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.
Although multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs most commonly in adults, it is increasingly being diagnosed in children and teenagers. Of the 400,000 diagnosed cases of MS in the U.S., 8,000 to 10,000 are in children up to 18 years old. Neurologists think there are probably many more children with MS that have not been diagnosed.
"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
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
"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
"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."