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Home Modifications After A Stroke

Home modifications are an important part of post-stroke care for stroke survivors. Even minor strokes can be cause to make changes in the house after hospitalization.

By making changes to your home, you can make it easier and safer to perform your daily routines after a stroke. Some common home modifications include installing grab bars in the bathroom, adding a wheelchair ramp, and lowering countertops.

Additional changes can be anything from widening doorways to assistive devices. Anything that can help to give the stroke victim more independence in their daily lives.

In this article I’ll go over 14 different home modifications and assistive devices that you can consider to use to help any family member and the person coming home after suffering a stroke.

Just FYI – an Occupational Therapist or Certified Aging In Place Specialist who has expertise in Universal Design can perform a home safety assessment to further help you with your specific home situation.

How Can A House Prepare For A Stroke?

After you’ve seen the health professionals like the social worker, physical therapists, occupational therapists and maybe had a stint in speech therapy in the rehab unit, it’s time to come home. So, what needs to be done for you to be safe in your own home?

One of the very best ways is to make the kinds of changes in the house to accommodate any residual side effects you have from your stroke.

Home modifications are important for stroke patients, as they can help make the home more accessible and safe. The kinds of modifications that will be made in your home environment to welcome back someone who has suffered a stroke will depend greatly on the residual effects of that stroke.

…considering that around two-thirds of stroke survivors usually have some form of disability (per the National Stroke Association) in-home safety alterations may be necessary to make life throughout the stroke recovery process safer and easier.

Some seniors who suffer a mild stroke may only have some limited movement in using their affected hand and arm or they may only have problems with speech.

But other seniors may not be able to walk without assistance or a walker, they may not be able to bathe themselves or perform any daily activities like toileting, dressing, etc.

Stroke victims with one-sided weakness may have trouble performing everyday activities such as eating, dressing, and using the bathroom.

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But – to make a home with seniors a safe environment, the most basic modifications should include:

  • Removing all scatter rugs
  • Increasing lighting throughout the house
  • Moving furniture to allow for more space to maneuver around them
  • Avoid multi level homes or accommodate them by installing a stair lift or an elevator
  • Installing anti scalding devices throughout the house
  • Using adaptive equipment like shower bars, shower chairs and/or benches

The basic rule of thumb is to make the house as safe as possible not only for the person who has suffered the stroke, but for every senior in the home.

14 Home Modifications For Seniors

Here is our list of the top 14 home modifications that seniors who have suffered a stroke should make sure to implement. These would also apply to family caregivers who are looking to help their senior loved ones from having to move into an assisted living or out of their home.

You can always ask your physician for a referral for occupational therapy services to help you make specific modifications to your house.

1. Decluttering

The easiest and least expensive home modification that anyone can make is to declutter the living spaces. It’s always a good idea to simplify any living area and make it easier to be mobile especially if using a walker or cane.

Here are some easy steps to decluttering:

  • Make a list of all the rooms in the house and divide those rooms into sections.
  • Add each section to a calendar to help you STAY on track and disciplined to do the work.
  • If it’s too difficult to get rid of things – consider storing them in a storage unit or another person’s home.
  • Place all items to be donated in the car right away. Once the car is full of these items – take them to the location to be donated.
  • Throw away items immediately – do not place them in another pile to “think about it later”.
  • Having a friend or someone else to help you through the process can be very helpful.
  • Also – once the home has been decluttered make sure to do any home repairs that are needed to make it as safe as possible.
  • Make sure to use cord covers and have them tucked away to avoid tripping over them.
  • Don’t forget the outdoors. Make sure there are clear walkways to the house that are well lit during the night time.

2. Make Steps Safer

The next hurdle to take on is the project of making steps and stairways safer for the older residents of the home. The risk of falls is much greater for post-stroke patients.

There are basically 4 factors involved here:

  • Making the steps as non-slippery as possible – this could be as simple as installing stair treads or adding some anti slip material to the stairs.
  • Proper installation of handrails and possible additional handrails – this requires a little construction and maybe home repairs type of work but adding a second set of handrails or adjusting their height may be necessary.
  • Lighting – is the most undervalued aspect of home remodeling for seniors. Adding extra lights everywhere is important. Sensor lights throughout the home or using Alexa or Google home for voice activated commands to turn lights on and off can greatly help.
  • Adaptive equipment as needed (i.e. stair aids, stair lifts, etc.)– Stair lifts can be expensive but there are ways to pay for it and they can certainly be a safe way to hep an older adult navigate a staircase.

