between 36″-44″ from the floor.
A smart home device can come in handy here – you can use your mobile device to control lighting and temperature no matter where you are. I confess that I don’t get out of bed to put the heat on in the mornings – I just control it from my phone!
Use contrasting colors so the outlets and switches can be more easily seen. If you have a white or off-white wall, consider colored switch plates in grey, blue, orange, or patterns.
Use Lever Door Handles and C or D Shaped Cabinet Hardware
Lever door handles can be opened without having to grip and turn, like standard round door knobs. This is helpful for people who have hand or wrist weakness or arthritis.
Using C or D shaped cabinet pulls make them easier to open – again, no gripping required. They can even be opened with a reacher grabber.
Entrances and Exits
When you think about accessible entrances and exits, think barrier-free and safe. Home modifications for elderly and disabled persons start with garage and home entry spaces and are super important!
- Door thresholds should be level with the flooring, inside and out – no more than 1/2″ disruption
- Zero step – no steps are best
- Get a portable threshold ramp if there’s no way to level your doorway
- Doorways should be 36″ wide with lever handles on the doors
- Non-slip surface, no mats or throw-rugs
- Smooth, even surfaces – no cracks or rises in flooring or pavement
- Well-lit with motion detector lighting
- Handrails – 1-1/2″ in diameter
- Pathways (4′ wide), ramps (36″ wide) or wide platform steps
- Adequate maneuvering room for wheelchairs, walkers, rollators, scooters, baby strollers – 60″ maneuvering space recommended for wheelchairs
- Protected from rain, snow, ice
- Keyless entry at front door
- Mailbox or mail drop at the front entry for easy access
- Shelf or bench for packages at the front entry for easy access
- Ability to see visitors through peephole, door sidelight or visual doorbell
The type of flooring you have can affect how safe you are in your home. Slick, shiny floors can cause glare and be slippery. Throw rugs and some area rugs are trip hazards. The wrong indoor or outdoor tile can cause slips and falls.
Flooring and coefficient of friction rating (COF). Tile and other flooring materials have a special rating that shows how slip-resistant it is. These ratings are only used in the United States, so tile and flooring coming from other countries may not have it listed. Higher ratings are better than lower ratings.
There should be two different COF ratings listed – static and dynamic. The Static COF should be no less than 0.6, and the Dynamic COF should be no less than 0.42 to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
If you are looking into purchasing new flooring, ask the store what the ratings are on each type you are considering.
Here are some flooring guidelines to keep you on your feet.
- High COF rating – minimum of 0.42, 0.6 best
- Smooth surface
- Non-glare surface
- Low-pile carpet – less than 1/2″
- No throw-rugs
- Rug gripper on area rugs
Home Safety Devices
To help prevent a disaster, your home should have multiple smoke alarms, and heat, low-temperature, water and carbon monoxide detectors.
It’s possible to forget to turn off stovetops and ovens, leave a cigarette burning, place paper or other flammable items too close to a hot surface, candle or fireplace, and other safety hazards.
It’s also possible to forget to turn on the heat or A/C, or be unaware that it’s not functioning properly. Do you know how cold your garage gets in the winter? Your pipes might be at risk for freezing or bursting, and that can cause bigger, more expensive problems.
Reduce your risk by following these guidelines:
Smoke alarm – every bedroom and sleeping area, hallways, and at least one on every floor
CO detector – every bedroom and sleeping area, hallways, and at least one on every floor
Heat detector – kitchen, garage, mechanical room
Combustible gas detector – anywhere there is a propane or natural gas appliance
Cold (low temp) detector – one on each level of home, usually by each thermostat
Water sensor – under refrigerator, dishwasher, washer/dryer, crawl space, water heater, exterior wall bathrooms, toilets, upstairs & downstairs
Panic alarm – Portable, wearable, and general home panic device near front door
Radon detectors – basement (if you live in an area that may be exposed to radon gas)
Many home security and alarm companies have these products that can be monitored. When a device alarms, a notification will be sent to a central station who will then call the designated contact person, police, or emergency medical personnel, so you can take care of the situation right away.
Some device alerts can also be sent to a smartphone, tablet, computer or television.
If you’re in Central Oregon, I highly recommend Atlas Security in Bend for these home safety and security solutions.
Home Modifications for the Bathroom
I’m sure you’ve heard this before – the bathroom is where most elderly and disabled persons fall in the home.
Whether it’s getting on and off the toilet, trying to get into the bathtub or shower, or tripping on a throw-rug, the bathroom can be a risky place.
There are easy things you can do to reduce your risks in the bathroom.
- Choose non-slip floor and shower tile with a COF of 0.6 or higher
- Lever handle or motion sensor faucets
- 36″ wide doorway
- 5′ turning radius near toilet & bathtub/shower
- Support bars or grab bars next to toilet and in shower and bathtub area
- Support bar towel bars at varying heights
- Handheld shower faucet
- Shower chair
- Bathtub lift
- Bathtub-mounted support bar
- Non-slip tub mat on bottom surface
- No throw-rugs
- Varying counter & drawer heights so a person who is seated can access them
- Barrier-free walkway/aisles/floor space
- Adequate task lighting
- Magnified lighted wall mirrors
- Set water heater temperature to 120 degrees or less
- Raised toilet seat at least 17-18″ from floor
- Wall mounted toilet and sink for extra space
- Wall-mounted hands-free hair dryer holder
- Walk-in or roll-in shower – barrier-free
- Transfer benches
- Shampoo/soap wall mounted dispensers
- Adequate heating and ventilation
- Cover/insulate any exposed hot water pipes under sink to prevent burns
- Wear a waterproof personal emergency response system (PERS) device – simply press the button in the event of a fall or emergency situation. In home or on-the-go.
