7 Easy and Affordable Home Modifications
We’re excited to share this super helpful home modifications guest post, written by Maria Lindbergh, MOT, OTR/L, ECHM. Maria is a home modifications OT and the founder of Toilet Talk, an online educational resource to help individuals age in place at home through safe, adapted (and also beautiful!) bathrooms.
Her business’ website also features a blog full of tips for all individuals as well as occupational therapists to learn about home safety and easy, affordable home modifications. To learn more about Maria, be sure to check out her interview on the Non-Clinical PT blog as well as her About Page.
Imagine a typical day for you at work. You’re rushing around treating patients, documenting, collaborating with colleagues, and attending care plans. Your mind is a constant whirlwind trying to provide quality care while being productive. You have to please the patients and your boss! In addition, you are expected to be completely knowledgeable about home modifications your patient needs to discharge home. The pressure feels insurmountable!
I feel your pain, fellow occupational therapist!
The good news is we’ve got you covered! This article will give you the top seven affordable home modifications every single person could use at home. These modifications are cost effective and prevent falls. Just remember to customize your recommendations for the patient using your skill set of clinical know-how.
1. Offset Hinges
Who has 36 inch doorways at home? Virtually nobody! I personally have seen patients force their way through doorways in the house while using a walker or wheelchair. Patients will scrape their knuckles and forearms or try other unsafe maneuvers to get around their homes. It can be very cringe-worthy to watch a patient creatively move in their home.
The solution is offset hinges. I personally have installed them in my grandpa’s house. Grandpa’s bathroom doorway would not allow him enough width to use a walker to safely walk in and out of the bathroom. I spent around $40 on two offset hinges for Grandpa’s bathroom door to replace the old hinges. The offset hinges opened the doorway width 1 ¼ inch, which was all Grandpa needed to clear the doorway with his walker!
The magical thing about the offset hinges is its ability to move the door away from the door frame. They can be applied to interior and exterior doors in any home. The cost of replacing existing door hinges with the offset hinge costs thousands less than the cost of widening all the door frames in a house!
2. Lever Style Handles for Doorways and Sink Faucets
This suggestion is a two for one! As therapists, we know how difficult it can be for a person to grip and twist an object at the same time. For instance, twisting an outdoor faucet can be a chore for someone with arthritis or neuropathy. What if we lived in a world where we can make it easy for people of all ages and abilities to turn on faucets and open doors?
Oh wait, we do live in a world like that right now!
Installing lever style handles for sink faucets and doors is the most inexpensive way to improve a person’s independence while filling up a pot or leaving the house. Lever style handles allow people to use very little force to move the lever with their choice of body surface. Hands full? Use an elbow to open the door! Joint pain flaring up? Turn off the kitchen sink with your fingers slightly flexed.
Yes, there are door knob adapters that turn existing door knobs into levers, but sometimes the cost and installation are the same as purchasing a new lever door handle. You can easily present both options to your patient and have them decide what will work best!
3. Motion Sensor Night Light
Everybody on planet Earth needs a little light to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night. This is key to preventing injuries when nature calls. In my book, motion sensor night lights are the cheapest investments to fall prevention hands down. I often share my own story about falling on my chest of drawers throat first due to insufficient lighting after visiting the bathroom. I’m in my early thirties, friends, yet I understand the importance of lighting all too well.
I love motion sensor night lights! You can purchase them anywhere for a low cost. They are easy to install in the house: all you need is an electrical outlet. Motion sensor night lights turn on when they sense movement and turn off automatically. There are so many benefits!
If you have a crafty patient, they could even create their own DIY motion sensor light fixture! It’s therapeutic on so many levels! #OTheaven
The only situations where motion sensor lights may not work as well is if the patient owns pets who like to run around at night. In that instance, we think about using a mini flashlight or finding alternate spots to place night lights. There’s always a solution!
4. Hand Held Shower Heads
Hand held shower heads are the optimal choice in multi-functionality in the bathroom! Patients and caregivers can precisely clean hard to reach areas, like feet and the back of the head. The hand held shower head is a mighty, powerful tool in combination with sitting down while showering.
Patients do not need to sit under a shower head with a constant stream of water in their face, nor do they have to dangerously reach outside their base of support to be rinsed! The hand held shower head simultaneously promotes hygiene and safety while showering!
