For centuries people have used wheelchairs to help them get around, and so too will your care receiver in the later stages of dementia. That’s why it’s important to think about various ways to make the person’s home (and yours too, perhaps) more wheelchair-friendly, especially if you’re hoping to have him or her remain at home for as long as possible.
It can be difficult or impossible to get a wheelchair through a narrow doorway, and scraped elbows can be upsetting to both you and your care receiver. Wheelchairs are easiest to maneuver through a 32- to 36-inch opening, but typical doorways are 24 to 30 inches, and some are as narrow as 21 inches. Depending on your situation, you may be able to either enlarge the doorway or use a narrow wheelchair. Let’s start with doorway first.
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Enlarge a Doorway
How much more width do you need for your care receiver’s wheelchair to pass through? Get your measuring tape out and measure both the wheelchair and your doorways and see which solution works best for you. Measure the width of the wheelchair at the widest point on the outside of the wheels.
- If you only need 1 3/4 inches, replace the existing door hinges with “swing clear” hinges. For example, if the doorway is wide enough for the wheelchair, but the door (when opened) is in the way, you’ll gain about 1 3/4 inches (the width of the door) by using “swing clear” hinges that tuck the door back and out of the way. But, be sure there is nothing on the wall blocking the door, so that the door can “swing back” flat against the wall and out of the way; or remove the obstacle (such as a wall towel bar).
- If you still need an extra inch, remove the doorstops from the door frame (the side trim on the doorframe) and reinstall the doorstops, but start at 3 feet above the floor. This gives a little more elbow clearance and still allows the door to be closed.
- If you need an extra 3 inches, remove the door and the doorstops from the doorframe. If needed, hang a curtain for privacy, but bolt the rod into the doorframe just in case the person grabs onto the curtain for support. Note that some persons, particularly those who value privacy, will be upset with just a curtain for a door. In that case, try another solution.
- If you need more than 3 inches, hire a contractor to enlarge the doorway(s). The price will vary depending on whether wires and switches have to be relocated. You may need to purchase a larger door if a door is needed – or for economy’s sake, just hang a curtain (if you think the person will not be upset by the lack of privacy).
- Remove or reduce thresholds. Wheeling over thresholds can be unsafe or upsetting to your care receiver, especially if he/she is frail or has joint pain. So remove doorsills, add a threshold ramp, or at a minimum, tack or glue down a small, wedge-shaped piece of wood to serve as bevel.
- Remove plush carpeting and loose area carpets. The wheels of the chair can get stuck in thick carpeting or on an area carpet, throwing your care receiver forward. Level flooring, including wood flooring or low pile carpeting, will give you a safer, smoother, and easier ride.
First Floor Living
- Convert a first floor room to a bedroom. A den, living room, and even a dining room can be turned into a bedroom. Choose a room that’s not drafty and close to where the action is so the person doesn’t become isolated and can be easily checked on. When moving the person to first floor rooms, use the same furniture, if possible, and arrange the room similarly to the person’s previous bedroom. Some care receivers may be upset by the change, especially if he or she is sleeping alone. Consider sleeping nearby for the first few nights (on a cot or other sleeping option) to help orient the person when waking up in the middle of the night.
- Plan for an accessible bathroom.A wheelchair-friendly bathroom makes taking care of a person’s hygiene needs so much easier. But if it’s not feasible to remodel, here are a few other ideas to consider, depending on your situation. Use a narrow commode with wheels that can fit through the existing bathroom doors. Get a bedside commode with removable side arms if the person is sliding onto it from the bed or wheelchair.
- Install a ramp with a gradual slope. For a ramp to be both safe and easy to use, the slope must be very gradual. The slope is a measure of how steep a ramp is; the steeper the slope, the harder and more dangerous it will be for you to push your care receiver in a wheelchair. Click on the videos in the right hand column to learn more about ramp design.
- Create level walkways. Level walkways will make it easier for you to wheel your care receiver around in the garden for fresh air and tabletop gardening or just to sit in the front yard and watch the world go by.