Making The Most Of Home Modification

Keeping your loved one safe is important to you; keeping your loved one at home is important to him or her. Modifying your loved one’s home is the perfect compromise.

Moving a loved one from the familiar, comfortable surroundings of home is a decision we would all like to avoid. But physical weakness, unsteady balance, diminished hearing, or failing eyesight may require certain changes to prevent injury and maintain a loved one’s independence and quality of life. When is it reasonable to modify an existing home?

Safety And Accessibility

Home modification and repair includes adaptations to homes that can make it easier and safer to carry out activities such as bathing, cooking, and climbing stairs and alterations to the physical structure of the home to improve its overall safety and condition.


  • Problem: Difficulty getting in and out of bath/shower and/or on and off toilet.
  • Solution: Install grab bars in shower and next to toilet and non-slip mat or decals in bottom of tub/shower; use non-skid bath rugs on floor.
  • Problem: Difficulty with reaching toiletries and adjusting temperature controls.
  • Solution: Provide shower seat or transfer bench; install hand-held shower device. Set hot water heater temperature to low setting (120 degrees F.) to prevent scalding.
  • Problem: Difficulty turning faucet handles.
  • Solution: Install single lever handles in sink and tub/shower.


  • Problem: Not bright enough.
  • Solution: Install under-cabinet fluorescent and ceiling lights.
  • Problem:Tripping on loose or frayed rugs; spills.
  • Solution: place non-skid, no fringe mats in front of sink and near refrigerator and stove. Clean spills immediately.
  • Problem: Can’t reach items without standing on stool or chair.
    Solution: Place most often used items to within easy reach. Provide hand-held “grabber” tool for hard-to-reach items.
    • Check to be sure towel racks and paper towel holders are away from stove.
    • Locate appliances close to outlets making sure cords are away from sink or stove.
    • Eliminate extension cords and appliances with frayed cords.
    • Be sure on and off dials on appliances, such as the stove, oven and toasters are easy to read.

Home Access: Walkways And Ramps

  • Problem: Difficulty turning doorknobs and maintaining balance while opening front or back door.
  • Solution: Install lever-type door openers and handrails at entrances to home.
  • Problem: Difficulty maintaining balance on stairs and thresholds.
  • Solution: Install ramps with handrails and eliminate or lower thresholds; increase lighting for better visibility.
  • Problem: Darkened rooms and hallways at night.
  • Solution: Handrails and nightlights that illuminate the path from bed to bath to kitchen. Eliminate any clutter, uneven or worn carpets, and/or objects that can be tripped over.

Security And Comfort

  • Problem: Inadequate lighting around exterior entrances, first floor windows and outdoor walkways.
  • Solution: Install security lighting—motion detector type or on-at-dusk/off-at-dawn type—to light key locations.
  • Problem: Concern for personal safety and crime prevention.
  • Solution: Install a security alarm system. Panic buttons can be remote controlled and carried by your loved one or placed where your loved one spends the most time—next to the bed, in the kitchen and bathroom or where he or she relaxes.|
  • Problem: Your loved one doesn’t know who to call in an emergency.
  • Solution: Write, in large bold letters and numerals, your loved one’s local emergency number followed by his or her own number and address (it’s not unusual to forget such things in a state of emergency). Also, list his or her doctor’s emergency number and your number. Place directly on each phone in the house.
  • Problem: Inadequate fire protection.
  • Solution: Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors according to package directions. Change batteries twice a year. (An easy way to remember is to change in spring and autumn when daylight savings time begins and ends.) Keep a fire extinguisher in a convenient location in the kitchen. (Check once a year, perhaps on your birthday, to make sure the date has not expired.)
  • Problem: Inadequate heating or ventilation (Avoid the use of space heaters).
  • Solution: Check and repair heating system. Install insulation, ceiling fans, storm windows and air conditioning.

Memory Or Judgment Problems

If the person you care for has poor judgment, memory problems, or has a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, special safety precautions will help you reduce the risk of accidents:

  • Keep medications in a locked cabinet. Post a list of all medications and/ or over-the-counter drugs that the person is taking.
  • Use childproof doorknobs and cabinet locks.
  • Lock up all poisons such as insecticides, fertilizers, paint thinner, and cleaning supplies.
  • Clean the refrigerator weekly removing spoiled food. Food poisoning is a dangerous when judgment is impaired.
  • Consider removing stove knobs or small appliances during unsupervised times.
  • Lock up or dismantle dangerous tools and firearms.
    Install safety locks, door alarms, or gate locks if the person may wander away from home.
  • Contact the Alzheimer’s organization nearest you for further information about special safety measures for a loved one with dementia.

Home Alone

You can purchase an electronic device that enables someone to call for help in an emergency. The system connects to a phone, or the person may wear a portable “help” button. When the system is activated, staff at a response center will respond. . Look in the yellow pages under Disability Services or Disability Products and Services for information about which services are available in your area.

Safety And Independence

No matter how careful you are, it is impossible to remove all risk of danger in every situation. It’s important for you to find an acceptable level of risk that minimizes the sacrifice of your loved one’s independence.

Domestic Appearance

The number of companies specializing in user-friendly home modification for people of age is growing across the country. Using landscape planning and modern, attractive color-coordinated adaptive elements may actually increase the value of a home while promoting safety and independence for disabled or elderly loved ones. Look in the yellow pages of your local phone book under Disability Services or Disability Products and Services for these kinds of companies.

© Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Adapted from Elder Action: Action Ideas for Older Persons and Their Families. Home Modification and Repair prepared by the Administration on Aging from materials developed by the National Eldercare Institute on Housing and Supportive Services, Andrus Gerontology Center, University of Southern California.


Originally written and published by the Aging and Adult Services Administration Department of Social and Health Services, State of Washington. Reprinted with permission.

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

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