Life with MS

Preparing Your Home for a Mobility Aid

By Gay Falkowski

Your new mobility aid will work best in a home that’s been modified to help you and your device move more safely and easily throughout. If making your entire home completely accessible costs more than your budget allows, it may help to know that equipment, and installation, required because of a disability, can be tax deductible within IRS rules and guidelines. Get a letter from your prescribing physician, and keep a copy of your prescription on file.  
A builder who knows about accessibility guidelines and has experience in this area can best advise you regarding the types of structural changes your home will need, such as widening doorways or hallways to accommodate wheelchairs. You may also discuss a home safety evaluation with your doctor, to be performed by a home health occupational therapist. Occupational therapists are experts in helping people with disabilities maximize their independence by making lifestyle and environmental adaptations.
However, there are many improvements you can make on your own. Here are four important areas to review as you prepare for better mobility in your home.
1) Clutter
• De-cluttering and getting organized is a good first task in improving mobility in the home.
• Dirty laundry piled on the floor, spills that aren’t cleaned up, shoes scattered by the doorway, stacks of old magazines ready to topple. Clutter is a hazard in any situation, but mobility aids add to the risk because the extra legs and wheels meant to help steady you can get destabilized by the clutter.
• As you determine where things belong, it can be helpful to plan where to store your mobility aid when not in use. Canes can be especially difficult to keep up with. Having a special spot for your cane in places where you tend to settle, such as the bedroom or living room, helps you remember where to find it when you’re ready to move on.
• Pets aren’t ‘clutter,’ but, like clutter, pets can get underfoot and cause falls. Adding a bell on your pet’s collar alerts you when your furry friend is nearby.

2) Lighting
• All areas of the home where you’ll be navigating should be well lit. Sometimes redirecting existing light sources can achieve this, or you may need to add some new lamps or fixtures.
• Those using wheelchairs or scooters should adjust directional lights or under-the-cabinet lighting that could interfere with your new, lower sightline.
• In critical areas, add supplemental lighting. Nightlights by the bed and in the bathroom can assist in getting you to the bathroom safely in the middle of the night. Consider installing LED ground track lighting along hallways and outdoor pathways to help guide you.
• Make sure you’ve got light switches (the rocker variety is a popular choice) at each end of hallways and opposite sides of a large room. Decide if their height levels need adjusting.
• You won’t have to fumble around with light switches at all if you install motion-sensing lights, which come on automatically when triggered.

3) Flooring/Rugs
• Wood, laminate, and tile flooring provide easy-glide surfaces for wheels.
• Where there’s wood, make sure all floorboards are even and secure.
• For steps or areas where there is an abrupt change in level, brightly colored or reflective tape can be added for a reminder to proceed with caution.  
• If you want to use carpet, avoid plush and textured carpet. It can be difficult to move a wheelchair through and can trip up the legs of a walker or cane.
• Carpet pads tend to increase resistance. If possible, don’t use them.
• To satisfy both mobility and a feeling of warmth, go for low-pile carpeting (typically quarter inch thick).
• Commercial grade carpet tends to be not only more stain-resistant, it’s also more durable against the wear and tear of wheelchairs and walkers.
• Ditch the throw rugs if possible; they’re a common cause of tripping. If you must have them, make sure their edges are secured to the floor with double-sided carpet tape.
4) Furniture
• Space your furniture so that you have adequate room to move around.
• Keep electrical cords and wires tucked behind furniture or mounted along baseboards to keep them free of your path.
• If your bed frame, coffee or end tables, or any other furniture in your home have sharp corners, consider padding them to avoid a painful run-in.
• Be sure that any bed skirts, comforters, or furniture slipcovers don’t hang too far to the floor in a way that could trip you.
• Add risers to dining chairs, tables and other favorite chairs to make getting in and out of them easier.
• A lift recliner will, with the press of a button, automatically put you in a convenient
position to get moving with your mobility aid.
Attention to these four areas can make your home safe and comfortable while using your mobility aid.