Changing Your Home for Relapsing-Remitting MS

A house isn't a home unless it suits its owner's tastes and lifestyle. And if you're living with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), you'll need a living space that meets your unique needs. 

There are a lot of changes you can make to your home that will make life with RRMS simpler and safer. You may not need all or most of these tweaks, but even one or two can make things go much easier. And most important of all, they can prevent a fall.

Fill Your Easy-Reach Zone

Whether or not you're in a wheelchair, it may be tough for you to get your hands on items tucked away in high or hard-to-reach places.

Take some time to think about the things you use most in your kitchen, bathroom, and elsewhere. On your own or with a helper, rearrange these spaces so that the items you use most -- pots and pans, for example, or your toothbrush and comb -- are within easy reach. Baskets, hooks, and pegboards can help you keep these items near to hand.

At the same time, move things you seldom use to higher shelves or out-of-reach places where they won't create clutter or crowd out the stuff you use all the time.

Rearrange your desk or work areas so that you can do a lot of different tasks in one place. For example, if you have a home office, a separate computer area, and another spot for reading or watching TV, set up a space that allows you to do all these things without moving.

Remove Sources of Trouble

If you have RRMS, muscle weakness and problems with stability can make getting around tricky. The last thing you need when you try to regain your balance is a shaky chair or a loose wall decoration.

Get rid of unstable furniture, especially those near light switches or other areas where you often stop and need support.

Remove or rehang mirrors, photographs, and other wall items that may get in your way if you need to hold a wall while you move about.

Exchange low chairs with slanting or cushy seats for higher, firmer ones that are easy to get out of.

Rugs and thick carpeting can grab sluggish feet or make wheelchair movement difficult. Exchange these for bare floors or very thin floor coverings. Tacking or taping down the edges of rugs and carpets can also help.

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Consider Larger Renovations

Ramps, electronic stair chairs, or elevators -- or all three -- can help you tackle stairs in your house. These are helpful even if you don't use a wheelchair.

If you do use a wheelchair, a shower with wheelchair access and adjustable-height nozzles can make bathing much easier. A high-seat toilet can make going to the bathroom less of an effort.

Interior doors need to be at least 32 inches wide to make room for most wheelchairs. If yours are narrow, removing the door and replacing it with a curtain can widen it by several inches. You could also rehang your doorways with wider models.

Lower, hollowed-out kitchen countertops allow for easy wheelchair access. On the other hand, raising desks and tables can make them easier to slide under.

Upgrade Your Hardware

Problems with weakness and muscle coordination can make some household tasks a challenge. Changing the hardware and fixtures in your home can make many of them easier to manage.

Handrails and grab-bars are a helpful addition to your bathrooms, stairways, and pretty much every other space where you need an extra bit of support.

If you don't have one already, consider buying a new stove that has front-mounted controls. These allow you to adjust the cooking surface or oven without reaching across hot burners.

Change out round, hard-to-turn doorknobs with lever-style ones, which are easier to operate. If needed, electric or automatic door-opening and door-closing devices are available.

Swap short blind or curtain cords with longer ones.

If you spend most of your time in a wheelchair, remount your wall switches at a lower height. This can save time and energy, and it removes the difficulty of reaching up or using some kind of aid to turn switches on and off.

Finally, consider smart appliances and wall thermostats, which you can adjust with a smartphone.

Rethink Your Space

Furniture can either get in your way or provide a helpful source of stability as you make your way through your home.

Consider where and how you move about, and position your furniture to help rather than hinder movement. It may help to measure the space your wheelchair or walker requires. Move tables and furniture so that you can access any space in your house.

Move your bed away from walls and toward the center of your room. This allows a wheelchair easier access to all four of its sides, and making it up will be simpler. A hospital-style adjustable bed is also a worthwhile purchase.

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Choosing a New Home

You may decide to make small, step-by-step changes to your home over a period of years. And for many, that's a great option. But if you're able to move, certain homes come with built-in advantages.

Ranch-style houses that have only one floor and few steps are a great choice. You can also shop for a place that has wide doorways, few wheelchair-blocking doorjambs, and other convenient features. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 20, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "At Home with MS: Adapting Your Environment," "Home Modification Policies." 

MS Society (UK): "Home adaptations"

MS Focus Magazine: "The Accessible Home: 10 Tips for Coming and Going."

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