Adapting a home for an older or disabled person
As you get older you may need to adapt your home so you can continue to live there independently. You may also need to adapt your home if you or a family member has a disability.
Some common alterations that can help make your home more suitable for someone with a disability or limited mobility include:
- Widening doorways and passageways
- Moving light switches, door handles, doorbells and entry phones to convenient heights
- Installing grab rails for support
- Adapting bathroom facilities (for example, removing a bath and installing a level access shower)
- Moving bathroom or bedroom facilities to the ground floor
- Installing ramps to avoid using steps
- Ensuring that external approaches such as paths or drives have a firm, level surface
- Installing a stairlift or through-floor lift
- Getting specialised furniture, like an adjustable bed or high-support chairs
- Installing alert devices for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing
In case of fire or other emergency, it is important that exits should always be accessible and that you do not rely only on mechanical means (such as a lift) to get out.
Planning to adapt your home
Before making changes to your home you should consult an occupational therapist (OT) who will assess your daily living needs and advise on adaptations to your home. You can contact an OT through the community care section of your Local Health Office. Alternatively, you may want to hire an OT privately, as there can be a waiting list for the public OT service. The Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland (AOTI) maintains a list of OTs in private practice, and if you get a grant for the adaptations you may be able to get back some of the costs of hiring the OT.
A Healthy Age Friendly Homes Coordinator can also provide information and advice on living independently, adapting your home or moving to a new home that is more suitable to your needs. This initiative is being piloted in a number of local authorities. See Healthy Age Friendly Homes Programme for more information.
If you need to add a structure or an extra room, you may need to apply for planning permission.
Adapting your home may be expensive, particularly if structural change is involved. There are several ways to reduce the financial burden:
- You may be eligible for a means-tested Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability. The maximum grant is €30,000.
- For smaller alterations, such as grab rails, exterior handrails or a stairlift, the Mobility Aids Grant Scheme (also means-tested) provides a maximum grant of €6,000.
- The Housing Aid for Older Persons Scheme is used to improve the condition of an older person's home. The type of work that is covered depends on your local authority and may include structural repairs, re-wiring and upgrades to heating systems. For information on what is covered in your area, contact your local authority.
- You may qualify for a local authority home improvement loan to improve, repair or extend your home.
- If you have a medical card or a long term illness card, you may be entitled to get essential items of equipment free of charge. First, you must be assessed by a relevant professional, such as an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist.
- If you are paying for equipment needed for someone with a disability, you may be able to claim a VAT refund.
- Depending on the work being done, you may be eligible for the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme or the Better Energy Homes Scheme.
You should check you are eligible for the above schemes, then apply and get approval before beginning any work. You should also check how the various schemes or grants interact with each other.
Sources of information
The Disabled Living Foundation (DLF) in the UK publishes factsheets on some of the equipment available to help with daily living. These factsheets provide advice on adapting your home and information on daily living equipment such as features to look for when choosing equipment.
The Age Friendly Homes website provides information for older people on housing. It includes information on adapting an existing home, new accessible homes, housing grants, housing design as well as housing policy and research. The website is managed by the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage, the Department of Health, Age Friendly Ireland and The Housing Agency.
If you are visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, organisations such as the National Council for the Blind in Ireland and Chime, the National Charity for Deafness and Hearing Loss (formerly known as DeafHear.ie) offer advice on what you can do to make your home safer and more suitable for you.
Age Action provides services, support, advice and information specifically for older people.
The Irish Wheelchair Association can provide information and advice on alterations to make your home more wheelchair-friendly. The IWA has also published Best Practice Access Guidelines: Designing Accessible Environments which has technical details on how to build or create an accessible environment.
The National Disability Authority also has a set of guidelines on accessibility, called Building for Everyone. These guidelines show how buildings can be designed, built and managed so that they are accessible to everyone.