Creating a Safe Haven: Adapting Living Spaces for Caregiving

Mallory J Greene
Mallory J Greene
May 30th 2024 - 6 minute read
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Making home modifications is crucial for promoting independence, dignity and quality of life for your aging loved one. This guide covers key areas to assess and ways to adapt living spaces for maximum safety, accessibility and comfort during your caregiving journey.

One of the biggest challenges caregivers face is ensuring their loved one's home environment is safe, accessible, and designed to support their needs. When living spaces aren't suited for conditions like limited mobility, cognitive issues, or medical needs, it can lead to dangerous falls, stress, and difficulty with daily tasks.  

Making appropriate home modifications is crucial for promoting independence, dignity and quality of life for your loved one. It also provides immense peace of mind knowing potential hazards have been addressed and accounted for. While it may seem overwhelming initially, breaking it down room-by-room helps identify and execute an accessibility plan.  

This guide covers key areas to assess and ways to adapt living spaces for maximum safety, accessibility and comfort during your caregiving journey.  

The Entryway & Exterior

Ensuring safe access in and out of the home is critical. Potential modifications include:

  • Adding ramps or regrading areas for step-free entry
  • Installing railing along both sides of any steps
  • Increasing outdoor lighting along pathways
  • Placing non-slip surfaces at entrances
  • Constructing a covered/sheltered area for protection when entering/exiting
  • Building a low-rise front door threshold to prevent tripping
  • Making doorways wider to accommodate walkers/wheelchairs (aim for 32" minimum)
  • Installing automatic door openers or lever handles for easier opening

The Living Room

With the living room often serving as a main gathering space, you'll want to eliminate clutter and tripping hazards while maximizing accessibility:

  • Anchor or remove area rugs and secure loose carpet edges
  • Arrange and secure furniture to create clear, obstacle-free pathways
  • Install handrails along main pathways for support
  • Make sure sofas and chairs are at proper heights for getting up and down easily
  • Keep shelving, electronics and other items within easy reach
  • Implement smart lighting that can be controlled by voice, remote or motion
  • Install a chair lift or elevating seat for stairs if needed

The Kitchen

The kitchen presents both burn/fire hazards and accessibility challenges. Consider these modifications:

  • Replace stove knobs with easy-grip models
  • Install a fire extinguisher and automatic shut-off for the stove
  • Adjust counter heights or install roll-under counter areas for seated use
  • Lower cabinets and shelving to avoid excessive reaching/bending
  • Put in pull-out shelving and lazy susans for easier access
  • Add grab bars or railings around counters for stability
  • Use contrasting colors to define edges and boundaries
  • Switch to a side-by-side refrigerator with double doors
  • Install touch or motion-activated faucets
  • Choose appliances with easy-to-read, large print controls

The Bedroom

Creating a safe, comfortable sleep environment is vital. Make these bedroom adjustments as needed:

  • Use a low-height bed frame or adjustable bed for easy transfers
  • Add bedrails or a floor mat on either side of the bed
  • Choose bedding made from non-slip materials
  • Make sure a phone, emergency alert system or call button is within reach
  • Set up nightlights or motion-activated lighting for visibility
  • Clear paths to the bathroom and closets
  • Arrange furniture so there is enough open floorspace to accommodate walkers/wheelchairs
  • Install railings or grab bars along walls
  • Utilize a medical-grade trapeze system for repositioning if necessary

The Bathroom

Due to slippery surfaces and confined spaces, the bathroom calls for extra safety precautions:  

  • Install grab bars on walls, in the shower/tub area
  • Use non-slip mats or adhesive strips in the tub/shower
  • Add a shower chair, bench or adjustable handheld showerhead
  • Replace the tub with a walk-in/roll-in shower if possible
  • Get an elevated toilet or add toilet frame with arm supports
  • Install towel racks, shelving and other items within easy reach
  • Apply non-slip wax to floor surfaces or use anti-skid mats
  • Ensure good lighting over sinks, showers, entryway
  • Leave 5 feet of open space for walker/wheelchair accessibility
  • Use contrast colors to define spaces like shower/tub edges

General Home Adaptations

In addition to room-specific changes, there are overall precautions and home modifications:

  • Use bright, even lighting throughout and install night lights in hallways
  • Mark any elevation changes in floors with bright tape
  • Remove door sills/lips higher than ½" or bevel edges
  • Install ramps for any level changes or sunken living spaces
  • Secure handrails on both sides of stairways
  • Contemplate a stair lift or home elevator for multi-level homes
  • Adjust thermostat to keep homes cooler to prevent overheating
  • Create an open, clutter-free floor plan by eliminating furniture or storage
  • Switch to lever-style door handles which are easier to grip
  • Add personal alert system that connects to emergency contacts/services
  • Make sure smoke/carbon monoxide detectors are installed and working

Financing Home Modifications

One of the biggest obstacles to transforming living spaces can be the costs involved. However, there are various funding options and organizations that can help defray expenses:

  • Medicaid programs like Home & Community Based Services (HCBS) waivers
  • Medicare Advantage plans which cover certain home safety devices
  • Private health insurance may cover a percentage of the costs
  • The IRS allows tax deductions for some home modifications
  • Local non-profits and charities like Rebuilding Together offer assistance
  • VA benefits cover home adaptations for qualified veterans
  • Low-income housing rehabilitation grants from state/local governments
  • Reverse mortgage or home equity loan options  

Be sure to explore all possibilities as some renovations can be categorized as "medically necessary", making them more accessible to financial aid.

It Takes a Village

While this guide covers the key areas to address, every situation is unique based on your loved one's specific needs and challenges. Consulting professionals like occupational therapists, design experts, and experienced contractors is invaluable.  

Occupational therapists in particular can conduct a comprehensive home assessment to identify potential risks, make tailored recommendations, and ensure modifications follow best practices and safety guidelines.

Many modifications are DIY-friendly for caregivers with appropriate handyman skills. But others may require hired tradespeople such as electricians, plumbers or home remodeling professionals. Get estimates from multiple contractors and ask about any special discounts, financing plans or programs.

Patience and Planning are Critical

Preparing and adapting living spaces for caregiving can take significant time, planning and funding. But ensuring a safe, accessible environment is one of the most impactful investments you can make during this journey.  

Modify areas room-by-room based on priorities. Break bigger projects into phases if needed. And be willing to adapt accommodations as your loved one's abilities change over time.  

Most importantly, get your loved one's input every step of the way. Involving them ensures their autonomy and dignity are maintained. With open communication, creativity and the right resources, you can create a warm, welcoming and secure living space for your loved one to safely reside in.

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