Is Your Home Wheelchair Friendly?

December 2, 2013
Making your home wheelchair friendly can add a new level of independence

Making your home wheelchair friendly can add a new level of independence

Aging parents and their caregivers may find that many home adaptations for elderly must be made in order to accommodate an independent lifestyle.  Often a home must accommodate a wheelchair, either short term or long term.

Here are a few ideas can that help adapt a home that may not require a major demolition or remodel:

  • Maintain living space.  People in wheelchairs (and the people who handle those chairs) have a difficult time with stairs.  Most are not fortunate enough to have an elevator or other lift to take the wheelchair from one floor of a house to another, so consolidating as much of the person’s activities as possible on one floor is desirable. If your loved one’s bedroom is on one floor and the living room, dining room, and kitchen are on another, consider the possibility of moving the bedroom to the more central floor.  If that is not possible, come up with a system for keeping books and other “daytime” items on the main floor.
  • Lower closet rods. Sitting in a wheelchair and reaching into the closet to pull out a dress or sweater can be challenging; drag a chair over to the closet, sit down and see for yourself.  Try lowering the rods so that Mom can still look through and pick out clothes while in her wheelchair.
  • Find a new place for hygiene products.  Because bathrooms tend to be among the smaller rooms in a house, they are tricky to navigate in a wheelchair.  The problem is compounded if toothbrushes are hanging in racks that are hard to reach or if shaving cream is kept in inaccessible medicine cabinets.  See whether there are other options for storing hygiene products, perhaps in a small basket that your loved one can easily reach from a wheelchair.
  • Raise it up.  Wheelchair users often struggle to remove items from the floor, and may potentially tumble out of their chairs while attempting such a feat. Keep items that your loved one needs on a low table or shelf. Also, if your loved one has always been an avid gardener, he or she may no longer be able to tend to ground-level flower beds. Investigate the possibility of creating a raised-bed garden so that your loved one can continue to indulge his or her green thumb.
  • Keep ‘em cooking.  If Grandma is a great cook, don’t let her new wheelchair keep her from making her killer lasagna.  Look into getting an oven with a door that opens to the side, rather than up and down.  Find places to keep her most frequently used pots, pans, utensils, and spices within easy reach.  Check the refrigerator to make sure that the foods and drinks that Grandma needs are on “just right” shelves – not too high, not too low.
  • Add a basket. Taking care of elderly patients involves little things, such as making sure the wheelchair has some kind of basket attached to it. This will make it easier for Dad to do little things; for example, he can put his book in his basket and move from room to room without having to worry that it will slide off of his lap.

These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg.  If you are taking care of elderly patients who use wheelchairs, there are many other things, both large and small, that you can do to make a home more accommodating.

Be sure to ask your loved one what he or she needs to make things easier.  You can learn some surprising things that way!  Also, check out websites such as the National Association Home Builders for tips on aging in place.

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