Is your patient dizzy? Low energy? Weight bearing or skin precautions? Hand held shower heads allow you to tailor the shower to your patient’s needs! You can educate the patient on the best positioning for them in the shower while using their hand held shower head. Remember, you possess those clinical smarts to help your patient create the perfect set up in the shower!
Did I mention how crazy easy it is to install a hand held shower head? Twist off the old shower head and twist on the new hand held shower head! It takes only a few minutes to complete! Hand held shower heads can also be used to help clean the shower, spray down the bathroom floor, rinse out commode buckets, water plants, and the list goes on and on!
I do prefer hand held shower heads with a trickle function and an adjustable height mount for convenience. However if your patient’s budget is in a pinch, you can find standard hand held shower heads for around $20 at your local store. You may even find hand held shower heads at the thrift store for even less!
5. Chair/Bench Beside the Door
This is one of my favorite tips to recommend to people for simple home modifications! Place a chair or a bench beside the main door to your home. The main door to people’s homes could be the front, garage, side, or back door. At my house, our back door is our main door. We never use the front door at all!
The benefits of placing a chair or bench next to the main door are plenty! A patient could set their personal items on the seat while looking for their keys, throwing on a shawl, putting on their sunglasses, or opening the door. You could sit down and tie your shoes before leaving the house. Someone could come inside the house and sit for a quick rest before putting away the groceries. You could ask your three year old nephew to climb on the seat before you pick him up thereby saving your back from reaching all the way down to the ground!
You can put the chair or bench inside or outside the house as long as it’s beside the door. I could go on forever about the advantages of chairs and benches!
Bonus Tip: People usually have a chair or bench that is not being used whatsoever hiding in a dark corner of their home! That means they pay nothing to improve their lives and reduce falls. Also, chairs with arms are especially helpful for people who need to use their hands to push up!
6. Bidet Toilet Seat
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that one in two Americans has an orthopedic condition (2021). Think about all of those poor arthritic, painful backs, hips, knees, and shoulders that will struggle to thoroughly clean private parts after toileting.
With half of the U.S. population struggling to independently complete personal hygiene, bidet toilet seats are the solution! Replacing the regular toilet seat with an electric or non-electric bidet toilet seat maintains your patient’s dignity to take care of themselves at home. Water nozzles are adjustable for your patient’s anatomical specifications. There are also models that have air dryers and temperature controls for your patient’s comfort.
Although this is the costliest home modification on the list, you can find some bidet toilet seats in the range of $50-100. Hand held bidets are another great option and cost less than bidet toilet seats! You would just need to find an accessible place to mount the hand held bidet for ease of use.
7. Color and Contrast
Have you ever noticed how an all-white bathroom can disorient patients? Monochrome environments confuse the heck out of anyone with diminished vision. Add to that problems with balance and proprioception and you’ve got a recipe for falls!
To combat rooms where people can’t tell the difference between floors and walls, we add color and contrast! Contrast especially helps patients improve their occupational performance during self care and home management tasks. The very best contrast you can achieve is with black and yellow colors. However, I have not run into a lot of people who like to use those colors in decorating their house.
I encourage people to make small changes in the home to add contrast, such as placing a navy-colored bath mat on a white floor or installing charcoal-colored light switch plates against cream-colored walls. If we’re lucky, we reach an age where presbyopia sets in. Older adults who love pastels will find that those colors tend to merge together, which means their environment will become more difficult when trying to distinguish one surface from another.
These recommendations are my “Do It Before You Need It” list that I give to clients. The goal is to prevent falls and maintain independence, but these affordable home modifications are applicable to people in any setting.
My friends, your patients and their families will thank you for giving them simple, easy and affordable home modification tips to keep them safe at home!
I hope this short list makes life smoother for you during discharge planning in the clinic and for those of you working with patients in their home!
If you have any other favorite affordable home modifications, please share them in the comments!
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “One in two Americans have a musculoskeletal condition: New report outlines the prevalence, scope, cost and projected growth of musculoskeletal disorders in the U.S..” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 March 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160301114116.htm>.
This post was originally published on August 19, 2018 and updated on February 24, 2023.