In the wake of a serious injury or illness, you’ve got a lot on your plate, and we’re not just talking about nasty hospital food. You’ll be dealing with physical therapy, a change of perspective, and a reassessment of your goals and priorities.But what happens when it’s time to go home?
If you’ve become mobility-challenged due to injury or illness, you’ll likely need to make some adjustments to your property to remain independent. Some of those changes will be temporary, but others might be permanent. A few might be small do-it-yourself projects, but most will require you to bring in a contractor who specializes in accessibility remodels.
Safer, Smoother Outdoor Walkways
Have a good look at your home’s access points. Do you have steps leading to your front door or garage entry? Are there steps along the walkway to your home, or difficult-to-manage surfaces? You might need to alter the hardscaping around your home if your vision, balance, or lower-body motor functions prevent you from safely navigating your way inside.
You might need to construct an access ramp, even if your condition is temporary. And once you get to your front door, how easily can you get through?
Accessible Interior and Exterior Doorways
You might need to expand your landing if you’ll be in a chair or motorized scooter, and widen at least one exterior access door as well as your interior doorways. Keyed entry pads and automated lighting are popular upgrades, and automatic doors with lowered or contoured thresholds work well for those who use mobility aids.
Interior door configurations often require a switch to pocket doors. If knob handles pose a challenge, you’ll want to consider replacing them with lever-style door fixtures.
Oh…and windows! You can’t forget the windows, especially if you appreciate fresh breezes. Crank-open models or those that can be operated with an extension pole are an improvement over double-hung windows that take a pro-wrestler to heave open.
Appropriate Flooring Surfaces
Have you developed a sensitivity to pollen, mold, dander, or dust? You’ll want to remove your carpets, or at least have them regularly shampooed by a reputable carpet cleaner. (If you have severe environmental sensitivity, you might need to make a lot more changes…paint, upholstery, wood finishes, window treatments, and so on.)
If you’ll be in a chair or require a walker, you might opt for smooth flooring.
The reverse is true for those who are at risk of falls. Thick carpet padding and low-pile textiles are safer for the elderly or those who have extreme vertigo.
Efficient Storage and Worktops
You’ll need to find a way to declutter your home if you have a lot of furniture or an inefficient storage system. Keeping your room layouts and interior pathways simple and clear will make your home more navigable and will reduce trip-and-fall hazards.
Building shelves, cabinets, and countertops at heights that better suit your accessibility needs will help keep you active, organized, and independent, and it might be necessary to upgrade or adjust the location of your kitchen and laundry appliances so you can safely and efficiently use them.
Don’t forget about your hobby areas! It’s important to your mental and physical health that you keep up with your passions, so factor in your potting shed, workbench, fly-tying table, or sewing room when you budget your home remodel.
User-Friendly Bathroom Upgrades
You’ve probably seen the ads for walk-in tubs. There’s a reason why they’re so popular! When you have balance issues, or your knees or pelvis won’t let you step over high-sided standard tubs, you’ll understand.
If you have a walk-in shower, you’ll probably do fine with a portable shower chair, but as with your toilet area and tub, you’ll need to install handrails. A second shower head with a hand-held option, placed lower down the wall, is a necessity for those who can’t stand up in the shower.
And if you’re in a chair, you might need to expand your bathroom to be able to get around without help.
Power Within Reach: Relocate Electrical Fixtures
Can you reach your electrical outlets? How about your light switches and thermostat? Do you have enough overhead lighting? You might find your situation to be the perfect excuse to get one of those high-tech home automation systems everyone’s talking about, but you’ll still want “analog” controls at the right height and with the right ergonomics. We’ve all seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, right?
Expanding Ground-Level Spaces…And Your Options
If you have a multi-level home, and you’re determined to stay put, you’ll want to make the most of your ground floor. Even if you install a stair lift, you’ll want to update the area where most of the action takes place.
Here are some of the reasons you might want to knock down some walls:
- Install an ADA-compliant bathroom
- Relocate your master bedroom to the ground floor
- Build out a solarium for a safe indoor/outdoor transition space (and make sure you’re getting lots of natural light for mood stabilization)
- Make up for lost useable space after widening hallways and kitchen areas
- Add a caregiver’s suite
You’ll need to check your local building codes to find out how much you can expand your home, and if the restrictions don’t work in your favor, you could possibly convert all or part of your attached garage to living space.
Outdoor Living Areas
We’ve already covered walkways and entries, but how about your outdoor recreation spaces? Custom-built barbecues, accessible hot tubs and swimming pools, and raised-bed gardens aren’t necessarily luxuries. Neither are landscape lighting and special modifications to your patio or deck. Whether you’re entertaining or just relaxing at home, your outdoor environment should be an asset to your overall wellness.
It’s likely that you’ll be sticking close to home while you get acquainted with your physical challenges, so every square inch of your property should inspire you to stay engaged and active.
Resources for Your Home Retrofit
You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a contractor who specializes in ADA-compliant home remodels. The aging Baby-Boomer demographic is more active and independent than previous generations, and many are finding it more economical to retrofit and live in their existing homes for as long as possible than it is to relocate to assisted living communities. Many contracting firms now focus exclusively on accessibility remodels.
Following are some links to get you on the path to tailoring your home to your new lifestyle.
- American Elder Care Research Organization: Financing ADA Upgrades
- Easter Seals: Accessible Kitchen Design
- National Association of Home Builders: Aging-in-Place Remodeling
Another way to help you and your home make the transition to independent living is to invest in a contingency plan. Supplemental insurance policies, such as those for hospitalization, accidental injuries, critical illness, and disability offset the costs of home remodels through cash payouts. There’s no need to justify your decision to install an indoor therapeutic lap pool or outdoor bocce court; the money’s yours to spend as you see fit.
We’re more likely to grow old than we are to experience a serious injury or illness. Either way, having a plan to adapt our homes to our changing bodies is a wise move. What’s yours?