Ways to make Tasks Easier Around the Home

September, 2012 TSG_PTIMG_lamp

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 adapted 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.

 Download the Adapting your home information guide (PDF 2 MB)

Access to your home
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.

Contact your local authority social services department to find out what assistance is available with adaptations to help you access your home.

Answering the door
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.

Disabled Living Centres stock a wide range of products that you can try to see if they might be useful.  Disability Living Centre website

Moving around your home
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.

Getting up and down stairs
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 up and dressed
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.

Contact your local authority social services department to request an assessment of your needs and for information about sources of assistance in your area.

Washing, bathing and using the toilet
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.

Contact the  Disabled Living Foundation for details of equipment available to make life easier in the bathroom and toilet.

In the kitchen
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.

The  Disabled Living Foundation has details of equipment to make life easier in the kitchen.

Living with sight problems
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.

The  RNIB website provides in-depth information on what is available, how to get hold of items and lots of practical advice on living with sight problems.

Living with hearing loss
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.

Visit the  RNID website for information about these and other types of products available for people with hearing loss.

Dual sensory impairment
Many older people experience loss of both sight and hearing.

For information on the particular issues raised by dual sensory impairment, or deafblindness, and suggestions on how to maintain independence visit the  Sense website, a national charity working in this field.

New technology
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
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. Contact the  Disabled Living Foundation for a factsheet on community alarms.

Help from the local authority
Contact your local authority social services department if you want help with finding out about and paying for the provision of disability equipment and adaptations. Most older people are eligible for an assessment of their needs.

If you have a carer, they are entitled to be included in the assessment, and they are also entitled to an assessment in their own right.

You will be assessed either by a care manager or an occupational therapist (OT), depending on the level of your needs. The local authority will have eligibility criteria that identify the help they will provide for particular needs. This may include equipment, adaptations and practical support with domestic tasks and personal care, all intended to help you carry on living independently in your home for as long as possible.

Some equipment and smaller adaptations are provided free of charge. For larger adaptations, the local authority may assist you in applying for a grant from the housing department.

If you do not qualify for assistance from the local authority, or you prefer not to use them, similar services may be available through private agencies or local voluntary organisations.

Help with the costs of equipment and adaptations
All community equipment and adaptations costing less than £1000 are provided and fitted free of charge if the local authority has assessed you as needing them.

These can include small works such a grab rail, short ramps, dropped curbs, lever taps, and internal and external lighting.

This type of adaptation will usually be recommended by an occupational therapist following an assessment visit. Its main advantage is that it can be carried out relatively promptly to meet urgent needs, unlike a Disabled Facilities Grant-funded adaptation which may take months to process and complete.

The Government intends to integrate the provision of equipment and adaptations into personal and individual budgets, a new way of funding care services that is being introduced in local authorities.

Contact your local Age Concern / Age UK for information about sources of assistance in your area or you can contact your local authority social services department directly.

Disabled Facilities Grants
For larger adaptations (costing more than £1000) the main source of financial assistance is a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG).

The grant is paid by the local authority housing department but the social services department is the first point of contact when applying. A DFG will usually only be paid for work that a local authority occupational therapist has assessed you as needing to have done.

The application must also be approved by the housing department. The local authority has a mandatory duty to provide DFG funding in certain circumstances.

Both home owners and tenants can apply for a DFG. The grant is means-tested and your savings and capital may affect how much funding you are awarded. There is also an upper limit on the amount that can be awarded in a grant, although local authorities may agree to top this up in some circumstances.

Contact your local authority social services department for more information.

Home Improvement Agencies
Home Improvement Agencies (HIAs) (sometimes called Care and Repair or Staying Put) are not-for-profit organisations that help people who are older, disabled or on low incomes to repair, improve or adapt their homes. They assist homeowners and private tenants. Council tenants should contact their local housing office to request an adaptation or to report a maintenance issue.

HIA schemes usually offer practical help with tasks such as arranging a survey, getting estimates for the work, applying for local authority assistance (including Disabled Facilities Grants) and /or loans and supervising the work to completion.

Some HIAs run a ‘handyperson’ scheme that provides help with small repairs. These may reduce risk in the home, for example fitting rails to prevent falls, and improve safety, security, and energy efficiency.

Even if you can afford to pay for the work yourself, you can take a lot of the worry out of organising it by using a HIA.

If there is no HIA in your area, the local authority may run a handyperson scheme of its own. Schemes are also often run by other organisations and local charities such as Age UK.

To find out whether there is a HIA in your area, contact your local Age UK / Age Concern, your local authority housing department or visit Foundations, the national coordinating body for Home Improvement Agencies.

Other ways of funding adaptations
If you need funds for repairs and improvements to your house, it is advisable to check first if your local authority can help you.

You may find you are not eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant following the means test or you may be asked to make a significant contribution to the cost of eligible works. You may also wish to adapt your home without using the services of the local authority. In these cases you may wish to contact a Home Improvement Trust.

Home Improvement Trusts operate the Houseproud scheme in partnership with local authorities to help older homeowners release some of the equity tied up in their home to fund repairs, improvements and adaptations. This enables older homeowners to obtain extra capital and /or income from their homes while continuing to live there.

Before you commit yourself to this type of scheme you should take independent financial and legal advice. There may be charities or trust funds that can help with the cost of smaller repair work. Contact Age UK Advice on 0800 169 6565 for further information on equity release schemes and sources of financial help.

Moving to more suitable accommodation
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.

The report will be for your use and also, if appropriate, for the use of the local authority or housing association.

Sourced form AgeUK

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