If you have multiple sclerosis, you may need to make changes to your home to make it more comfortable and accessible.
When multiple sclerosis limits your mobility, your home can feel like an obstacle course. Fortunately, with some planning and creative thinking, most areas of the house can be readily adapted so you can function smoothly throughout the day.
Now that you finally have a name -- multiple sclerosis -- to match the symptoms that have been plaguing you, you've probably got a lot of questions about how to treat those symptoms and keep your condition from getting worse. Although researchers haven't yet discovered a cure for MS, there are many effective medications to help manage your disease. Your doctor will work closely with you to find the treatment that works best for you and causes the fewest side effects.
Here is a rundown of your MS...
"When modifying your home, the goal is to achieve maximal independence and safety," says Nancy Holland, EdD, vice president of clinical programs at The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She says arranging things to accomplish daily tasks while expending the least amount of energy possible is the goal.
Having an occupational therapist assess your home may help, since she'll know about the latest gadgets and assistive devices and may point out new places to make helpful changes. And be sure to check with your state's vocational rehabilitation office; often they'll pay for things like ramps and other major modifications.
Here's a guide to get you started:
Toss the Throw Rugs
If you're using a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair, rugs can cause trips and falls, and they also can make moving around harder.
"I've engaged in a tug-of-war with patients over scatter rugs," says occupational therapist Nanci Wechsler. "Patients will say they've got grippy stuff under them, but even if they're secured, you can still trip or get a cane stuck under the edge."
Wechsler teaches at Midwestern University's College of Health Sciences in Glendale, Ariz.; she recommends hardwood or linoleum floors and low-nap wall-to-wall carpeting.
Ease Entrances and Exits
Outside doors should be 36 inches wide; inside doors at least 32 inches wide. Removing door frames can help widen doorways, as can replacing regular hinges with offset hinges. Removing floor sills allows wheelchairs and scooters to glide more easily.
Simple door knobs can also make life harder. If twisting door knobs is difficult, replace them with long levers.
"Always make sure you can get out of the house quickly in case of a fire, which means having a ramp that exits the porch," says Lori Letts, PhD, a professor at The School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Stairs can be outfitted with electric chairs, or, if there's room, a ramp can be installed. Ramps should be 30-40 inches wide and rise no more than one inch per foot. If you can navigate stairs on foot, install handrails on both sides, suggests Letts. "That way, you can lean on your strongest side whether you're going up or down."