Adapting the House and your Environment

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Depending on the severity or frequency of your symptoms, here are some ideas which may help.

Get Organized:

Put things where they are used. If they are used in more than one location get more than one. For instance keep cleaning supplies in each bath or in bath and kitchen or scissors in every room.

Put pencils or pens and pads of paper by every phone.


Install grab bars at the bathtub, toilet and shower. Heights and placement should be determined by the needs of the individual. Have the person go through the motions of getting in or out of the tub or shower or on and off the stool to determine where to put the grab bars.

Install a raised toilet. The seat is at 19 or 21" instead of the usual 16 or 17 inches. Those few inches can make a BIG difference. OR purchase a removable raised toilet SEAT.

Use a stool in the shower or a bench in the bathtub. Sitting is less strenuous than standing.

Install a hand held shower head. These can be installed in conventional bath tubs. They work great for cleaning up dirty kids or giving the dog a bath too.

Sit to dry your hair. If arms fatigue easily, place a towel on the counter and rest the elbow of the arm holding the dryer on the towel.

Use an electric toothbrush

Build up tooth brush handles (non-electric), hair brush handles and razors with foam rubber. Change as needed.

Single lever handles on the faucets or the larger paddle shaped levers if using both hot and cold controls



Use a night light

A foam mattress pad, a silicore mattress or a feather bed can make sleeping more comfortable and reduce the amount of times awakened with numb arms and little fingers (pressure on ulnar nerve).

A blanket cradle can be purchased to take the weight of the covers off of sore feet made worse by covers.

Extra pillows to put under knees while lying on your back, between your legs while side lying , under an arm or wherever else it feels comfortable.



Wear easy to put on and lose fitting clothing. Knits and permanent press have less upkeep.

Buy clothes with few or no closures zippers or buttons. Sweat shirts and sweat pants work great when you don't need to impress anyone.

For women, a bra that hooks in the front works better. Also consider wider shoulder straps

Consider replacing buttons with Velcro

Consider shoes with Velcro instead of laces

Use a button hook



Power: steering, brakes, windows, doors, seats.

Cruise control

Automatic opener for car and garage

Special key holder



Use electric appliances whenever possible- mixer, food processor, can opener, et,c

Sit to work as much as possible. Open cupboard doors and pull a high stool up to the counter to work.

Purchase a jar opener. The ones that install under the upper cabinets work great.

Buy the world's best carrot/potato peeler: Oxo brand. Costs about $5.00. I have given this to all my relatives.

Arrange kitchen storage so like thing are together and stored closest to where they will be used. For instance keep all dishes together and near or above the dishwasher. Keep all baking supplies together with baking pans also close by. Keep pots and pans by stove as well as cooking spices and pasta. Store microwave pans and microwave popcorn and other foods near the microwave.

Store lighter weight objects on the higher shelves.

If room is available, don't stack bowls, pans, tins, etc. Put them on shelves separately (can more shelves be added to accomplish this?).

Buy mixes, ready to eat veggies, deli foods, frozen foods as a way to minimize cooking


Sit to fold clothes

Sit to iron, and iron only what you have to.

Tip: I just learned this tip for drying sweatshirts from my mother. Put sweatshirts in dryer for 5-10 minutes, remove and hang to dry. This helps to prevent shrinking and they turn out looking great.


A Negative tilt key board. See the example at Proformix - The Proformix company has ergonomic work stations. as you visit this site, note the keyboard system especially. The 'negative tilt' keyboard is recommended by several hand therapists for people with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The negative tilt puts the wrists in a neutral position so there is decreased strain while typing. Proformix has studied their product in relation to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Raise monitor so that it is at eye level and the head/neck does not have to bend forward to read the screen.

The chair should fit with feet planted firmly on the floor while sitting back in he chair.

Use a paper stand or clip to the monitor to bring work you are copying up to readable height without bending your neck.

A scanner will eliminate the need to copy papers

Consider voice recognition software to reduce the amount of typing.

Typing can cause numb fingers, cold hands, stiffness. Stop when this develops and pace activity



Use fat barreled pens and pencils. Or buy regular pens and pencils and put the foam tubing over them.

Purses and Brief cases: keep amount carried to a minimum. Carry only what you need. Clean them out regularly. A fanny pack can hold purse contents and take the strain off hands, arms and shoulders. Consider using one whenever possible.

Get a cordless phone for you to use and keep it close by so you don't have to get up to answer the phone

Consider a cell phone for use in emergencies when you go out.


Accessible housing - our addition

While I was dealing with issues like pain control and how to get my body to do more than it wanted to do, my husband was looking at more practical issues such as housing. Before I go to the neurologist, I always ask my husband if he has a question or comment for the doctor. In June, 1998, David wanted to know if our typical 1920's house with living room, dining room and kitchen on first floor, bedrooms and bathroom on second floor and laundry in the basement was still going to work and for how long. We were told that I could last in the house for another 5 years or more. With continuing decline over the Summer, and beginning to drag a leg, David asked the same question in September. Then we were told that I needed to live on one floor and there was no sense putting it off. Thus began our journey into accessible housing.

