Apr 13, 2010 5:24 PM
People of any age can have trouble getting around the house - a teenager recovering from a sports injury, a baby boomer in rehab from a heart attack or surgery, an elderly person with arthritis or balance problems. Whether your limited mobility is temporary or permanent, there are many things you can do to make your home safer and your life easier.
Modifying your home can be as simple as rearranging some furniture or putting in a few handrails in strategic locations. This room-by-room guide focuses on simple solutions to creating a safe haven. But it also includes more substantial measures that can be worthwhile if you have long-term mobility issues.
Building entrances can be safety hazards, especially in bad weather. And when it's difficult to get around, even a step or two can seem like a mountain. Make sure the path from the street to your front door is well lit and clear of objects.
If you have stairs, make sure there's a sturdy handrail -- on both sides, if that helps. "Adding a second banister on the other side can make a huge difference, especially if one side of the body is more impaired than the other," says Carla A. Chase, EdD, assistant professor of occupational therapy at the Western Michigan University College of Health and Human Services in Kalamazoo.
Even if there's just one step that is difficult to negotiate at the front door, consider installing a grab bar. You can also rent a ramp for walkers and wheelchairs if you need a temporary solution.
You can be kitchen savvy with simple solutions that minimize stretching, bending, lifting, and carrying:
Four minor adjustments can have a major impact in the living room:
Your bedroom is your sanctuary. To keep it that way:
Bathrooms are hot spots for falls and injuries. Fortunately, many bathroom safety measures are simple and inexpensive:
Substantial home modifications can get pricey. But they can also be worthwhile investments for long-term mobility issues. Here are some common problems and solutions for better mobility and fewer falls.
Outside. Is there a high curb that's difficult to step over? Look into having it cut down. Is the garage door sticking or too heavy to lift? Consider an automatic door. Are stairs a big problem? Covering them with a ramp can offer easier mobility if you use a walker or wheelchair.
Narrow doorways. Most wheelchairs and walkers require an opening at least 36 inches wide. If you only need another inch or two of clearance in your doorway, you can replace conventional door hinges with double-jointed "swing-away" hinges. If privacy is not important, you can also remove the door altogether. In other cases, you may need to widen doorways or install pocket doors.
Uneven floor surfaces. It's best to replace thick carpets with dense, low-pile carpet or leave the floors uncovered if you have mobility problems. Hardwood floors are the ideal choice. Replace high doorway thresholds between rooms with low, beveled ones, or simply remove them.
Getting up and down. If it's impossible to avoid stairs in your home, consider getting a lift: a stair lift, wheelchair lift, or elevator. A ceiling-mounted lift can also help people with limited mobility move from places such as a bed, floor, or toilet.
Control-free lighting. Consider installing motion- or sound-activated lights in the bedroom or anywhere you need quick lighting or have difficulty reaching switches. "Something like 'the Clapper' sounds silly, but it can be very useful," Van Oss says.
Limited hand and finger mobility. Consider replacing conventional faucet handles in the kitchen and bathroom with easy-to-use levers. You might also equip cabinet doors with D-shaped handles.
Bath safety solutions. Glass tub or shower doors can be a big safety hazard. A shower curtain (hung from a spring-loaded pole) is safer in case of a fall. It also affords more room to get in and out of the tub or shower. A walk-in or roll-in shower with a sturdy seat are ideal. For extra safety and convenience while bathing, use a hand-held showerhead.