How to Prepare Your Home When Diagnosed With Parkinson’s Disease

Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with Parkinson’s Disease, and by 2030, the Parkinson’s Foundation predicts that it will affect more than 1.2 million people, becoming a greater part of daily life. 

“The motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s can have dramatic effects on the ability for a person to interact with their home environments,” explains Dr. Michael Okun, the National Medical Director at the Parkinson’s Foundation.

“Parkinson’s is common among the elders,” says Ian Wright, CEO of Bequests. “If you or your loved one has Parkinson’s disease, home modifications are crucial to improve the quality of life.” To help, we spoke with the country’s leading experts to find out how to best modify your home when you have Parkinson’s Disease.  

Home adaptability

When you have Parkinson’s Disease, you can experience a myriad of symptoms that interfere with your daily routine. The first step is learning to identify your symptoms so you can recognize them as they occur and address them accordingly. Symptoms may include:

  • Tremors or shaking of your hands, arms, legs, jaw or head
  • Stiffness of arms, legs and trunk
  • Slow movement
  • Trouble with balance and coordination

“Daily living tasks such as going to the bathroom, getting in and out of bed, and walking around the house are often more difficult,” explains Daniel Morris, founder of My Caring Plan, a website dedicated to providing family caregiving and senior care. 

However, if you know what to look for, you will be able to understand your symptoms and address them accordingly.  While each person is different and experiences unique challenges, there are many modifications around the house that could make home a little more agreeable. 

As the founder of We Buy Property In Kentucky, Luke Smith is familiar with the process. “We have encountered homes that were made or need modification for elderly,” he explains. “Some of the most common updates that need to be done are very obvious. You should remove all glass fixtures, sharp items and wall hangings that could cause major injury. Rounded edges for handles and corners are good.” 

Your occupational therapist (O.T.) or rehabilitation specialist can help guide you through these modifications to find the best ones for you. 

Your home insurance provider may also be a huge help, adds Wright. “You must update your home insurance provider about any modifications you make. You can increase your personal property and liability coverage,” he explains. “It may increase your premium by a few dollars, but you can have peace of mind with the protection you get.”

Regardless of how you structure your home insurance, there will likely be updates that you will need to make.

This may include any of these modifications for your home. 

Living room and bedroom adjustments

Rearrange your furniture 

The first place to start is with the placement of your furniture. Since Parkinson’s is a challenge to your mobility, it’s important to clear wide pathways and make movement a little easier. 

“At the Parkinson’s Foundation, we know that people with Parkinson’s do much better when they can open up spaces in the home,” Dr. Okun tells us. “When I’m talking to those living with Parkinson’s and their care partners, I will ask for pictures of the main living and dining areas and recommend removing furniture and widening walking areas. It is not uncommon to get stuck or to fall in small closets or in tight kitchens.”

Replace necessary furniture

The ideal furniture will feature straight backs, armrests and firm seats that will make it easier for you to get up and move. Avoid chairs that are low or flimsy. Says Morris, “Furniture should be sturdy; avoiding non-swivel chairs is recommended.”

Remove tripping hazards

Long wires and cords can easily become tripping hazards when you’re not looking, so arrange for easy access to outlets and secure loose cords. That could mean changing your flooring, too, says Morris. “Changing flooring from slippery tile and hardwood floors to non-skid surfaces can help avoid falls.” 

Let there be light

“All rooms should be brightly lit so that things are clearly seen. A dark room increases the chances of missteps,” says Zach Reece. As founder of Atlanta’s Colony Roofers, he frequently assists in home modifications for Parkinson’s patients. 

Lights that you can turn on and off by sound or touch are ideal choices so you don’t have to fumble with a switch. Explains Morris, “Lighting in all rooms of the house should be bright enough to easily distinguish between different objects, as vision problems are often a symptom of the disease.”

“It’s best to have motion lights in high traffic areas,” suggests Smith. “If your loved one wakes up in the middle of the night and starts to travel around, it will alert others or, at the very least, provide them light to see around. Automatic nightlights throughout the house are great and cheap as well.”

Install handrails, grab rails and ramps as needed

“As an occupational therapist who specializes in home modification, I see patients with Parkinson’s regularly,” says Dr. Brandy Archie, the Founding Director of AccessAble Living. With over 13 years of experience, Archie helps adapt environments to fit the needs of older adults. 