3. Widen Doorways

If you are going to be aging in place after a stroke, it’s important to accept the fact that you may – at some point – need a walker or a wheelchair and if that is the case, then it’s important to have doorways that are wide enough to accommodate them.

The doorways (interior and exterior) should be at least 32 inches wide – honestly – 40 inches would be better for most mobility devices used in everyday life after a stroke.

This width can easily accommodate a standard wheelchair or a standard walker.

When I did home assessments as an Occupational Therapist in South Florida where many seniors live in older condominiums – there were many times that we had to recommend a significant widening of a doorway or two just so my patient could go home and get into their kitchen and/or bathroom!

The new condos and assisted living facilities that many seniors live in today are more senior friendly for those aging in place.

4. Threshold Ramps

My mom-in-law once spent an agonizing 30 minutes trying to push her wheelchair over the threshold ramp that separated her bathroom from her bedroom.

We recommend replacing any threshold ramps with ones that are as thin as possible.

5. Non Slip Flooring

There are multiple products that can be used these days to make a floor less slippery.

If replacing your existing flooring is not an option – you can look into products by companies like Trusty-Step, Slip Doctors and SlipTec Solutions which all offer products that can be applied (like a varnish) onto existing flooring.

These work on ceramic tile, terrazzo, porcelain, quarry tile, fiberglass, brick, wood, concrete, marble, granite, vinyl and travertine tiles.

6. Bathroom Modifications

Every family caregiver should know that home modifications for seniors more than likely will certainly involve the bathroom.

Anyone who is coming home after a stroke should know that their bathrooms will probably need some universal design changes to make it safer for them.

There is more to a bathroom modification than just adding grab bars here and there.

Make sure to have as many of the following bathroom modifications made to make it a safer room for seniors.

  • Creating a barrier free walk in shower.
  • Alterations to the bathtub could include replacing it with a walk in tub or converting it to a cut out tub or installing a bathtub lift.
  • Using a shower chair in the shower stall.
  • Adding grab bars throughout the bathroom and toilet safety rails as needed (you can install grab bars on fiberglass, too). These may qualify as durable medical equipment so check with Medicare or Medicaid.
  • Replacing the toilet seat with a raised toilet seat (or replacing the toilet itself with a taller one or using a bedside commode).
  • Replacing all faucet levers with extended handles instead of knob types.
  • Adding or installing automatic soap dispensers.
  • Make the bathroom floor as anti slip as possible (either replace it with new anti slip flooring or add non slip products as I mentioned earlier).
  • Adding an anti scald device in your shower to help prevent scalding (skin of older adults tend to be thinner and more susceptible to hot water).
  • Installing a handheld shower head.
  • Replace your bathroom sink with a vanity that can accommodate a wheelchair.

7. Kitchen Modifications

Kitchens are probably the most remodeled rooms in any home so any home modification to a kitchen should include any of the following:

  • Lots of lighting – as we all grow older our vision diminishes naturally so it’s important to have plenty of available lighting everywhere, including the kitchen. Canned ceiling lights are great because you can have them installed throughout the ceiling, they offer clear bright light without shadows and you never have to dust them because they are built in to the ceiling.
  • Make cabinets easy to access – I recommend that upper cabinets have pull down shelves and that lower cabinets have pull out shelves and Lazy Susans to make it easier to access items. Today it seems that the trend is lower cabinets and shelves above the counters instead of cabinets. The one reason I don’t recommend this new trend is simply because all those items on those open shelves will require some cleaning at times and accessing those items may be hazardous.
  • Kitchen chairs – very important to use kitchen chairs that have no rolling coasters on them. If you need chairs that are easier to slide out then I recommend placing some furniture gliders under those chairs but still – make sure that the chair will NOT easily move away from you as you try to sit down or stand up.
  • Stove and oven safety – an auto shut off device is highly recommended and there are many options available these days to make stoves and ovens safer. If the person uses a gas stove, follow these safety tips.
  • Adaptive kitchen tools – if you only have the use of one hand after a stroke you can use tools such as a rocker knife, this one-handed paring board, this grater and peeler to help with meal preparation. Also, to make eating easier, plate guards may be needed. These are all a good way to continue working in the kitchen post stroke.

