Disability adaptations in my house? No thanks, I can manage
Home adaptations can help us live independently in our own homes for longer, prevent falls and ultimately having to move into residential care.
Blogger and campaigner against thoughtless ageism, Grandma Williams, shares her insights about a collective myopia when it comes to making homes accessible for an ageing population.
Let's persuade everyone in society that their old age is like everyone else's, part of a normal human life: something it is sensible to adjust too.
The benefits of adapting your home as you get older and begin to lose mobility are clear to the professionals. Yet many of us don’t want to admit we need to start making changes such as installing handrails or level-access showers, even though they could dramatically improve the quality of our lives.
Adaptations can help us live independently in own homes for longer, prevent falls and ultimately having to move into residential care. But the attitude from many older people to home adaptations is “No thanks. I can manage”.
It may be a matter of pride. You know you can’t get easily in and out of the bath anymore but “You don’t want everyone else to know, do you?'" It may even be the aesthetics. “My beautiful new bathroom ruined? Cheap plastic high toilet seat? Plumbers’ piping lining the front steps?” No thanks.
Design needs attention
The design and quality of these things definitely need attention. But it isn't so simple as that is it? There is an underlying issue. It is about being labelled. The grab rails, that toilet seat, the door ramp are signals. And old people hear this advice as saying: “You are not normal, You need help.” And they don’t like it.
Older people fighting back
We currently have the sad situation where society unthinkingly links old age to decline, misery and uselessness. Something to be feared, something to be fought off. And should you fail and it be obvious, then you are stigmatised. And old people know it! Refusing home adaptations I suppose is one way they are fighting back.
In my early years as a physiotherapist we had the identical problem with wheelchairs. Patients refused to have them. They didn’t wish to be seen out in one. “I would be embarrassed."
What changed? Campaigning by disability groups helped of course, but the biggest psychological change came with the advent of Spinal Injury Units and the publicity around Paralympic Sports. Having a wheelchair with the latest designs, became cool and trendy. Wheelchairs and mobility scooters are now commonplace in our high streets and communities.
We need that kind of societal/psychological acceptance for home adaptations. And I am happy to say, it is beginning to happen. Walk-in showers are becoming normal, even desirable. No one finds them odd today. Indeed, baths are almost becoming old fashioned. Or seen as rather silly….Look at this:
Elegant? Yes! But who can safely climb in and out of that? Not the majority of us. You certainly shouldn't invite your Grandma to use it.
A subtle shift in thinking about design
We need a change. Not a campaign, not a lobby, but just a subtle shift. We need the recognition that all of us at some time from childhood on need sensibly designed housing… nothing to do with ageing. Just wise. Just common sense.
Let's ask questions like this:
- Why should there ever be steps up to doors?
All mothers with prams have asked that. Why shouldn't slopes be the norm?
- Why isn’t it seen as ordinary to have a grab bar in a shower?
Shouldn't we assume it normal and sensible for there to be one. Could we provoke a feeling that hotels and people who don't have one are being rather silly? How about bathroom designers who don't see grab rails as automatic being equally challenged? On sense and safety grounds? Plenty of elegant designs around for them to play with.
- Why not make a shower seat the latest thing to have?
Easier for everyone to wash their feet!
- Why isn't it normal for toilets to have elegant optional seat heights?
We are all different sizes. And bathroom designers should be challenged again. “If I ask someone to my house who has a bad knee, have you given them something to pull up from the toilet?” No! NOT the toilet roll holder…!
Let’s reward businesses who do the right thing
In other words, let’s get rid of the stigma. Let's persuade the public that wisely planned housing is forward thinking, and in fashion! Let’s laugh at people who choose elegance unthinkingly. Let's reward businesses who have thought about everyone.
Let's create a new normal…
That all public facilities have paid basic consideration to people of all ages. Let's persuade everyone in society that their old age is like everyone else's, part of a normal human life: something it is sensible to adjust too. And silly if you don’t, because you risk missing out on enjoying one of the happiest periods in most people's life.
Adapt and ensure you can enjoy later years to the full, could well be the message.