If you find your needs changing over time, perhaps after an operation or period of illness, you may find yourself struggling with tasks in your house which were once simple.
As we all grow older it might be necessary to make some changes at home to make it easier to get around.
You may need to make a few adaptations to your home to simplify your life or to assist an elderly relative that is coming to live with you.
It could be simple changes to start with, such as fitting lever taps in the kitchen, or hand rails around the place, or more major adaptations that could include installing a downstairs shower room, widening doorways, or even lowering the work tops in your kitchen.
Get a wireless doorbell and receiver
Never miss deliveries and visitors again with a wireless doorbell plus portable receiver that you can take with you, wherever you are in the house or the garden. If you find it a struggle to get to the door in time, some versions incorporate an entry phone or video intercom.
Add levered handles
Add lever taps to wash basins so they are easier to operate, and change door knobs to lever handles so they're easier to open and close.
Install a ramp
If you use a wheelchair, a ramp can help you get in and out of the house. If you live with other family members or a carer, a removable ramp that fits over outdoor steps is an instant solution. Otherwise one will have to be built by a specialist builder.
Fit remote controlled sockets
Are your electrical sockets at floor level? To avoid the disruption of getting them rewired to waist height, install remote controlled sockets instead. These plug into the existing wall sockets: get the grandchildren to scramble around and plug them in for you and then plug in the tv, radio etc as usual. Then you can use the battery-operated remote control to switch the sockets on and off. They can also be operated by smartphone.
Get an easy-to-read phone
Whether you prefer a conventional fixed telephone or a portable cordless phone both types are available in versions with large easy-to-read number keys – the keys’ size also makes them easier to press than smaller fiddly designs.
Install grab rails
Grab rails installed on the walls either side of the toilet make life a lot easier. If the layout of your bathroom means this isn’t possible, social services can provide a special frame that fits over the loo to create hand rails on either side. The frame can also be used to adapt the height of the loo by adding a raised seat on top of the existing one, making it easier to sit down and get up again.
Do you have steps up to your front or back door? Having a rail installed will make them easier to use. If they are steep, consider having the flight of steps rebuilt at a shallower angle. Add a grab rail beside the door to help you over the doorstep.
Add a bath lift
If a long hot soak in the tub is your idea of heaven there’s no need to give up on it: a bath lift will help you get in and out safely. Typical designs use an inflatable/deflatable cushion or a type of sling to raise and lower you. The big advantage is that they can be fitted to your existing bath.
Get a shower seat
Already got a walk-in shower cubicle? Add a shower seat and grab rails for safety. If there isn’t enough room, consider making the cubicle bigger, if possible.
Invest in a rise and recline armchair
A rise and recline armchair puts an end to struggling to get out of a comfy chair. Most designs have a handheld control that operates a moveable seat, backrest and footrest. When you want to get up, the seat tips forward – gently! – making it easier for you to stand. Bear in mind the chair needs to be near an electric socket and it will also be larger than a conventional armchair.
Get a pill dispenser
If you’re liable to get in a muddle about any pills you are taking, a dispenser can help. The simplest are boxes with flip lids labelled for the days of the week that you fill yourself. The next step up are ‘dosette’ boxes that also have compartments for the time of day.
The most sophisticated are wireless electronic versions where the pills are pre-loaded by your pharmacist and then the dispenser beeps and/or flashes when it’s time to take your medication. A carer can even access the dispenser remotely to check that you’ve taken your pills.
Buy an adjustable bed grab rail
An adjustable grab rail can help you sit up in bed and also get in and out of bed more easily. The rail attaches to the bedframe and is best positioned close to the head of the bed. Some versions feature handles on both sides of the bed, some on just one.
Make your garden safer
Don’t neglect the outside of your home. Ensure you have bright lighting, widen pathways and clear shrubs and clutter to ensure you have a nice clear route in and out of your home.
Assess your living areas
Declutter so it is easier to move around. Pay particular attention to the areas you use most, removing rugs and things you could trip on.
If you need to, change the layout of your house. If you are unable to manage the stairs, do you have room to move your bed downstairs? Is a toilet easily accessible from where you sleep?
Get a care assessment
These suggestions for making your house more accessible are low cost and simple to install, but if you’re unsure what would be best for you or an ageing parent, ask your local social services for a free care assessment. An occupational therapist will visit your home and make recommendations. To find out what to expect, read our guide to having a visit from an occupational therapist.
An occupational therapist will visit your home to assess how you can be helped. If social services decide you do need help, most small home adaptations under £1,000 are provided free of charge – for example, grab rails, or ramps. (More substantial work – such as installing a downstairs bathroom, installing a wet room or even building an extension – can be funded by a means-tested disabled facilities grant.)
How to pay for accessible home improvements
Government funding and grants
There is financial assistance available from local authorities depending on where you live, that can help with the cost. Your local authority in England will normally provide you with disability equipment and small adaptations costing less than £1,000 free of charge, as long as you’ve been assessed as needing it and you are eligible.
You may have to pay towards disability equipment and minor adaptations if you live in Wales, but the amount you’re asked to pay must be reasonable and based on your financial circumstances.
If you live in Scotland, your local council will usually provide you with essential equipment or adaptations costing less than £1,500, free of charge.
Equipment from the council will usually depend on an assessment from an occupational therapist, physiotherapist or district nurse.
For major adaptations to make your home accessible, you will normally have to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant, paid by your local authority up to a maximum of £30,000 in England, £25,000 in Northern Ireland and £36,000 in Wales.
Older people who are cash poor often use the value of their homes to help pay for home improvements.
Equity release is a popular way to fund spending in retirement when income and savings are limited. Rising house prices also mean that homeowners have a growing pool of equity at their disposal and can still keep a large proportion of the value of their house intact.
More people are turning to equity release as a way to raise cash in retirement, according to figures from the Equity Release Council. The total value of equity release lending reached £3.89 billion in 2020.
Of course, equity release is not right for everyone. There are charges to consider, that eat into your equity, and other options to explore. Don’t forget to consider what your local authority might offer for essential home adaptations as outlined above.
Read our guide to equity release
Is Equity Release right for you? Find out more here
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