Simple home renovations can be liberating for older people

July 29, 2020 12:15 am

Did you know home improvements could do much more than just add capital value and a spare room. They can also restore or maintain a person’s ability to live independently – whether you’re older, have a disability, are unwell or have been injured.

They greatly improve people’s well-being and reduce dependence on carers. This affects a great many people – including nearly a million who receive some form of aged care in their own home.

What do home modifications involve?

Home modifications specifically help residents to live safely and independently in their own homes.

The range of possible renovations is diverse, so costs vary widely. Minor modifications might be installing a grab rail in a bathroom to aid stability, or levelling a step at a front door. A major modification could install a ramp or a lift, widen door frames or provide a new bathroom.

Modifications must be tailored to individual needs, as no “one size fits all” – just like every home renovation.

Enabling greater independence for longer

Home modifications can reduce or eliminated the need for help, restore confidence in caring for yourself and reduce carer stress.

As people’s confidence grew, they were happier to venture out into the broader community. Importantly, relationships improved.

People regain choice about where they live

The design of a house can be one reason that people will enter into residential care. A bathroom, kitchen, entrance and exit, as well as how rooms connect, can all dictate whether a person lives independently in their later life.

Research shows how home modifications reduce fall risks. Think about an older bathroom where the shower has a hob or is over a bath. Such features commonly lead to falls, which can dramatically shorten lives or send us straight from hospital into residential aged care.

Of all the home modifications bathroom were most central to reducing dependence on others. They provided the freedom to shower and use the toilet without help.

Bathroom modifications that allow people to shower while seated greatly reduce the risk of slipping and falling.

Modifications can protect lives in a pandemic

The ability to take care of our own bathroom needs during a pandemic is particularly critical. The close proximity required to receive and provide care has been well documented. Who knows how much home modifications have helped to curb the spread of COVID-19 to people most vulnerable to it?

Australia is managing a pandemic while rolling out the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and reforming aged care in the context of a diverse and ageing population.

Research into home modifications highlights why renovations could be so much more than a new pool, kitchen or media room. Perhaps the government has a golden opportunity to reform HomeBuilder and encourage take-up of grants for home modifications. It would be a win for both tradies and the many Australians who may need help to stay at home.