Home Safety Modifications: Start-to-Finish Resources for Caregivers

From needs checklists to possible financial assistance, there is help at the tip of your fingers.

Posted in , Apr 1, 2022

A caregiving having tea with an aging woman; Getty Images

Home is the ultimate refuge but it can quickly feel like a scary obstacle course when mobility or cognition issues come into play. Things that used to be simple, like cooking meals or getting around without falling, can become daunting. If you care for a loved one who is challenged by a limiting chronic condition or illness, injury or disability, you may be up nights worrying about his or her safety. But there are ways to better protect your loved one in his or her home. They include learning caregiving safety measures, hiring skilled in-home care to relieve you as a caregiver and making modifications to the living environment. The good news is that an array of resources can help you transform your loved one’s home—or your own, if you live together—into a safer space.

Whether you need to retrofit a bathroom or kitchen, add wheelchair ramps or stair-lifts or weatherize or install security measures, you can find guidance on how to determine what you need, where to go to have skilled and responsible work done, and possible ways to lower costs.

It makes sense to start by assessing what you need. The USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology’s homemods.org website is an excellent clearinghouse of home modification information, including a variety of checklists to figure out exactly what your loved one may require to stay at home. Is the tub or shower slippery? Are grab bars in order? Are stairs uneven, kitchen shelves too high? Is the home exterior rife with uneven surfaces or devoid of handrails? How is the lighting? A proper home assessment involves looking at numerous factors, many of which may not have occurred to you.

You may also want to reach out to an occupational therapist to recommend renovations.

Once you’ve made a list of specific needs, whether long or as short as one project, take step 2: Look into ways to accomplish them.

There are a number of things you can do on your own, like: get rid of throw rugs; switch to motion sensor lights; place a waterproof seat, rubber-backed bathmat and no-slip textured strips in the shower or bathtub; replace doorknobs with lever handles; and put nonskid treads on stairs.

Unless you have construction skills, bigger projects will require help. In addition to homemods.org, another great one-stop shop is the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator, which allows you to search by zip code or city and state for housing options in your community, including how to access Area Agencies on Aging modification and repair funds provided by the Older Americans Act. The site also offers links to a wealth of information via its publications, “Housing Options for Older Adults: A Guide for Making Housing Decisions”, “Home Improvement Scams: Tools to Reduce Your Risk”, and “Home Improvement Assistance Fact Sheet”.

The next step is to determine how to pay for the work. Major home modifications can range from the hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. If you don’t have the necessary funds, you may be able to access financial assistance, depending on your circumstances. The following sites offer some additional options:

  • Rebuilding Together’s Safe at Home program helps older adults to remain safe, healthy and independent in their homes and communities for as long as possible by providing no-cost preventive home modifications to people with mobility issues and other disabilities. 
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website has financial assistance resources and can put you in touch with a HUD-approved housing counselor.
  • THE USDA Rural Development Section 504 Home Repair program provides loans to very-low-income homeowners to repair, improve or modernize their homes or grants to elderly very-low-income homeowners to remove health and safety hazards.

A local contractor may also be willing to do home modifications for your loved one at a reduced fee or sliding scale. Ask friends and family members to recommend contractors who have done work for them. Make sure the contractor you’re interested in is licensed, bonded and insured for the type of work you need. Check with your local Better Business Bureau and chamber of commerce on whether any complaints have been filed against the contractor. If you do hire a contractor on your own, it’s a good idea to ask for a written agreement that specifies the exact work to be performed, as well as the estimated time frame and cost.

Daunting as it may be, knowing that your loved one is safer in his or her home can help put your mind at ease. Remember that you’re not on your own and that it’s easier to accomplish any project by exploring the available resources and then taking things step-by-step.

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