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How to adapt your home for when you get older?

by Tony Watts OBE

One of the most common assumptions about adaptations and equipment which allow you to remain living independently in your own home is that – if you own your home or have savings – you will have to foot the bill.


In fact, you may well find yourself entitled to quite a few adaptations and pieces of equipment free or charge, or supported by grants. But before we go into that, let’s wind back a bit to the point where you are thinking of moving home... and you are either planning ahead or you have already found yourself struggling to get about your current home and are looking to find somewhere more suitable.

You’ve decided against moving into a dedicated retirement property which has already built in the adaptations you need, and can't find a mainstream home which has them already fitted... but don't despair. Many people before you have made this journey.

Firstly, what sort of changes to the home might make life easier – either now or in the years ahead? In May 2023, a report came out from Age Scotland which listed all of the items that would make life easier for the people they had interviewed and it makes for interesting reading. In order of priority, the list reads:

  • Grab rails / handrails
  • Specially designed bathroom (walk-in bath / wet room etc)
  • Outdoor lights
  • Specially designed toilet
  • Widened doors for wheelchair access
  • Ramps
  • Individual alarm system
  • Relocated light switches and power points
  • Special furniture
  • Stair lift
  • Specially designed kitchen
  • Extension to meet disability need
  • Door entryphone
  • Through floor lift

Technology and energy efficiency measures also received honourable mentions, not least improving the home’s insulation and heating system to be sure that, when you're not moving around as much as you used to, you can afford to heat your home to a safe and comfortable temperature. The ability to have zonal heating – keeping certain parts of the house warm without heating the whole house – is also a wise investment.

Who will pay for my home adaptations?

It's easy to see that some of the items in that list will cost just a few pounds while others will set you back several thousand. And the lower cost items may well fall into the category of being provided free of charge – even including heating system improvements if lower temperatures directly affect your medical condition.

To find out what you might be entitled to, the first step is to contact the adult social services department of your local council for a home assessment – either online or by calling them.

An occupational therapist will visit you; and, if the assessment finds you need an adaptation or a piece of equipment that costs less than £1,000, the council must provide it free of charge. Even for more expensive adaptations there may be financial support available – for instance, for fitting a wet room or widening doors. Check out Disabled Facilities Grants on the website.

More assistance and advice on adapting your home

Another port of call is the Home Improvement Agency (HIA), which can help you find schemes to cover some of the cost of adaptations. You can click on this link to find out if there's an HIA in your area. And, finally, check the Independent Age website for advice on home adaptations, and Money Helper for further advice about funding to adapt your home for accessibility.

Or you can go down the private route...

As excellent as the free services are, they won't tick everyone’s boxes, not least because the design of many of the free items available can be, well, clunky, to say the least. Many people will also prefer to have a bit more control over what is fitted into or changed within their home. If that sounds like your preferred route, you can have the best of both worlds.

An assessment by an Occupational Therapist will be free, and they should give you objective advice on the sort of adaptations and equipment that would help you. You can use that advice as a starting point to shopping for equipment from different sources and hiring someone to do the work.