Pro Tip: If you’re considering a remodel, make sure the contractors include 2×6″ or 2×8″ blocking in the bath/shower walls and anywhere else you may need to install grab bars. That way you won’t have to worry if there is a stud where you want to place the support/grab bar.
Home Modifications for the Kitchen
The kitchen is often considered the heart of the home. It’s where people tend to gather to prepare food and cook, share meals, or just hang out together.
If you have a temporary or long-term disability or injury, everyday activities can be much more difficult – and that includes kitchen activities.
Tasks that you do all the time suddenly become really hard! Have you ever tried to cut a piece of fruit or a vegetable with one functional hand? I have, and almost injured myself in the process.
Luckily, there are helpful suggestions and products that can keep us from harm in the kitchen.
- Choose cooking appliances that have controls in the front or side instead of back to avoid getting burned when reaching over the cooktop
- Lower your cooktop so it can be accessed while seated or use an elevated chair
- Install wall ovens at lower height
- Add warming oven below wall oven
- Have a lower work surface (island, peninsula or rolling table) with good task lighting that can be utilized while seated in a chair or wheelchair
- Pull-out shelving, pull down shelving, and lazy Susans to access items in cabinets and cupboards
- Counter-top or drawer microwave for easier access
- Consider under-cabinet refrigeration drawers or a side-by-side refrigerator
- Place most-used kitchen items in lower cabinets
- Lever or touchless kitchen faucets
- C or D shaped cabinet hardware on cabinets
- Adequate maneuvering space
- Side-hinged oven doors
- Elevated dishwasher 16″ above the floor
- Dishwasher should be installed on side of dominant hand
- One-handed cutting board
- Pot Filler near cooktop
- One-handed rocking knife
- Jar opener
- ABC rated fire extinguisher
- Stove top pan holder
- Contrasting colored tape applied to edges of counters to see edge better
- Pull out trash/recycling containers
Home Modifications for the Laundry Room
Doing laundry doesn’t have to be a painful or difficult chore. There are many ways you can make your life easier in the laundry room.
- Front loading washer and dryer
- Raise appliances on pedestals to comfortable height
- Pull-down closet rod for hanging items
- Maneuvering space to access appliances and laundry supply storage
- Wall-mounted ironing board
- Adequate and accessible counter space for folding clothes
- Storage space 54″ or less in height
- Rolling laundry cart
Home Modifications for Bedrooms
Your bedroom is often the most comfortable place in your home. It helps you get a good night’s sleep and is a peaceful refuge from the rest of the world.
You can make your bedroom safer and more accessible too if you include some of these recommendations:
- Comfortable mattress and pillows – prevent injury with good body support and alignment
- Adjustable bed frame
- Blanket lift to reduce weight/pressure (for recovery after surgery, gout pain, sensitive feet, neuropathy)
- Bed assist rail
- Alternating pressure mattress – to reduce risk of bedsores
- 36″ of maneuvering space around the bed
- Motion sensor under-bed lighting
- Fall prevention bedside safety mat
- CPAP pillow with memory foam (for use with CPAP, BiPAP, APAP)
- Wedge pillow for sciatica, hip pain, and back pain
- Bench or chair for end of bed storage or place to sit to put on shoes
- Clutter-free access to the bathroom
- Low storage dressers or cabinets to access clothing
- Reacher grabber to get items off closet rods and shelving
- Heavy-duty pull down closet rods
- Adjustable-height closet shelving and rods
- Motion sensor lighting for closet
- Raised shoe rack for easy access
- Flameless candles with remote & timer
- Personal emergency alert device
- Room air purifier
Patio and Garden Modifications
There’s something about getting your hands dirty in the garden that is very satisfying. And seeing the fruits (or vegetables or flowers) of your labor grow, is just icing on the cake.
There’s no reason to give up gardening or enjoying your patio and other outdoor spaces while aging in place.
With a little planning, you’ll be able to keep gardening and soaking up the sun and fresh air for as long as you wish.
Here are some simple modifications you can make to extend your outside time.
- No-step entry to patio area
- 36″ wide, level, smooth pathways
- Non-slip outdoor pavers, tile, concrete, or decking – COF 0.6 or higher
- Raised flower and vegetable garden beds to 30″ height – include space for chair or wheelchair to fit underneath raised bed
- Large container garden pots raised up to a comfortable height and on wheels
- Garden hose storage and guide – I have this one and it works great
- Sturdy chairs, tables and benches or retaining wall seating
- Rolling gardening seat, Garden Hopper, or folding garden seat with tool holder
We hope you find these home modifications for elderly and disabled people helpful! Please feel free to share this information with others who may need it.
If you have specific questions, please contact us! We’d love to hear from you.
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