8. Wheelchair Ramps

Aging in place sometimes does mean installing ramps.

Normally, these are not installed until after someone requires them, usually for wheelchair access. But if you anticipate that you will be needing a ramp at any point – it’s a project to work on or at the very least, prepare for.

There are multiple types of ramps that can be used, permanent ones, portable ones, wooden ones, metal ones, etc.

But if you happen to live in a home where a wheelchair ramp is not possible – an option to consider an outdoor stair lift. A mobile stairlift is also another great option – they are portable and require no installation.

You may have to check with your Homeowner’s Association (HOA) to see if there are restrictions on what you can add to your property as far as ramps.

9. Lighting

As I mentioned above, it’s very important to have lots and lots of lighting throughout the home. It’s the one home modification that many older adults seem to forget about or ignore.

Canned lighting in the ceiling is the best (in my humble opinion) for anyone aging in place but of course, there are many other types of lighting that you can use as well.

  • Floor lamps (great as long as the lamp doesn’t cause extra clutter)
  • Plug in table lamps
  • Night lights
  • LED strip lights
  • Battery powered lights
  • Outdoor solar lights (don’t forget to add lighting outdoors)
  • Senior friendly light switches

10. Smart Home Devices

Aging in place is getting so much easier with all the amazing technology available today. As more and more devices become available, many older adults are incorporating them into their home remodeling projects. Any why not?

Those technological toys can make their lives easier and safer as they grow older and older in their homes.

Here’s a list of some of the smart home devices you may want to add to your home modifications list:

11. Senior Friendly Appliances

Senior friendly appliances are simply those that have built in safety guards and/or are very easy to use. It’s a fairly easy modification to do for anyone aging in place or for caregivers who have their senior parents living with them.

If you’re remodeling your home and replacing your old appliances with new ones and you plan to age in place, here are some senior friendly features to look for when choosing your new appliances.

  • Refrigerators – I have owned refrigerators with top freezers and side by side freezers. But I currently own a fridge with a bottom freezer and it’s the best one (in my opinion). It’s very easy to access things in that bottom drawer. Also, my fridge is counter depth (meaning it’s more shallow than a standard fridge) which makes it easier to reach for things in the back of the fridge. It also has pull out shelves and drawers which also makes it very easy to access items in there.
  • Custom programmable microwaves – You can customize these microwaves to your own preferences. So, if you like to boil your cup of water for your tea for 3 minutes, you can just create a “tea” button for 3 minutes.
  • Toaster ovens – My mother used her toaster oven much more than her oven because she was only cooking for herself. I would recommend one that has an auto shut off feature for safety.

Note: some smart appliances will also come in handy in an assisted living home.

12. Senior Friendly Door Handles

Another often overlooked senior home modification are door handles (and shower and faucet handles too).

The most senior friendly handles that we recommend are lever style handles. The reason is that they are much easier to press on and to handle, especially if you suffer from arthritic hands.

You can see a collection of lever handles here…

  • Door handles
  • Shower handles
  • Faucet handles

You can also just add doorknob extenders like these to your existing doorknobs.

13. Hallway

I have often recommended grab bars along hallways for seniors with mobility or balance issues.

And of course, it should be at least 32 inches wide (40 inches might be better) to accommodate using a walker or a wheelchair safely.

14. Making The Bed Safer

Making it easier to get into and out of bed as well as preventing falling out of bed is an absolute must (in my opinion) when it comes to home modification for aging in place.

This could include:

Whether you are an older adult looking to make the home modifications needed to age in place safely or you are a caregiver helping a senior loved one to stay in their home or perhaps moving into your home – all these recommendations will help to make the living spaces safer.

A home assessment by an Occupational Therapist or a Senior Home Safety Specialist will help you to make your own list of what is needed in your home as you grow older in the place that you love.

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