Most of us want to remain living independently in our homes for as long as we possibly can. But as a carer it can be very worrying when the person you care for is finding it difficult to get dressed in the morning, can no longer manage to bathe or is in danger of having a fall.
Different types of equipment or changes to your home could help make your home safer, your life easier and provide independence for the person you are looking after.
Before purchasing any equipment it’s a good idea to have an assessment with an occupational therapist who will offer an independent opinion and advice on what might be suitable to meet your needs and those of the person you look after. Ask your GP to refer you.
You can also contact your local council to get an occupational therapist assessment – ask for the Adult Social Care Team if you are caring for an adult or the Children and Families Team if you are caring for a child. You can also be referred to an occupational therapist following a community care assessment.
Even simple equipment can mean the difference between the person you care for living independently and needing someone to look after them.
It is possible to purchase equipment, but a social worker or occupational therapist can help decisions about the equipment that would be most helpful. Decisions about the kind of equipment the person you care for may need will often be the result of an assessment of care and support needs.
- If you have difficulty turning taps on and off you may wish to consider installing single lever taps which control both temperature and flow rate. Some of these taps are also thermostatically controlled for increased safety. You can also get taps which turn on automatically when you put your hands under them so these could be an option too.
- Alternatively, tap turners can be purchased to assist the person you are looking after to operate your existing conventional taps. The advantage of these is that they can be used if you are away from home.
- If the person you’re caring for cannot stand up for long periods to carry out tasks such as washing up or ironing, a perching stool may be useful.
- To make cooking easier and safer for the person you care for you might like to try: using non-slip mats on the worktop to stop things from sliding around, using lightweight pots and pans which are easier to lift, cooking vegetables in a steamer or a basket in a pan so that boiling water can be left to cool.
- Simple things you can do straight away without needing to purchase any equipment include: storing regularly used kitchen equipment and utensils between hip and eye level and storing heavy dishes inside a carrier bag to make lifting them out of the cupboard easier.
- If the person you are caring for struggles to stand to take a shower then you may wish to obtain a shower bench so that they can shower sat down. Similarly a bath board can make getting in and out of the bath easier as can a hoist which can be fitted inside the bath.
- To make it safe for the person you care for to take a bath, use a rubber bathmat and fit grab rails to the wall and the side of the bath so that they have something to support them when they are getting in and out.
- Something as simple as a removable shower head can aid with rinsing.
- To help the person you care for get on and off the toilet you can get a raised toilet seat which fits over your existing one. Grab rails at the side of the toilet can also be helpful, or a toilet seat with built in arm rests or a mobile commode.
- Something as simple as a reacher can make a host of every day tasks easier for someone with a disability – such a picking things up off the floor or from high up on a shelf.
- A decent chair with arms is easier to get up from than a sofa, and if the arms do not have any gaps at the side, this makes pushing up from them easier and means that nothing can slip through them and on to the floor. Chair raisers can be fitted if your current chair is too low and the person you care for struggles to get in and out of it. Never use cushions to raise the height of the seat as this can be bad for your back.
- If there is a step into your home, or into any of your rooms, a handle on the door frame can be helpful, or you could add an extra half step to reduce the height.
- If it is a lot of effort for the person you care for to answer the door, or if they can’t do it at all, you might want to consider installing a doorbell system that enables them to speak (and possibly see) the person at the door and let them in remotely.
- If the person you care for needs a wheelchair and there are steps into your home you may want to install a ramp, or have temporary ones available that can also be used when you are away from home and you may need to think about having doorways widened to accommodate the wheelchair.
- A second banister on the stairs could help the person you look after balance when they are going up and down or you might wish to consider the installation of a stairlift.
You can either buy your own equipment or obtain it through the NHS or your local council.
There are many suppliers selling equipment to assist disabled people to live independently. Like anything else you buy, it is wise to be careful before you spend money. Always ask to use the equipment on a trial basis if possible before you buy. If unsure then seek other opinions.
Some equipment is provided by the local authority social work department, whereas other types are provided by the NHS. This will depend on the type of equipment and whether it is considered to be healthcare equipment or equipment to help with daily living.
A social worker or an occupational therapist can assess the needs of the person you look after to consider what equipment would best help them. This usually happens as part of the assessment process for the person you look after. A need for equipment may also be triggered by a carer’s assessment.
Equipment will be provided free of charge. Minor adaptations costing £1,000 or less (which includes the cost of buying and fitting the adaptation) are also provided free of charge. Councils can make a charge for minor adaptations that cost more than £1,000.
Larger, more expensive items of equipment may be classed as adaptations and will be the responsibility of the housing department through Disabled Facilities Grants (see below).
