Staying Put: Making Your Home Fit Changing Needs

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**This is the second in a three-part series about adapting your home to your family’s changing needs. Existing houses can be modified to provide comfort, convenience, safety, and an attractive living environment for persons with limited mobility, poor vision, or hearing problems.

You or another family member can handle some modifications, but some changes may require professional assistance. Entrances and steps are two places that need to be adapted. Here’s how:

The front entry of your house should be protected from the weather by a roof overhang or porch. The entry area should have a slip-resistant surface and be at least 5 by 5 feet. Floors inside and outside the entry door should be on the same level, and door thresholds should be as flat as possible. Screen or storm doors can be difficult to open and should be removed whenever possible. You may have to adjust or change weather stripping if the door is hard to close.

When there are too many steps to climb or steps are too high, you may want to add a portable or permanent ramp. Ramps must be shallow in slope. Ramps should have handrails, slip-proof surfaces and edge protection.

All steps in a series should have the same tread width and riser height. Single steps and open risers can be safety hazards. Close off open risers with strips or pieces of wood. Surfaces of all treads should be non-slip, and the color of the stairs should contrast the color of any pavement or floor around the stairs. Lighting will also make stairs much safer.

Wheelchair use in the home calls for larger doorway openings.

You will need at least a 32″ clear opening to roll a wheelchair through a doorway. Ways to make an existing doorway wider include removing the door temporarily, installing swing-away hinges, reversing the swing of the door to allow it to open wider, removing some or all of woodwork around door, or replacing an existing door with wider one.

Homeowners with two-story homes may want to consider electric stair lifts, which provide a seat for moving from first to second floors, or a chair lift, which provides a platform for an occupied wheelchair to be moved between floors. Again, one must compare costs and benefits of remaining in the home against the costs of facility care in a nursing or assisted living home.

Resource: Lifestyle Housing, NCSU Cooperative Extension