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As you get older you may find it harder to manage in your home. However, you may be able to stay in your home for longer if it is improved to meet your needs.
This guide looks at the adaptations and equipment that are available and explains how to obtain them. It also suggests small practical steps that can make a difference to your quality of life.
This advice relates to both your main access, generally the front door, and your rear or garden access. If you are having difficulty getting in and out of your property there are ways to make it easier.
If you have difficulty climbing the steps leading to your front door, you could have a rail installed. This could either be a galvanised rail attached to the ground (usually set into concrete), which may be up to a few metres long, or a smaller grab rail at the door to help you step over the threshold safely.
If you are a wheelchair user, you may need to have a ramp installed to enable you to reach the front door. This may require alterations to the porch or front step.
A portable ramp may be appropriate where there is a small step and where there is someone present who can install and then remove the ramp after use.
Sometimes it is not safe or practical to install a ramp, particularly if there isn’t enough space around the door. A wheelchair lift may be an alternative in these circumstances.
If you have difficulty getting to the front door when someone calls, you could consider installing a door-entry intercom.
This can either be one where you talk to the visitor via an intercom link and then walk to the front door, or where you press a button to open the door from your sitting position after you have spoken to the visitor via the intercom.
There are other options to allow friends, relatives and carers access if you find it difficult to get to the front door in time to answer it. One of these is a key safe, where the key is held in a secure box that can only be opened by someone who knows the code.
If you are having difficulty moving around a property, think about the risks related to floor surfaces, lighting, clutter and trip hazards such as exposed wires.
If you use a wheelchair, do you have enough room to manoeuvre your chair around each room and from room to room?
If the ability to turn from a corridor into a room is inhibited by the door and corridor width, it may be possible to widen the door frame or to re-hang the door so that it swings in the opposite direction and does not block the way. In some circumstances walls can be removed or re-sited to provide a larger turning circle in a room.
If you need all your essential facilities to be on one floor you could consider creating an extension to your home. This may require planning permission from the local authority. It is advisable to seek the advice of a qualified professional, such as a surveyor or an architect, to confirm the safety and appropriateness of any major adaptations to property.
If the facilities in your property – your toilet, bathroom, kitchen – are on different floors you may be finding it increasingly difficult to keep using the stairs.
It may be possible to install a second banister rail on the stairs or to fit a stairlift to make it easier for you to get up and down the stairs. There are a number of different types on the market, with a range of features to suit different needs.
If your needs cannot be met with a second banister rail or a stairlift, it may be possible to install a through-floor wheelchair lift. These lifts enable wheelchair users to move between floors in their chairs. They are usually large pieces of equipment and may take up quite a lot of space.
The size and layout of your home will affect what adaptations are possible.
Getting in and out of bed, or up from a chair, becomes difficult for many older people.
If you are in this situation you will find that the height of a piece of furniture strongly affects how easy it is to get on and off. Items called raisers can be fitted to beds and chairs to increase their height.
You can also get powered riser-recliner chairs and specialist beds that raise the user into a position where they can stand or lower the user into a sitting or lying position.
If you feel you are at risk of pressure sores or other related conditions ask your GP or district nurse for an assessment of your pressure-care issues. This may be because you are sitting or lying in one position for a long period of time.
If you need a carer to help you get up there are also various types of equipment designed to help with turning, lifting and transferring from one setting to another, such as hoists, transfer boards and slide sheets. Training should be provided before anyone uses equipment of this kind to avoid injury to you or the person moving you.
For getting dressed there is equipment such as a long-handled shoehorn, implements to assist with putting on tights and socks, and hooks to assist with doing up buttons.
There are also various types of easy-reach grabbers to help you pick up items that may have fallen to the floor.
Loss of mobility and balance can make it increasingly difficult to wash and bathe or to use the toilet in a standard bathroom. If you are finding this there is a range of equipment and adaptations that may be of use.
Bath lifts of varying designs are available to make it easier for you to get in and out of the bath. These usually consist of a seat or platform that can be raised or lowered to support your weight as you get in and out and allow you to sit in the bath to wash. There are also baths that have a door so you can enter without having to climb over the side.
Depending on your needs it may be better to remove the bath altogether and install a ‘wet room’ or level-access shower, which often have a wall-attached seat to assist those who cannot stand for long periods.
