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» Retrofit Your Home for Older or Disabled Residents

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Bathtubs, showers and countertops are important considerations if your home must accomodate persons with special needs such as a wheelchair.
Bathtubs, showers and countertops are important considerations if your home must accomodate persons with special needs such as a wheelchair.
If you or someone living in your home has special needs such as being confined to a wheel chair, having suffered from a stroke or another disability, then there are many considerations to make when remodeling or updating your home.

With America’s baby boomer generation aging, the need for homes equipped to accommodate special needs is increasing greatly, so making a few simple modifications can increase the value of your home, as well as providing the convenience and comfort needed to care for family and loved ones with special needs.

As a nurse, who cared primarily for the elderly, who then went to pre hospital care working on a rescue squad, I have seen the difficulty that our elderly or handicapped can have with simple fixtures that most of us don’t think about. I’ve seen the results of a fall because of improper equipment of the inability to use what was currently in the home.

Many people who begin to have access problems require assistance trying to find ways to accomplish simple tasks and do what needs to be done on a daily basis. Simplifying those details would help them immensely toward being able to live in their own home and familiar surroundings longer.

Very often the home older people live in has been the same home they’ve lived in for most of their lives and it will not be an easy task to fit the outside with ramps or means to make it wheelchair accessible, however concrete can add the height to raise them up to the porch or door, but that’s only half the problem.

Imagine being accustomed to doing certain tasks each day, such as washing dishes, and bathing, and finding it suddenly difficult to do even those simple chores. Getting inside your home is a task indeed but once inside, the real problems are just beginning with sometimes even toilet tissue up high enough that it can’t be reached and the toilet too low to make it easy to be seated on and then get back up for an older person.

A few items that you need to consider when planning for the very elderly or the handicapped include:

Wheelchair Accessible Doorways

The typical doorway width, unless it is an archway or other special door, is between 30 and 32 inches. That’s far too narrow by between 3 and 6 inches to pass a wheelchair through and the entryway into a laundry room or pantry is usually far slimmer, averaging about 26 inches.

To permit them entry into the rooms they need to be the doors will need to be widened. Door Knobs vs. Door handles. Both your older and handicapped friends as well as little children will have problems with the old style doorknobs.

What will work far better for both of them will be the levers, or L-shaped handles; these are now extremely popular and are very often seen in more upscale housing, but are available at nearly any hardware store such as Ace Hardware, or Menards Home Builders center. They will make a world of difference to an older person and may make the difference between using the door and not being able to open it.

Countertop Height and Ease of Use

A shower designed for wheelchair access makes life much easier at home.
A shower designed for wheelchair access makes life much easier at home.
Chances are that lowering your kitchen and bathroom countertops to permit them to be the range that a wheelchair bound person needs isn’t going to be an option. To do so would displace the cabinetry, as well as to create real problems with the backsplashes and plumbing in most cases, however there are several really good alternatives to this issue.

One solution is to create an island in the center of the kitchen that is lowered and will house a small sink as well as a place for the wheelchair to fit under. Another solution will be to make a step down on the existing counter for the same purpose, if in fact your kitchen is smaller and won’t handle the island. This can work equally as well, lowering a portion of it which will make it look as though it is the normal design of the kitchen.

Your standard-size refrigerator will pose another problem, because in most cases the door can’t open wide enough to permit entry to a wheelchair and occupant unless it is not bound to a corner or wall. Another thing that is often overlooked is the hardware on your cabinetry, which is often difficult to grasp for those who are very old or very young. Replace it with easy to grasp handles, which you can find at Lowes, Menards or Home Depot.

Floor Plan and Flooring Considerations

Your flooring might benefit from a change, perhaps to a very low pile indoor carpet, or a non skid tile. The bathroom of course and the means to hold on are going to also require some extra effort, installing grab bars, lower towel bars and some additional changes to the showers and sinks.

Pedestal sinks are nearly perfect since they permit the wheelchair bound person to place the chair beneath it. If you are willing to really work at the solutions and to find ways to help the elderly in your home, much of it can be accomplished without astronomical expenses.

The challenge is to create an environment where the handicapped or elderly can be self sufficient up to and including small things such as closets and shelves. You can find some answers here, at North Carolina State University in the center for Universal Design, as well as from Wright State University, who have a Rehabilitation Engineering Department which offers ideas and comments on building and renovating for those with special needs.

Stair Accessibility

Stairways can be a daunting task for those with disabilities, bad knees or joints. Stair lifts are a revolutionary invention that enables persons to glide up and down the stairs with ease.

Stairs pose a mobility challenge to people who rely on a wheel chair, but installing a stair lift may be just the solution.
Stairs pose a mobility challenge to people who rely on a wheel chair, but installing a stair lift may be just the solution.
Stair lifts work by using an electric or battery operated chair that attaches to the edge of your stairway. Newer, powered lift models can accommodate either straight or curved stairways giving you the option in any home.

Purchasing a stair lift may just be one of best purchase you can make in regaining your mobility freedom.

For those who rely on a wheel chair for mobility, wheel chair lifts are also available and very similar to standard stair lifts; rather then a chair, a folding platform enables a wheel chair to drive on with ease.

The units are battery operated and self charges when docked at either the top or bottom of the stairs, this prevents the possibility of being stuck during a power outage.

Stair lifts give your self and your loved ones peace of mind with the safety of a powered lift and regain your freedom.

Tips for Remodeling Your Home to Accommodate People with Special Needs or Disabilities

  • Add temporary ramps to make your home easier to enter and exit; that way you can easily remove them if you decide to sell the home and need to enhance its curb appeal.
  • When buying a home, consider how easily it might be made more accessible to wheelchair access or other special needs considerations; a home with only one floor will be much better than one with a lot of stairs and rooms up and downstairs.
  • If you have a small bathroom, consider increasing the size as this will make it much more accessible for wheelchair access and other special needs.
  • Replacing doorknobs with levers is a simple home upgrade to help disabled or elderly residents.
    Replacing doorknobs with levers is a simple home upgrade to help disabled or elderly residents.
    Start by doing the simplest things like changing door knobs to levers, adding a kitchen island on rollers that is lower than standard countertops and installing handles in places where additional support may be needed.
  • Doorways are a particular problem when it comes to wheelchair access; consider your home’s floor plan and traffic patterns to determine which doors may need to be replaced with wider doorways.
  • Set up at least one room in your home that is well stocked with games, books, a television and any other forms of entertainment that you or another person in your home who has special needs will enjoy and which will help them feel more active and engaged at home.

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