First we did our homework. We talked to others who had modified their houses. We looked at other housing in the area and out of the area. But after living in one neighborhood for 20 years, it was hard to think of moving. Besides our youngest was in highschool and a move at this point in time was not worth the chaos it would cause. We looked at building an addition to the house. We talked to real estate agents about the likelihood of getting the cost of an addition out when we sold. We talked to various builders (not all those who say they build accessible houses are actually that experienced). We talked to bankers about loans and how much we would qualify for.

We agreed that we needed a first floor bath and the laundry moved up out of the basement. Beyond that we were not sure what we needed. So for two weeks I kept track of the primary and secondary reasons I left the main floor (I had been taught always to do multiple things if I left the main floor and to never go by a bathroom without stopping in). We decided a bedroom and an office or at least a place for the computer was also needed. I was constantly concerned about resale. I didn't want the house to be so handicap accessible that it would turn off potential buyers when we wanted to sell. We found a builder who specialized in accessible homes and he helped us to design the addition. We did end up with the office, bathroom and laundry and a room that can be a bedroom or a family room/guest room.

As with any building project, there are a few things we wished we had done differently, but overall we are delighted with the addition. It has a spacious feeling, unlike the 'main' house and some of the adaptations are so useful, it is a wonder why all homes are not built this way. Here are some specifics:

All doors are 36" wide. Moving furniture in was a snap

Door handles are levers rather than knobs

There is no threshold at the back door

The ramp is built with 1" rise per foot of distance.

The back stairs, from the house to the ground, are offset, as a safety measure, to prevent an accidental trip down the stairs coming right out the back door

Floor heights were carefully considered to avoid large bumps going from one surface to another.

The bathroom floor is two different heights and both are lower than the rest of the addition. This allows for the depth of the ceramic tile in the bathroom (to avoid the transition bumps) as well as an entire floor that slopes towards the shower drain.

The bedroom and office have comercial carpet - low pile, bettter with a wheel chair. The hallway and laundry is a good quality vinyl.

Windows are taller, allowing them to be set lower so someone in a wheel chair can see outside without having to look up and over a windowsill.

All the light switches are rocker paneled switches. These are absolutely wonderful. You push at the top to turn them on and at the bottom to turn them off. With arms full of groceries, an elbow can turn on a light. Wihd I had these when I was carrying kids around!

Light switches and outlets (receptacles is the 'proper' term) are located within easy reach. Outlets were brought forward, so some could be reached while sitting, althought some were left in the traditional space on the back wall of a cabinet. Outlets near the floor were raised 6 inches higher than the standard and are now at 18" off the floor.

The furnace/Air conditioner controls were placed lower to allow someone sitting in a chair to reach them

The toilet is an accessible one and the seat height is 19" off the floor. It makes a big difference.

The shower is a 5 foot square roll-in shower. Roll-in means there is no bump to go over. The five foot square space allows room for a shower chair as well as another person in there to bathe the individual. The shower head is hand held with a four foot hose allowing plenty of room to manuever. I wish we had had this when I had little boys coming in from the sandbox. It is a great place to hose down a dirty kid, wash a dog, spray the ferns and wash out large waste baskets. I can also use it to hose down my walker or as a place to stash the power chair as the snow melts off the tires.

The shower handle is one lever. There is another smaller lever that allows the water temerature mix to be determined once and then left in that position.

The vanity height was determined by me sitting in the chair and finding a comfortable height to use the sink. There is an open knee hole space under the sink so that a chair could be pulled up to and under the sink. Pipes below the sink are wrapped to prevent burns.

The laundry room has both upper and lower cabinets for storage. The upper cabinets were lowered six inches. The lower cabinets were also lowered so the height was compatible with folding clothes from a wheel chair. The size of the laundry was determined, in part, by allowing for a five foot turning radius. This turning radius was also considered in the bathroom and by the back door.

All halls are at least four feet wide.

The closet has conventional height rods as well as some at 36 or 42" . Doors are bifold.

All cabinet hardware is suppose to be the fixed loop type handles which can be grasped from above or below. We opted for traditional knobs and bin pulls. We'll change them when we need to do so.

and the kitchen...

We now have a five foot arched opening from our kitchen into the new addition. This makes the kitchen look old and drab, next to the new. And this may very well turn into a huge project with one thing leading to another, as finances allow.

We have begun to look at redoing the kitchen. From what we can determine, to make it truly handicap accsssible, would mean having open space below the sink and a cook top. There are many other adaptations as well. Still concerned about resale, we are considering a remodel more along the lines of Universal Design. Universal design looks at the needs of all age groups and abilities - better lighting for the elderly, low counters for the young, wide doorways, etc.

Some things we are looking at include:

A dishwasher raised about 10" off the floor. Lot's less bending this way.

A single handle faucet

Retractable doors at the sink instead of an open knee hole.

Pull out bread boards at various hieghts for use in a chair or for a little one.

Outlets on the face frames of cabinets.

Many, many lights.

Range or cook top with controls to the side or front.

Side by side refrigerator freezer. Or the freezer and refrigerator drawers if they come way down in price.

Pull out shelves and lazy susans. And lots of them, so bowls etc can be stored in a sinlge layer and not nested.

Non- standard height base cabinets. A lower counter for rolling pie crusts would be great!

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