Other items in the bathroom can also be tailored to meet your needs. A wall-mounted sink may allow you to get closer and wash more comfortably if you are a wheelchair user. This and other facilities can be set at the right height for someone who is in a wheelchair or using a mobile shower seat.
If you are unable to clean yourself after using the toilet, ‘hands free’ toilets are available that include a washing and drying function while you are still seated.
In many houses, toilets are sited in small, narrow rooms, which can be inaccessible. It may be necessary to move the toilet or create one toilet /bathroom with enough space for you to move around safely and comfortably.
There are various pieces of equipment that can assist with preparing and consuming food and drink.
If you have difficulty standing to prepare food you could use a perching stool, which is designed to allow a near-standing position but supports you at the same time.
If you can only use one hand or find it hard to grip or carry, there are tools such as spike boards to allow one-handed vegetable peeling, kettle tippers, wide-handled cutlery, tap turners, non-slip table mats, high-rimmed plates, two-handled cups and assistive tin, bottle and jar openers.
A sturdy trolley can provide support for mobility as well as allowing the movement of food and drink from room to room.
If you require a wheelchair-accessible kitchen it may be necessary to install adjustable-height work surfaces with adequate space underneath to allow the correct position for carrying out tasks.
A shallow basin and draining board with space left underneath can allow kitchen tasks to be carried out independently from a wheelchair and cupboards of accessible height with internal shelving that can be pulled forward could also be useful.
Most of us experience some degree of loss of sight as we get older. It is important to have your eyes tested regularly to identify any deterioration in their condition as soon as possible.
Some sight loss cannot be corrected but a combination of practical steps and special equipment can help to reduce the impact on your independence.
Loose wires and carpets, broken handrails or general clutter can be a hazard if you cannot see them. Ask family or friends to help you repair and tidy. Alternatively, contact your local Age Concern to see if they have a handyperson scheme that can help with minor jobs.
Increasing the levels of natural light entering your home helps to make the most of your sight. You should also check whether your artificial lighting is appropriate for your needs. Could the colour scheme in your home be changed to make things easier to see? Use coloured tape to differentiate the edges of stairs and other borders.
There are lots of aids and gadgets available to help people with sight problems. These include raised markings for appliance controls, clocks with high-contrast or tactile faces and telephones with large, clearly marked buttons.
Most people will also experience some degree of hearing loss as they grow older.
If you are one of them, there is a wide range of equipment available to help. Devices to alert you, such as door bells and smoke alarms, are particularly important in the home. Versions of these are available that use strobe lights or vibrating pads to get your attention.
Telephones are an important way of keeping in touch with people and of summoning help in an emergency. There are voice- and text-based telephone options available for people with hearing loss. What works best for you will depend on your needs.
Technological developments are continually offering us new ways to live our lives and interact with one another. One example of this is ‘telecare’, which allows remote monitoring of people in their own homes to help with managing risk and promote independent living.
The most well-known example of this is the community alarm, but others include a fall detector, epilepsy sensor, chair and occupancy sensor, flood detector, gas leak valve shut-off sensor and a property exit sensor.
There are also telehealth products that monitor a person’s health. For example, the correct dose of tablets to be dispensed on a daily basis can be pre-set and monitored.
Community alarms enable people living by themselves to summon help in the event of a fall or other accident.
There are a number of different systems on the market but usually you have a pendant or other transmitter to keep with you. If the alarm is triggered your family or friends will be notified. The local authority may provide alarms to some people.
Your choice may be determined by your current housing or financial situation. For example, if you are a council or housing association tenant, you may apply for a transfer to sheltered accommodation, and if you are a homeowner you may consider selling your home and simply downsizing or purchasing specialist retirement accommodation.
Talk about your plans with friends and family and/or get independent advice.
If you have a disability, it may be appropriate to request an assessment by the local authority to help you with your re-housing needs. This type of assessment generally involves an occupational therapist visiting your property, after which they will write a report with specific recommendations for your re-housing needs.
If you, or an older person you know needs advice, information or practical support on a wide range of issues including welfare benefits, community care, housing and health, contact the Age NI Advice Service on Freephone 0808 808 7575 to speak to a specialist advisor in confidence. Our advisors can provide a free benefit check to ensure that older people are accessing the benefits they are entitled to.
Last year our Advice Service dealt with almost 14,000 calls from older people in need. Call the Age NI Advice Service today to make sure that you are receiving all the help and support available to you.
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