Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative nervous system condition characterized by tremors, stiffness of the limbs, difficulty walking, and impaired balance. Those living with Parkinson’s may experience akinesia, a loss of voluntary movement, which leads to episodes known as “freezing”. They may also struggle with fine motor skills, arising from characteristic tremors and shaking.
Those who suffer from it will not only require assistance with daily tasks, but those needs will increase over time.
Because of this, those with PD benefit greatly from redesigning their home and exploring assistive gadgets for Parkinson’s. How exactly does this work?
Support Your Independence – and Your Care Partners
With some long-term planning, many home renovation and technological aids can support people with PD, so they can live as independently as possible. Just as importantly, they can make everyday life easier for their caregivers as well.
Let’s move through the home space to see how home modifications – and some neat gadgets for Parkinson’s – can help you make the most of each day.
Where you start and end each day – your most “you” space – your bedroom needs to exhibit function, style, and comfort. But the bedroom also presents unique challenge areas. While some are specific to this room, other changes would make sense for the entirety of the house.
Door thresholds are one of these universally-beneficial home modifications. Since people with PD often have a shuffling gait, they need to reduce trip hazards as much as possible. If your bedroom floor and hallway height don’t match up, try to make the transition smooth – or nonexistent.
Depending on your home, this can be accomplished by removing raised thresholds during remodeling or adding threshold ramps to existing doorways.
Brighter lighting is another design change that should happen in the bedroom – and all rooms – because clear visibility plays a major part in preventing falls.
To make lighting accessible and convenient, install motion sensors or switches in easy-to-reach spots, depending on the placement of the bed and the individual’s routine path.
Getting in and out of bed often represents a challenge as well. This is where changing your bed’s height with risers can make a big difference.
Most will be virtually invisible under the right comforter or bed skirt, and the utility doesn’t have to stop with height. Wayfair sells risers that include plugs and USB ports, as well.
Just keep in mind that the optimal bed height is between 20-23 inches from the top of the mattress to the floor. Why? If it’s too high, it may become inaccessible for the person with PD and increase risk of falling. If it’s too low, it requires more strength to stand and could strain an assisting caregiver’s back.
Bed Gadgets for Parkinson’s
To help with the ups and downs, consider installing a bed handle or safety handle on the bed. This simple modification will give the person with PD a gripping point to steady their balance as they maneuver around the bed (and bedroom).
Fully electric beds for people with Parkinson’s can also take care of this need to smooth out the ups and downs. You may want to consider installing one with a controller for adjustments. Just make sure the buttons are large enough to be manageable for the person with PD, as fine motor skill tasks may become increasingly tricky.
Mattresses for Parkinson’s
You can assist with mobility and pain management by using a gel or foam mattress or mattress topper. These help relieve pain on pressure points for a person with PD, and they generally make movements in bed easier.
You might even consider a higher-end air mattress that operates with a remote control. This will give the person with PD independent control of their mattress firmness/softness in the moment.
Related to this, consider another simple, practical organization tip: keep all your bedroom necessities nearby.
Have a close bedside shelf or table set up with phone, charger, and any other essentials you might need in the middle of the night or early morning. This minimizes the need for multiple trips in and out of bed.
Bed Sheets for Parkinson’s
For many people with PD, heavy covers and the friction of sheets make it difficult to change position in the middle of the night. This can actually be solved with another simple solution: change to bed sheets for PD.
These will be lightweight, silky sheets. Or if you don’t want to change out all your linens, simply place a light, silky fabric in the middle of the bed, where you’re likely to roll over in the middle of the night.
Think about the big picture.
Where is your bedroom located in the house? If it’s currently on the second floor or up even a small flight of steps, you may need to consider larger home modifications to make your daily bedroom routine generally accessible.
For many folks with chronic conditions, PD included, performing their daily bathroom routine poses the most risk and obstacles.
Bathroom Remodeling for Parkinson’s
For this reason, if you’re only going to renovate one room in your house, we recommend targeting the bathroom with these major modifications and gadgets for Parkinson’s.
- Replace a bathtub with a “roll-in” shower
- For existing walk-in showers, eliminate steps or thresholds barriers to make them as zero-entry as possible
- If you keep a tub, use a tub transfer bench
- Add a raised toilet seat or commode frame
- Install new faucets with easier grips – or automated ones
- And the evergreen home modification: install grab bars wherever you anticipate they’ll help you change levels and maintain balance. (We always like to emphasize that grab bars can be far more stylish and subtle than the typical, clinical appearance you’re used to seeing in hospitals and nursing homes!)
- If the bathroom plan is cramped or compartmentalized, open it up as much as possible to make space for canes, walkers, and wheelchairs
- Keep a voice-activated assistant (like an Alexa or Echo) in the bathroom for listening to music or podcasts – and it will come in handy if you need to call someone in a pinch
Economical furnishing changes can also make a big difference.
Get a shower chair to keep in the shower in case you tire or need help balancing. A chair that goes over the toilet can also double in place of fully replacing the toilet.
Use non-skid, rubber bath mats if you need to keep a mat on the ground to absorb drips and prevent slips. But be sure to take them up when not showering.
If you decide on a larger bathroom remodel, it’s worth investing in heated flooring. Much of Parkinson’s symptoms involve muscular stiffness, tensions, or spasm, so working with warmth helps to keep muscles limber and free. This will ease walking and movement for the person with Parkinson’s. You might also install a heat lamp for these purposes.
Within this remodeling, you might swap out traditional faucets for automated. This will reduce the affect of fine motor skill challenges in the person’s everyday toilettes.
