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Home adaptations can help seniors live independently

Most seniors want to live in their own home for as long as possible. But many homes are not designed to meet our changing needs and abilities as we age, and some seniors give up their home because of increasing mobility and agility limitations.

A home you have resided in for many years can gradually become more difficult to live in because of such things as stairs that are too steep to climb, balcony thresholds that are too high, toilets that are too low. There are often a number of inexpensive and easy home adaptations that can be made so that you, or a family member, can continue the routine activities of daily living and maintain a greater degree of independence at home.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has a self-assessment guide available at that identifies difficulties with daily activities that seniors may experience and describes home adaptations that can help overcome these difficulties. CMHC has also developed an assessment tool that can be used with the help of a professional such as an occupational therapist. This tool is designed to identify specific modifications and minor renovations based on your or your family member’s abilities.

A health professional can help assess the level of difficulty you are having with routine activities of daily living. These activities may include getting in and out of bed, bathing, reaching, bending, grasping or lifting objects, cooking, and going up and down stairs.

A home assessment with a health professional will then identify obstacles in the home that prevent or inhibit you or your family member from carrying out daily activities. For example, items in kitchen cupboards and clothes closets may be too high to reach, electrical outlets may be too low, floor tiles may be cracked and sticking up, area rugs may slip, stove controls may be hard to see, and door handles may be hard to grasp.

A wide range of solutions are available to compensate for these kinds of difficulties and obstacles. A health professional can recommend appropriate solutions tailored to meet your or your family member’s specific needs. For example, you can install tactile indicators on handrails to indicate the beginning and end of stairs, add colour cues on appliance controls, install grab bars and a tub seat in the bathroom, reduce the height and depth of counters and shelves, raise the height of toilets, relocate electrical outlets so they are easier to reach, and eliminate tripping hazards such as broken tiles or loose rugs. There are also simple aids and tools that make life easier, such as double-handled mugs, kettle tippers, reachers, tap and doorknob turners, and foldable shower seats.

Be sure to consider the cost and ease of use of each adaptation and aid, as well as the scope of labour needed—for example, the plumbing work required to install a hand-held shower. If you are making recommendations for someone else, be sure to include them in the discussion to ensure they are agreeable to the changes and costs.

The adaptations should be custom-designed for the individual to provide an appropriate, practical and attractive home environment.

For more information on home adaptations, CMHC has two sources of information. Maintaining Seniors’ Independence Through Home Adaptations: A Self-assessment Guide (an online guide) identifies solutions to common difficulties seniors can experience with daily activities at home. Maintaining Seniors’ Independence: A Guide to Home Adaptations includes a questionnaire to help health professionals assess a senior’s needs within the home and determine appropriate and personalized adaptations. Access both resources at

About the Author: Christina Haddad is the Regional Vice-President, Ontario at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

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