This article is written by Jacklyn Donalds.
We’ve all experienced days when accomplishing even the simplest of everyday tasks can prove to be a struggle. Chronic illness is commonly associated with discomfort, pain and fatigue. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can present these in addition to mobility and coordination challenges, which can make daily tasks difficult on a regular basis.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), six out of ten adults in the US have a chronic disease, one out of four live with some type of disability, and only .73% of housing units with a resident wheelchair user is actually fully wheelchair accessible. When faced with mobility challenges, the accessibility of a given environment is a major determining factor in how engaged and active you’re able to be. This is especially important in the home, where you should have the most peace of mind.
Luckily, there are some relatively simple steps that can be taken around the house that can help you conserve energy and accomplish tasks more efficiently.
How to Make Your Home More Accessible
Outside and Around the Home
MS can be unpredictable, and symptoms come and go. Flare ups, or exacerbation, vary from person to person, and even from one flare up to another. Common symptoms of an exacerbation can include trouble with balance and severe fatigue.
The ability to comfortably move inside from outside, whether or not you’re experiencing a flare up, is the first step toward enjoying your home. Equally important, is the ability to enjoy any outdoor areas or yards that might surround your place. Edged paths through any yards with firm and level surfaces are ideal for wheelchair or walker traffic, and can keep plants and grass from creating tripping hazards. Often the most significant barrier to people with MS and limited mobility getting into and out of the home is the entrance itself. Installing a ramp is a good way to make an entryway accessible, and there are many different types to choose from, depending on your needs.
Safe and Accessible Inside the Home
Constant fatigue is common for people with MS and many other chronic illnesses. This tiredness can impact all aspects of life, including making getting up to answer the door a major undertaking, sometimes taking long enough for your visitor or delivery person to give up. A “smart doorbell” can offer a greater sense of security in the home, as well as enable you to see and communicate with anyone who comes to your door using your smartphone, when answering the door isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Being mindful of surfaces inside the home is a very important part of making sure your space is as accessible as possible. Hardwood floors, although slicker than carpeted floors, can be easier to navigate with a wheelchair, walker, or cane. On the other hand, if you get around unassisted, but experience balance issues or are sometimes unsteady on your feet, smooth, even carpeting might offer some security and traction without being hazardous or obstructive. Thick rugs are usually good to avoid, as they can slip and slide around, catch wheels, and pose a tripping danger. Replace rugs that slide around easily, especially in bathrooms, with mats with grip to avoid slipping threats.
Cables and wires are easy to trip over, but can be organized and stored or tucked away neatly to avoid hassle or injury.
Matters of Convenience
Making sure your entire house is easy to use can seem challenging. However, with some fairly simple adjustments, life around the home can be made much more chronic illness-friendly. Although the standard width for a doorway is approx 36″, many interior door frames (closets and bathrooms, for example) tend to be on the narrower side. Widening these doorways is a great way to provide accessibility, but can cost up to $1,000, which isn’t practical for everyone.
A far less expensive alternative could be replacing existing door hinges with offset hinges, which allows any door to swing clear of the opening and widens the doorway by two inches, allowing walkers and wheelchairs to pass through freely. Standard, round door knobs can be tricky with chronic dexterity/grip issues or coordination issues, and can easily be replaced with push or pull bars or lever handles, vastly increasing accessibility and comfort.
Chronic illness can make reaching up to search for things and extending to pull them down from high shelves both physically difficult and exhausting. Cabinets throughout the home can be reorganized so that most frequently used items inhabit lower shelves and are constantly within reach.
The same idea can be applied to closets by lowering the bars used for hanging clothes, and using lower shelves for every day articles. Wire or plastic drawers are ideal in closet spaces because they provide visibility as to the contents of each, and are easy to open and close. If mobility is an issue, positioning any dressers within reach of the bed or a bench, and placing them to allow comfortable access to drawers can save energy and frustration when getting in and out of bed and getting dressed.
Bathrooms and Kitchens
Bathrooms can be tricky to make fully accessible depending on whether you rent or own, and how much money you’re able to spend on alterations. Studies demonstrate that over 50% of people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) fall in a three to six-month period, and around 30% to 50% fall multiple times. Slip proof flooring or slip proof mats are important, especially in the bathroom, since surfaces tend to get wet. Grab bars and/or rails are essential for stability when getting in and out of the shower or bath, and in the shower to aid with standing for long periods.
A shower bench can also be a lifesaver when things like standing for long periods are difficult. Installing a toilet riser with bars can help to alleviate stress on knees, muscles and joints, and can make getting on and off easier overall. This can cost up to about $50.
In the kitchen, arranging appliances near sinks and counters can make performing tasks easier, as well as shifting commonly used items into lower, easily-accessible cabinets and shelves.
Making your living space can be an investment, but the quality of life improvements are priceless.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like: