In previous years, if someone required home adaptations and met the funding criteria, minor and major adaptations could be accessed through various routes in social care or housing. Today, getting minor adaptations remains less problematic than larger projects, but the reality for both is that more and more people have to go it alone. Of course, some people are eager to do their own adaptations, either because they are being proactive  - adapting the home before issues arise, or they want the freedom to adapt their home in a way that suits their own style, rather than settling for the limited design choices regularly offered by housing or social care departments.

The surprising thing to many is that adapting a home to support an older person or disabled person to ‘age in place’ doesn’t have to cost any more than it would if someone was redecorating a room or renovating a bathroom or kitchen. Nor is it necessary always to buy specialist products and devices that are marketed towards older and disabled people, which tend to be expensive with an unpleasant institutional look. Instead, nowadays adapting a home can not only be an opportunity to create a space that helps us to age well but that also looks stylish and brings comfort to our everyday tasks. One of the common problems with managing your own project can be knowing where to start and what products to consider, but there are some simple principles that OTs and homeowners can follow that will help them to create the right environment required.

The first principle is to think mainstream product. Quite often it is unnecessary to buy specialist products when there are products readily available with very similar features; a good example of this is easy-operation lever bar mixers. It can all-too-easily become a drain on your time, effort, and budget to try and find niche products to fit your own specific circumstances when there are brands readily available in the marketplace that will already suit your needs.

Principle number two is not to create potential barriers to mobility or to have features or products that require a lot of effort and energy to use. Shower trays are a good example of avoiding this, where a low level large shower tray, or wet floor product, can provide easier access to showering. Another example is shower controls, many mainstream products such as the Triton TMV3 Elina Shower Range are stylish and have the added benefit of ease-of-operation.

The third principle to think about is where you position products or furniture. Positioning products at the right height and in a logical location can improve independence while reducing time and effort when carrying out everyday tasks. For instance, many mainstream wall-hung toilets can be positioned at different heights, so if a person struggles to get on and off a standard height toilet then the wall-mounted toilet can fixed slightly higher, avoiding the need for an ugly white plastic raised toilet seat.

Although the above principles are useful tips, it can be still daunting for someone to design their own adaptation. Frequently when people approach statutory services for adaptations, they don’t necessarily want funding, just the advice and support to make the right decision. This is an area where many independent occupational therapists have an opportunity to use their assessment skills and equipment knowledge to provide services to those undertaking their own adaptations. However, in the UK we lag behind the USA in offering specific training for occupational therapists and builders who want to tap into this growing market. In the USA they have Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) training. This programme not only teaches occupational therapists and builders the assessment and technical skills needed to recommend adaptations, but it provides training on business and customer service knowledge needed to work in this sector. CAPS, therefore, is able to provide those seeking advice with the reassurance that they are talking with an expert.

In this blog we have seen how self-financing adaptations can be both challenging and an opportunity for older and disabled people to create homes that support their independence and well-being. Whilst people can follow simple principles to get the design of the adaptations right, there is an exciting opportunity for occupational therapists to work with building professionals to provide services for people looking to self-finance home adaptations. 

Further information

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The OT Service - Specialist Housing Occupational Therapy company providing expert OT's via a nationwide network to Case Managers and commercial companies.

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