Making life easier: Disability equipment in the home

easy access bathroom with shower and toilet
With a wide range of equipment to make your life easier it can be hard knowing which disability equipment is best or even available.
Helpful equipment for the home can vary from lifts and hoists for the bathroom and bedroom to ramps and lifts to manage steps, and everything in between.
We’ve done some digging and found the following information that may help you.
To start with, your local council should offer a service whereby they will assess your home and provide recommendations for equipment and adaptations for your home. This is a free service and your council should offer to pay for the equipment costing less than £1,000.
Depending on what equipment you are after, your disability circumstances and the cost of the equipment, it could be that there are grants available to you or opportunities to hire so you can ‘try before you buy’. Check with your local council and social services to confirm.
Bathroom lifts, hoists and showers
Probably one of the trickiest and most dangerous areas for less mobile people is in the bathroom, which is why it is most likely there is now a wide variety of bath lifts and hoists available to make bathing safer and more convenient.
Compared to how they once were – large and cumbersome, they are now lightweight, durable and easy to operate. There are a number of styles catering for various needs and what your comfort level is.
One thing to consider before making your purchase is the existing bathroom furniture. Will modifications be needed before you start installing equipment? Nowadays bath lifts and hoists can be either removable or fixed to your bath. Bath lifts could be the best choice if the bathroom is used by a mix of different people.
There are four main bath lifts for consideration – fixed bath lifts, inflatable cushion lifts, hydraulic removable lifts and motor driven lifts.
Fixed bath lifts are also known as band lifts, owing to the fact they use a large fabric band. One end of the band is fitted to the wall by the side of the bath and the other end attaches to a floor bracket. With the band taught and lying across the bath you can sit on it and use a button to lower yourself in to the bath. Unfortunately, as you’ve probably gathered, there is no back support which makes this unsuitable for some.
The inflatable cushion bath lift consists of an inflatable plastic seat which when inflated, using a battery powered pump, allows the user to sit level with the top of the bath. Once seated the seat deflates, lowering you in to the water. The seat is then re-inflated, using the pump, to take you back up to a manageable level. It is the easiest lift to remove if needed.
The hydraulic lift is a removable plastic seat that sits in the bath and starts at bath rim level but starts to slowly lower you in to the bath when your body weight is on the seat. When you want to get back out you sit upright and push down on the bath rim. This activates the hydraulic piston, which is set to each individual’s weight. This hydraulic unit and the buoyancy of the water is what raises you back to the top. Obviously, this lift requires you to have a bit more strength and flexibility in your arms than others.
Similar to the hydraulic lift, the motor driven lift does exactly the same but a button on a waterproof, battery powered controller is used to lower and raise the seat. Like with the hydraulic lift, these can be removable but some are easier than others to remove.
Bath hoists are more suitable for those who have less mobility in their legs, as they can raise you high enough that there is no need for you to lift your legs over the edge of the bath.
Depending on your bathroom setup, space and ceiling strength, there are ones that fix to the floor and ones that fix to the ceiling.
The hoists fixed to the floor have a swivel seat that starts above the bath rim height and then you are lowered and raised at the press of a button. There are manual versions of this but these require another person to operate a handle.
The ceiling hoists work in a similar way but take up less space in the bathroom and require a strong ceiling.
Hoists are more expensive than lifts but offer more support for the less mobile.
An alternative to a bath with hoists and lifts is a walk-in shower. These are designed with a lower basin making it easier to step into. You can also get seats and hand rails fitted inside to make things even easier and safer. The benefit of this is that others can use the shower without having to remove equipment.
Chairs for comfort and assistance
Whether you are looking for a chair with more support or one that helps you sit and stand again, there are many options out there. Before you can go shopping you will need to consider the seat height, the depth and armrest height. If your seat is too low or the depth too much it can be a struggle to lower yourself in and be comfortable or can even create further physical issues.
Riser recliner chairs are quite common among the elderly or disabled. Manually or electrically operated they can rise and tilt to help create a better level for sitting and do the same to help you stand again. They can also recline to provide a relaxed resting position or just raise your feet.
If you only need one of these features then riser chairs or recliner chairs are available.
Steps and stairs
Ramps are a simple but extremely beneficial alteration to a home when you have a wheelchair. Small ramps within the home can easily be bought and installed. The biggest challenge is deciding which is most suitable for you from all the options. There are modular ramps, mobile ramps, threshold ramps portable ramps and channel ramps. Threshold ramps are by far the most common and are extensively used by nursing homes, businesses and the NHS.
However, if you are considering arranging to have an access ramp built outside your house you may need to apply for planning permission. Before this though, you may want to consider:
· What sort of vehicle will be using the ramp? Mobility scooter or wheelchair?
· Will the ramp need to be usable without support of a carer?
· How many steps do you need to cover?
These will all make a difference to the length, height, width, what it is made of and any intermittent flat sections or corners that might be required.
The main obstacle in the house for any person with limited mobility is the stairs. Stairlifts are a great solution but a big investment, but one that helps avoid having to limit your access to the downstairs rooms.
Taking advice from an occupational therapist can be beneficial if you are unsure if one is right for you. You will need a certain amount of mobility to get on and off the seat as well as the ability to use the controls.
There are a number of suppliers in the market offering stairlifts, at vastly different prices and with a wide range of fabric options, colours and trims to blend in with your home. The cost of the stairlift will heavily depend on your existing staircase and whether you need to go for a straight one or a curved one. As you can imagine, the curved ones are bespoke and are designed and fitted specifically for the shape of your stairs.
They can easily be installed but do take up quite a bit of room, which can be an issue if you share the house with others. Another factor that could affect the suitability of a stairlift is your existing staircase. Some are too narrow and will just not accommodate them.
The controls on stairlifts tend to be quite straightforward with and on/off switch and an up/down button or joystick. They can even be set up to suit right or left handed users. What’s more is they all come with seat belts as standard to keep you feeling safe in transit.
If you are wheelchair bound and unable to move across to a stair lift then there are wheelchair platform lifts available. These are specifically designed for domestic environments, usually travelling from the ground floor to the floor above. Installing such a lift will require home adaptation and will take up space on both of the floors it travels between.
Considerations
As a final note, it is good to make sure you consider the following when looking for and purchasing your equipment.
· Make sure you know the warranty and guarantee details as well as the supplier’s returns policy should you have issues, a change of circumstance or change your mind.
· Check to see if your supplier offers an after sales service for spares and servicing, unless you have an alternative plan for this.
· Always check the supplier complies with the necessary British Standards. As long as the appliance has been tested and approved it will have the BSI (British Standards Institute) Kitemark.
· Don’t forget to claim back any VAT - If you have a long-term illness or you are disabled, you do not have to pay VAT on equipment designed to help with daily living.
We hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any suggestions or would like to contribute to one of our future posts, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.