Tips on Buying Equipment
When installing equipment it is also worth considering the following
- Is the condition of the person you care for likely to deteriorate? If so how much use will they get out of the equipment?
- Who will be operating the equipment?
- Does the equipment come with a guarantee and technical support?
The Money Advice Service has further advice about shopping around for disability aids and equipment
Equipment and Wheelchair Loans
The NHS can provide equipment, such as walking sticks, walking frames and wheelchairs to aid mobility. These can be provided on long terms loans and can be arranged through your GP, hospital consultant, physiotherapist or occupational therapist. There is not usually a charge for this equipment, but there may be a returnable deposit.
There may be times when you might want to borrow equipment on a short term loan, for example, if you are away from home. Local Red Cross branches can often lend wheelchairs and equipment for short periods.
Equipment that can help you at work
If the person you care for needs equipment to help them maintain employment, the Access to Work Scheme may be able to pay for the equipment.
Contact the disability employment adviser at your local Jobcentre Plus for more advice or assistance.
Advice on disability, mobility and care equipment and adaptations
Before you are provided with equipment, or you buy it, it is worth getting independent advice to make sure that the type of equipment you are considering is going to best meet the needs of the person you are caring for.
You can get independent consumer research report from Rica, an organisation which carries out consumer research for older and disabled people. Help is also available from the Disabled Living Foundation (DFL), a national charity that provides free, impartial advice about all types of home adaptation and mobility products for disabled adults and children, older people their carers and families.
The charity Independence at Home provides grants for disabled people and those with long-term illness. Grants can be made for adaptations, equipment or other things to help you manage at home if they are not funded by local or national government.
Disabled Facilities Grant
A Disabled Facilities Grant is a local authority grant to help towards the cost of adapting your home (or the home of the person you look after) to enable the person you look after to continue to live there.
A grant is paid when the council considers that changes are necessary to meet their needs, and that the work is reasonable and practical
A Disabled Facilities Grant can be used for a variety of uses to meet the needs of the person you are looking after including:
- access to the property from outdoors and access to a garden
- access inside the property such as widening doorways for a wheelchair or installing a stairlift
- installing better washing facilities or adapted bathroom
- adaptations to a kitchen such as lowering work tops
- improving heating systems (not in Scotland)
Financial help will not usually be available for building an extension to your home. But it depends on the reason you need the extension and the arrangements in your local area. An exception would be if the extension was the only way to provide a ‘standard amenity’, such as a bathroom or kitchen.
Who is eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant?
The person you look after may apply if they have a disability. You can also apply if you care for someone with a disability who is living with you in your own home. In either case it doesn’t matter if you are an owner-occupier or tenant.
Landlords can also apply on behalf of their disabled tenants. If you require an adaptation and live in private rented housing in Scotland, you can apply directly for a grant, although you must have your landlord’s consent to undertake the work.
In all cases it’s a requirement that the property is the sole or main residence for the disabled person and that they intend to live there for at least five years after the work is completed, or for a shorter period if there are health or other special reasons.
The size of the grant
The maximum grant which can be given is £30,000 in England, £25,000 in Northern Ireland and £36,000 in Wales. The local authority has discretion to increase the maximum amount if it’s not sufficient to cover the planned works. In Scotland, there is no maximum amount.
The grant is subject to a means test so the amount which is given will depend on the savings and income of the disabled person. The rules are as follows:
Only the financial resources of the disabled person (and their spouse or civil partner) are relevant. Your own financial resources as a carer are not relevant even if you own the property.
If the disabled person is under 19 there is no means testing at all.
A calculation is used to determine how much the grant will be and to calculate how much would need to be contributed by the person applying for the grant.
If the person you look after is in receipt of certain social security benefits they are likely to be entitled to a full grant.
There is no upper capital limit which will prevent a grant being made but set amounts on any capital over £6,000 will be taken into account.
How to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant
Disabled Facilities Grants are administered by your local housing department rather than social services. Contact the housing department for an application form.
You must apply for a grant before you start any work as you won’t normally get any grant if you start work before the council approves the application.
Once they have received an application, the housing department should consult with social services and normally arrange for an assessment by an occupational therapist. The occupational therapist will consider the needs of the disabled person and also whether or not the adaptations are reasonable or practical given the age and condition of the property.
If you live in England an alternative is to use a Home Improvement Agency to help you apply for a grant and to manage the work. There are approximately 210 home improvement agencies in England, however there can be costs involved in using an agency. To find your nearest home improvement agency, visit https://www.findmyhia.org.uk/ or phone Foundations on 0845 8645 210.