Worried that PD will hinder your ability to prepare food for yourself?
Parkinson’s may make cooking look different than before, but, with the right modifications and assistance, you can continue to use your kitchen – safely.
Some really cool gadgets for Parkinson’s exist to enable continued usage of utensils for measuring, cooking, and eating:
- Tremor-sensor forks, spoons, and knives keep utensils balanced while you eat
- Weights can be added to cooking tools, or weighted versions can be purchased, to facilitate gripping and handling
- Or try rocking knives, for safety and convenience
Kitchen Renovations for Parkinson’s
This is another area of the home where we strongly recommend construction renovations:
- Renovate to create roll-under countertops and a roll-under stovetop – for anyone with balance issues, it’s simply safer to be sitting while preparing food or cooking over heat
- To address potential burn dangers, consider switching to an induction cooktop, which heats metal pots and pans directly through magnetism
- Lower countertops so they’re in the “ideal reach” zone for someone using a walker or wheelchair
- Change faucets to levers or automated faucets (just like in the bathroom)
- Install a stove/oven temperature controller with large buttons so that finagling small knobs doesn’t lead to unwanted temperatures, smoke, or even a fire
- Replace open-door cabinets with drawers, where possible. If some cabinetry remains, add a pull-out drawer within the cabinet.
- Change out kitchen cabinet and drawer pulls to the most accessible knobs and handles – that means going for a large size and an easy-to-grip shape
And don’t forget the option of open storage.
We recommend being generous with hooks in the kitchen. It’s much easier to grab a visible spatula hanging from the kitchen island than to surf through drawers looking for it. You’ll also want to decant small amounts of common liquids and staples to make them easier to lift and distribute onto a dish or plated meal.
Similar to the bedroom, organize frequently used ingredients and prep materials for easy reach.
Rearrange to rely on low-lying storage rather than straining for upper cabinets. Where this isn’t possible, you can renovate to install pull-down storage units.
Overall Home Considerations
As you know by now, people with Parkinson’s can face regular mobility challenges. Sometimes, the solution is portable, like a rollator walker, which includes an easy-to-unfold seat.
For the permanent home space, it’s good to plan seating throughout. You might place a bench near the entrance of the home, then a sporadic chair, sofa, or bench as you move through rooms and hallways. Think about the path most traveled by the individual, and plan accordingly. That seat can be a life-saver when you consider the high fall risk for impulse control, balance, and freezing issues.
In the same vein of fall prevention, carpeting and rugs are not your friends. At a certain stage of Parkinson’s, the person will walk with a shuffling gait – you can see how a crumpled rug or the friction of carpet might work against their safety. Gather up those rugs and donate them.
In a larger home renovation, we like to install smooth, slip-free flooring, like a nice laminate or wood floor.
Addressing Cognitive Changes of Parkinson’s with Home Design
We’d also like to note the cognitive symptoms of Parkinson’s, which might be less visible but definitely affect the person’s daily life. Parkinson’s can cause slower processing, challenges in spatial perception, attention span difficulties, and, often, dementia symptoms of memory loss and confusion.
All of these components contribute to the high fall risk of a person with Parkinson’s. Especially with the onset of dementia confusion, the person may not recognize that they are a fall risk, so they won’t take steps to ensure their own safety.
For this reason, we highly recommend home modifications to eliminate staircases from the person’s daily trek. Where that’s not possible, we can modify homes with equipment that increases the safety of ascents and descents, like a vertical platform lift. We’ll want to look at the individual house and design the safest way for the person with Parkinson’s to get in and out of their own dwelling.
Automated appliances also help assuage the cognitive symptoms of Parkinson’s. Cooking can present a fire risk if pots are left unattended mid-preparation. But we can install stoves and ovens with sensors that automatically shut off when they detect inactivity or smoke. They can also hold temperatures steady — inattentively burned food might not always be a hazard, but it still doesn’t taste as good!
For added safety in the kitchen, we recommend removing the microwave and switching to a simple, press-button coffeemaker.
Speaking of temperature safety, you can also replace traditional faucets throughout the house with automated ones that control water temperature. Slower processing and confusion can lead a person to accidentally scald themselves if they don’t regulate water temperature. Instead, technology can do that for them.
Take Advantage of Gadgets for Parkinson's
This leads naturally to the ways that technology can effectively alleviate symptoms and risks of Parkinson’s. In general, technology has considerably changed home efficiency in the past decade. If you or a loved one live with Parkinson’s, we encourage you to employ it.
Tech gadgets like automated lighting, thermostats, and entertainment make your life easier and safer. They can also improve quality of life. The wiring and hardware for these will sometimes need to be planned ahead of time, so take that into account when renovating your home.
Home movement sensors likewise help prevent falls for people with Parkinson’s. They can emit fall warnings to both the person with Parkinson’s and caregivers attached to the alert. Sometimes this leads to prevention – or, at the very least, quick help after a fall.
Wearable technology can equally aid the person with Parkinson’s. A small on-person pressure sensor can notify a person of subtle changes in gait, balance, or movement. This may help them grab a seat, walker, or handrail before a fall happens. Or it can send an alert in an emergency – a life saving gadget!
Universal Design Suits Everyone in the Home
Consider the advantages of these modifications for other residents of the home, too. Many universal designs are suitable for people without PD as they age, like increased visibility and security features.
To learn more about products and changes to your home that can enable you to live with more independence, schedule a conversation with a Live in Place Designs CAPS specialist.