Home adaptations for easier living in old age

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Most people value their independence and would prefer to stay in their own homes as they get older, but for some, health issues can turn even simple everyday tasks into a problem. Find out how you can adapt your home to make life easier, and how to get help paying for home improvements that could significantly alter your quality of life.

Moving around the home
Steps and stairs, both outside and inside, can present a serious problem for some, but simple adaptations can make the world of difference.

It could be something as simple as a hand rail to help you climb the steps to your front door, shallower steps to reduce the chance of tripping, or even a grab rail that helps you to cross the threshold safely. Should you be confined to a wheelchair, you may be able to install ramps, or if that is not possible, portable ramps can be used, provided there is someone with you who can put it in place and remove it when necessary. Alternatively, you may be able to install a wheelchair lift to help you get inside. An outdoor light that turns on when it gets dark is also a good idea.

Inside the home, it may be possible to widen doorways if you are a wheelchair user, or install a stairlift or wheelchair lift to help you up and down stairs. For anyone who has trouble getting to the door when someone calls round, there are intercoms that enable you to answer the door without rushing, either with an entry phone or video entry. Some of these will allow you to open the door with the simple press of a button, and some of which include a 'bogus caller' button, where you can talk to an operator if you are concerned about who is at the door.

Washing, dressing and cooking
Getting in and out of bed, or up from a chair, are common causes of problems for elderly people. These days there are many items that can help, from rise-and-recline chairs and beds, and even fittings that can attach to a bed or chair, increasing their height and making them easier to get in and out of. Where bending or dressing poses a problem, try your local pharmacy to see whether they stock grabbers and other gadgets that can make life easier.

The bathroom can prove a particularly dangerous place if you have mobility issues or struggle with balance. But electric bath lifts, walk-in showers and shower seats, and even wall-mounted sinks for easier access if you need to sit or are a wheelchair user, can all make a big difference.

The kitchen is another area where many struggle in later life but there are many easy-to-use and relatively cheap gadgets available to help. Something as small as an electric tin or jar opener can make cooking easier, as non-slip mats and kettle tippers. A perching stool that supports your weight while standing at work surfaces can help to take the pressure off, and a trolley can make it easier to move heavy items of crockery around, or for taking food from room to room.

For those in a wheelchair, it may be possible to get help installing adjustable-height work surfaces and easily accessible cupboards and basins.

From the risk of falls to smoke alarms, there are many gadgets that can take the worry out of life. Telecare services such as personal alarms mean you can call for help if you are unwell or have a fall, simply by pressing a button on a pendant or wristband.

Others will automatically detect if something is wrong, for example if you have fallen out of bed, and alert an emergency contact or response centre.

There are also detectors available that can alert you to fire, smoke, carbon monoxide and even floods should you forget to turn taps off.

Financial help
While some adaptations are simple and relatively cheap, others can be costly. However, you may be able to get financial assistance from your local authority. Those costing less than £1,000 are often provided free of charge following an assessment of your needs. Major adaptations, i.e. the more expensive items, may be provided through a means-tested Disabled Facilities Grant, which will help you meet the cost. For both, the first port of call should be your local authority, where either social services or the housing department will be able to get the ball rolling.

Alternatively, not-for-profit Home Improvement Agencies may be able to help older, disabled or low-income people to repair or adapt their homes.

Have you made adaptations to yours or an elderly relative's home to make life easier? What advice would you give to others? Leave your comments below...
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