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6 Quick Home Improvements When Someone Suddenly Needs Extra Care

A fall, illness or medical problem can require upgrades for safety and accessibility

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Nancy Loud has lived in her Arlington, Massachusetts, home for almost six decades and has no plans to move, but a fall while getting out of the shower made the 86-year-old realize that, for her own safety, she needed to make some updates.​

​“It was a big shift in how I looked at my home,” she admits. ​

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​Instead of installing a walk-in shower, adding a full bath on the main floor or investing in other major renovations, Loud focused on quick and simple updates: She hired a handyman to install grab bars in the shower, purchased a shower chair and a raised toilet seat, and requested estimates for a stair lift chair to access the second floor. Loud feels like these easy fixes have helped her retain her independence.​

​Making home modifications is a common theme for the 77 percent of adults over 50 who want to remain in their homes over the long term, according to the latest AARP survey.​

​Whether you’ve started feeling unsteady or a loved one has suffered an injury that requires additional accommodations, these six quick, easy fixes can make your home safer and more accessible — no major renovations required.​

1. Add grab bars

Handicapped disabled access bathroom bathtub with grab bars.
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​Falls are the leading cause of injuries among adults over 65, and soapy, wet, slippery surfaces in the bathroom increase the risk. Installing grab bars in the shower can help, according to Kurt Clason, president of Clason Remodeling Company and a certified aging-in-place specialist through the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers.​

​In addition to installing grab bars in the shower, consider adding them around the toilet, too. ​

​“If you have balance issues, grab bars can help you pull yourself up or, for the guys, steady yourself while you’re standing,” Clason adds.​

​Clason also suggests purchasing a shower chair, a raised toilet seat and a handheld shower wand to improve bathroom safety. Loud ordered these items online and had them shipped straight to her door.​

2. Swap the doorknobs 

man repairing the doorknob
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​Conditions including stroke, peripheral neuropathy and chronic fatigue or even using certain medications can cause muscle weakness that may make it difficult to turn interior and exterior doorknobs. Clason suggests switching from traditional round knobs to levers. ​

​“You may not have the strength to grab and twist [round doorknobs],” he says. “With a lever, you can use an elbow or even your hip to open the door.”​

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​Switching to levers is a simple DIY project that involves unscrewing the old knobs (leaving the metal plate surrounding the hole where the latch connects intact) and screwing on the new ones.​

3. Rearrange the furniture 

​Converting a den or another main-floor space into a bedroom might be necessary if a sudden injury makes it difficult to climb the stairs. ​

​To make a main-floor bedroom as comfortable and safe as possible, Elena Volpi, M.D., director of the Sealy Center on Aging at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, suggests removing area rugs to prevent tripping and adding night-lights for middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. Make sure furniture including side tables, footstools, benches and storage items are removed from the path to the bathroom, for example.​

4. Upgrade the bed

​The ability to elevate your head or feet (or both) can help with back, hip and knee pain, make it easier to breathe with conditions like congestive heart failure and help reduce swelling from edema, Volpi says.​

​In most cases, the adjustable beds sold at furniture stores are sufficient, but certain health conditions may necessitate a hospital bed. ​

​“Hospital beds may be necessary … if you’re at risk of rolling out of bed [or have] pressure sores and need a specialized mattress and more options for changing position or for inclining the entire bed,” she explains.​

​You’ll need to purchase or rent a hospital bed through a home health agency or another approved vendor. Insurance may cover the cost. ​

​Adding bed rails to your current bed could also provide additional support and peace of mind. You can buy or rent bed rails through medical supply companies, Volpi says.​

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5. Install a ramp

​Building a wooden wheelchair ramp can be a major undertaking that requires permits and hours of labor. If you need to quickly install a ramp to access the front door with a wheelchair or walker, an aluminum ramp is good alternative. ​

​“They are great for emergencies,” Clason says. “They go up fast and are super stable.”​

​You can often rent aluminum ramps and, depending on local building codes, you may not need a permit to install one, since it’s not a permanent structure. That also means the ramp can be easily folded up and returned when it’s no longer needed.​

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6. Invest in a stair lift chair

man sitting in stair lift chair at the bottom of stairs
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​Loud knows that installing a stair lift chair is the safest way for her to go from her home’s main floor to the second story, and she’s vetting contractors to install the device. ​

​“It’s not as expensive as you might think,” she says.​

​The simple construction project can also prolong your ability to age in an existing home. ​

​“Chair lifts … are another option to maintain the independence of people who cannot climb stairs and do not wish or cannot convert a first-floor room into a bedroom,” Volpi says. “The ability to age in place is the goal when making your home safer and more accessible.”​