If your multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms are making it hard for you to move around, it may be time to make a few changes to your home. Some simple tweaks can go a long way to prevent a nasty fall or allow you to work in your kitchen with greater ease.
Make a Plan
If you use a cane, crutch, walker, wheelchair, or scooter, you'll need more space to get around, so ask a friend or family member to arrange furniture so it's easier to avoid obstacles.
Keep things you regularly need to use within your easy-reach zone. For most wheelchair users, that's 15 to 51 inches from the floor. If you're standing, the zone starts at your knees and ends a couple of inches above your head. If cabinets and shelves you regularly use are out of your reach, hang baskets or hooks or get a rolling storage cart.
You may want to talk to a rehabilitation or occupational therapist, who can show you how to adapt space to your needs. And check with an accountant to see if any equipment you install can be deducted on your taxes.
For some changes, you may need to hire a contractor, but for others, a handy friend or neighbor can help. See if a few of these adjustments are right for different areas of your home:
Steps. Paint the edges so they're easier to spot.
Handrails. Put sturdy ones on both sides of your stairs.
Ramps. You can avoid stair climbing by putting in a ramp. It shouldn't rise more than 1 inch per foot and should be between 30 and 40 inches wide.
Outside doors. If you're in a wheelchair or scooter, your outside doors should be 36 inches across so you can fit through. Sometimes just changing hinges makes the difference.
Inside doors. In order to be able to enter when you're in a wheelchair, your bedroom, bathroom, and closet doors should be at least 32 inches wide. If changing the hinges doesn't work, take off the door entirely and replace it with curtains.
Threshold to doors. You may want to remove any piece of wood or metal in front of or underneath your door frame.
Handles. Replace traditional doorknobs with lever-style handles that are easier to open.
Toilet seats. It's easier to sit down and stand up when seats are higher. If you're in a wheelchair, seats should be at the same height as your chair.
Grab bars. Put them near the toilet and shower. Talk to a rehabilitation or occupational therapist to make sure that where you plan to place them is safe and useful.
Bathtubs and showers. It's worth getting a shower chair or bench. If you're remodeling, consider adding a wheelchair-accessible shower with curtains so you don't have to step over the tub edge. Add a nonstick mat, and swap an overhead showerhead for one with a long hose.
Sinks. Look into getting a wall-mounted sink. Because there's extra space below, you can roll up closer in a wheelchair.
Your bed. Consider buying a hospital bed. You can raise it to change the sheets more easily. Also, you can adjust the height to make it easier get in and out of a wheelchair. Place your bed 4 1/2 feet away from the walls on each side so it's easier to make the bed in the morning.
Blinds. Replace short strings or rods with longer ones.
Cabinets. Remove them under the sink, but leave the cabinet base in place to use as a footrest if you use a scooter. Add insulation to the pipes to avoid burns.
Countertops. If you cook, plan a work center with all of your cooking gear handy. Lower at least one countertop to make it easier to reach from a chair. Swap manual for electric can openers, and install slide-out drawers.
Appliances. If you're in the market for a new stove, choose an electric one with controls on the front or center. If you're remodeling, have your contractor raise the height of your dishwasher.
Throw rugs. Loose rugs and mats are a tripping hazard. Get rid of them, or secure them with double-sided carpet tape, non-slip backing, or edging.
Carpeting. Thick carpets are harder to walk on or wheel over. If you're remodeling, trade it for smooth, nonskid floors.
Office and Dining Room
Desks and tables. Raise the height of desks and tables with blocks. They don't have to be anything fancy. You can use wood or coffee cans. It will make it easier for you to sit comfortably if you're in a wheelchair. It's also good for your posture and can cut tremors by keeping your arms in a stable position.
Chairs. Sitting on pillows is bad for your back, so raise chairs to make it easier to sit down and stand up. For extra stability, place chairs on blocks or add leg extenders.
Outlets. Use extension cords so you can plug in lamps and electric devices more easily. Be sure there are plenty of plugs at each outlet so you don't have to unplug one appliance to use another.
Lighting. Because multiple sclerosis can affect your eyesight, add lamps to all of your rooms so they're well-lit, especially areas where you work and cook. You may also want to put in motion-sensor lights.