Home improvements that offer a helping hand

 
By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted11/11/2018 6:00 AM
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  • Walk-in bathtubs make it easier for seniors to remain in their homes. They are also useful for multigenerational families when an elderly parent moves in with an adult son or daughter.

    Walk-in bathtubs make it easier for seniors to remain in their homes. They are also useful for multigenerational families when an elderly parent moves in with an adult son or daughter. Courtesy of Bath Planet

  • Ease of access is one of the main advantages to replacing a bathtub with a walk-in shower.

    Ease of access is one of the main advantages to replacing a bathtub with a walk-in shower. Courtesy of Bath Planet

  • Gary O'Reilly, founder and former owner of O'Reilly's Furniture, began selling Med-Lift chairs in 2009.

    Gary O'Reilly, founder and former owner of O'Reilly's Furniture, began selling Med-Lift chairs in 2009. Courtesy of O'Reilly's Furniture.

We have come a long way when it comes to making life easier for those with physical challenges and family members who assist them.

I remember when my elderly grandmother came to visit for a few weeks every year during the 1960s. Caring for her was a huge challenge for my parents because there were no such things as power lift chairs, recliners, accessible bathtubs or stair lifts.

When my grandmother left, after six weeks of having her in our home, my mother would take to her own bed with a bad back -- seriously. They finally placed my grandmother in a nursing home because her family could no longer handle the physical stress of helping her live in a standard home.

Fortunately, since those days, ingenious people have put thought, time and money into developing products that make life easier for those with disabilities -- both young and older -- and, by extension, for those who love and care for them, too.

For instance, bathrooms are a necessary and important part of life, but can also be a hazardous room because of the hard, slippery surfaces and hard-to-access amenities there. Bath Planet of Streamwood has taken on this challenge over the last two decades.

"People with accessibility issues usually choose to have a tub in their home removed and replaced with a walk-in or roll-in shower made of nonporous, easy-to-clean acrylic," said Jessie Northrop, spokeswoman for Bath Planet.

"Most residential tubs range from 13 to 19 inches in step-over height and if they have added a shower door, the door frame adds another 2 inches, so they are climbing over 21 inches every time they take a shower. That is dangerous for someone with mobility issues. So, many are choosing to have us remove their tubs and replace them with a walk-in or roll-in shower," she said.

"The walk-in showers have (either) a 3-inch lip or a half-inch lip, which are both easy to step over. There is also a detachable ramp so you can roll a wheelchair in."

Bath Planet is able to make the drain in the new shower line up with the drain from the old tub so that no complicated plumbing work is necessary.

Most homeowners who are making this change from tub to shower because of accessibility concerns are further enhancing their new shower with grab bars, built-in shower seats, handheld shower accessories and shower curtains that make access easier than a door, Northrop said.

Another option Bath Planet offers is walk-in soak tubs, which have a door in the side. This allows the homeowner to easily step into the tub by opening the door, where they can sit on a seat and quickly fill the tub with water. The tubs also come with air jets for a soothing, hydrotherapy-style soak, which relaxes sore joints and muscles and is often recommended by doctors and physical therapists, Northrop said.

Elsewhere in the home, today's homeowners are often opting for nonslip, luxury vinyl floors that look like wood or tile but are not as slippery and take less maintenance, said Debora Watson of Acanthus Design in Barrington.

Others are remodeling and retrofitting their kitchens to include rollout accessories like below-counter microwaves and spice racks, stain-resistant countertops and soft-close drawers, Watson said.

And when it comes to sleeping, those of all ages with accessibility and discomfort issues (from sports and life, in general) are choosing adjustable beds that allow partners to sleep side-by-side but with different comfort settings.

Those with the luxury of a new home that has been built with a future elevator in mind, as well as those with plenty of funds, she continued, can add an elevator to their home to help them live on multiple levels. But if that is not an option for you, consider a stair lift, which allows one to ride up a staircase while seated.

Comfortable seating in a family room or living room is a "must" for those with mobility problems, said Michael Walsh, owner of O'Reilly's Furniture in Libertyville.

Since 2009, O'Reilly's has carried a nice assortment of Med-Lift chairs that come in a variety of sizes, depending on each individual's needs.

"Most of our Med-Lift chairs are rated for up to 375 pounds, but they can be ordered to handle up to 600 pounds," Walsh said. "They are relatively fashionable; come in 100 different stain- and water-resistant, polyester-blend fabrics, as well as leather; are easy to clean; and come with options like heat, vibration and even a full-recline setting for sleeping. They also come with handheld remote controls for ease of operation."

O'Reilly's has eight floor models that shoppers can test because comfort is so important and, according to Walsh, they only take two or three weeks for custom delivery.

Those using reclining chairs for mobility reasons may also want to consider purchasing a wooden lift-top Amish coffee table to allow them to eat, do paperwork or even play board games while seated. Most are on casters for the convenience of pulling it close and then pushing it away, as needed.

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