Expert tips: Advice on home changes that may help as we age

With arthritis it’s important not to put stress on joints, so use gadgets to assist you like bottle openers and cap turners

Johanna Daly is an occupational therapist (OT) in Co Westmeath. Here she offers some advice on home changes that may help as we age.

– Occupational therapists work with people to help them achieve the maximum degree of independence in ordinary living, whether they have an age-related disability or one that they acquired or were born with. A meeting with an OT is used to assess what a person cannot do or what is difficult for them.

– To help stay safe and well it is important to keep mobile, to walk, regardless of how short a distance it is. Some people might say, ‘I can’t manage it. I’m unsteady. I’ll trip or slip and fall’. But there are a range of walking aids to help you stay mobile. This might be a rollator that you sit down on if you need to manage your breathing, or a walking stick, or a tripod. We refer people to a physiotherapist and they prescribe the right aid.

– Small adjustments around the house reduces the risk of falls or acquiring an injury. Take a fresh look at each room for any potential hazards like trailing wires. Even reducing clutter or arranging furniture to allow ease of movement can improve the safety of your home. Remove rugs or place non-slip tape on their back. Don’t leave magazines or newspapers on the floor.


– Good lighting maximises a person’s ability to manage safely in their environment. Natural light is best, so see if curtains can be removed or make changes to brighten each room.

– Ensure the top and bottom of the stairs is well lit, and if needed get a second handrail.

– I come across a lot of people who can’t get up the stairs to access their bedroom and bathroom because of breathing difficulties, or arthritis or while awaiting hip or knee replacement. Mobility aids grants are available through local councils to put in a stairlift if appropriate. Another possibility that allows people to continue to access their upstairs is through a floor lift.

– The bathroom tends to be the area of highest risk for falls as you can be moving from a low toilet or on to a hard surface, and you may be cold or rushed. A simple grab rail can help. Put an anti-slip mat in the shower area or bath. A wide range of bath aids are available. It’s important to keep whatever function you have so your local OT will help to find the best aids to suit your needs. That could be a simple rail or a board across the bath to allow you to sit while showering. If a bath needs to be removed and a wet room installed a grant may be available.


– In the kitchen keep frequently-used items within reach. The optimum height for keeping things would be between mid-thigh and shoulder distance. You don’t want any climbing up! Lever taps or mixer taps won’t put stress on arthritic joints, Perching stools enable someone to sit at a counter and peel potatoes.

– For somebody experiencing difficulty opening containers, simply placing them on a bit of Dycem-an anti-slip plastic will grip a jar allowing them then to turn the lid. With arthritis it’s important not to put stress on the joints, so use gadgets to assist you like bottle openers and cap turners.

Arthritis Ireland have lots of excellent advice. A number of companies provide catalogues of useful gadgets, including peelers, electric can openers, tipping devices for kettles to prevent scalds and padded cutlery for somebody who has a tremor. Grabbers and pick-up sticks are handy things to have around the house.

– Falls tend to happen during what we call transfers, going from sitting to standing or getting out of bed. These are the areas people tend to struggle with as they get older. A good height kitchen carver – the ones with the arms –is ideal. If you have hip and and knee issues find a chair that keeps the hips, knees and ankles at 90 degrees and is easy to get out of. A low couch will cause further discomfort.

– Have regular sight checks. If your vision becomes an issue simple tips include labelling jars brightly and using a contrast in paint colour or carpet to indicate a change in floor level. The National Council for the Blind operates a fantastic service of aids for people with low vision.

– Google Home has been a great help to many people, including those with poor vision or with difficulties turning small knobs as they can now use their voice to activate their lights or tune in the radio.

Sore joints

– In the bedroom use touch lamps beside the bed. Bedrooms should be warm. For getting in and out of bed there are bed levers, an n-shaped rail that can help you turn and pull yourself up if you have weak tummy muscles or sore joints. They can help you just to sit safely on the edge of the bed before standing up. These are a fantastic aid that’s literally put in within five minutes. Keep some form of communication beside the bed in the event of break-in or anything like that; a mobile phone or maybe a pendant alarm.

– Loose-fitting elasticated clothing and pullovers or polo shirts which slip over the head are ideal if somebody has difficulty dressing. However, if, for example, a gentleman wants to wear his shirt buttoned or a belt on his trousers there are aids, like button hooks, to help him continue to do this. Clothing can also be adapted with Velcro.

– Shoes, even those worn around the house, should have a back on them. A long-handled shoehorn will be particularly useful for an elderly gentleman who can’t bend or has restricted hips or maybe a tummy. Elastic shoelaces can turn your lovely brogues into a pair of slip-ons so you don’t have to compromise on style.

– There’s a solution for almost everything. If you can’t reach your hair there are long-handled hair brushes. If you can’t reach your toes there are long-handled toe washers. The aim is to help you do what is important to you, to the best of your ability, whether that be work, play or self-care.

– You can contact your local occupational therapist through your public health nurse, GP or primary care centre. It is a free service but waiting lists will vary from area to area. Private occupational therapists are available through the Association of Occupational Therapists in Ireland.