“Anytime the stairs can be avoided, it’s helpful in the long run, but a sturdy rail on both sides that one’s hand can wrap totally around can really go a long way with safety and limiting the risk for falls,” she tells us.

Morris also recommends using handrails “along walls, hallways, and stairwells where there is nothing to hold on to. They can be extremely helpful in improving balance and preventing falls.”

Reece advocates the use of ramps instead of stairs. “It’s ideal to replace all stairs with ramps for easier access,” he says. “Also, install grab rails on the sides of the wall.”

Reconsider your bed

“A firm mattress should be used instead of a water bed or a flimsy mattress,” says Morris. He also recommends a bed that is low enough to prevent jumping and bedrails that can offer easier movement. “Beds should be attached with a pole to assist easy movement in and out of the bed,” explains Reece.  

Add extra security

At Bequests, Wright also recommends reassessing your home for the proper alarms and security. “Ensure overall safety at home by installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure that you have one per floor and that they’re working properly. Contact your home security provider to inspect your security systems if they’ve been installed for a while now.”

Bathroom adjustments

This is one of the most important places for enhanced safety, but Dr. Archie says that it doesn’t have to be complicated. “Our recommendations are often a chair for the shower [and] handles or grab bars for the toilet for safety.” 

“In the bathroom, an elevated toilet seat and a secure grab bar on the wall can make it easier to get on and off the toilet,” agrees Morris. “A roll-in shower can be useful for people in wheelchairs, and a non-slip bathroom mat is helpful for all.”

“Grab rails should be installed on walls along bathtubs and toilets,” says Reece. “This can help the individual to easily move and get up without losing balance.” 

Smith offers his advice as a real estate home expert. “A majority of accidents happen in the bathroom, specifically during bathing activities,” he warns. “Getting in and out of a shower tub is very dangerous. If you’re willing to do construction, it’s best to create a shower that has a level floor without a lip at all. This usually requires tile or a tile-like finish for the floors, but it makes coming and going from the shower much safer.”

Kitchen adjustments

“In the kitchen, small modifications can help,” says Morris. “Using handles on cabinets instead of knobs can make opening cabinets easier to use, and moving commonly used objects to a more accessible location can help drastically.”

You also want to consider height, says Reece. “In kitchens, have counters that are low so that it’s accessible via wheelchair.” 

There are several kitchen items that can especially be of help. “In the kitchen, weighted or adapted utensils are a lifesaver,” says Dr. Archie. “There are also weighted cups and mugs, making it harder to spill and easier to drink from when dealing with tremors. Another trick is using non-slip drawer liners as a placemat, so the plate stays put, even though their hands may be moving.”

Other items that can help include an electric jar opener for tough lids and an extended lever for lift-tab cans. Pans with a wide base are less likely to knock over, and a spike board can help keep the cutting board still while you’re peeling and chopping. 

Just be sure to find a place for storage. “Decluttering a house makes it much safer,” says Smith. “The less items on the shelf, countertops, walls or even in the floor make coming and going safer for all.”

How to finance home modifications

Sometimes, it’s not so much what to install but how to pay the bill when it’s all done. “Most people with Parkinson’s disease end up paying for home modifications out of pocket,” says Morris. But there are ways to save on modifications. According to Morris some alternative include: 

  • Long-term care insurance coverage
  • Funding through VA programs 
  • Medicaid and Medicare home modification coverage 

Regardless of your financial situation, Dr. Archie suggests you start small, although she acknowledges that “building a ramp or installing a stairlift may be needed down the road.” By focusing on more efficient and cost-effective aids, you can save in the meantime.

“This is much less costly and can keep the patient moving, which is the key to success with managing Parkinson’s,” adds Dr. Archie. 

Helpful tips

In addition to the more intensive home modifications, there are simple things that you can do to create a calm home and turn it into an enjoyable space to live in. This can include painting your home in soothing colors and decorating spaces with feel-good items like scented candles and family photos.

Seek a helping hand 

To help you stay active at home, there are many online communities dedicated to health, wellness, fitness and support. An O.T. can also help. “O.T.’s can help people with Parkinson’s disease work on performing tasks that become more difficult,” says Morris. “A shortlist of things an OT might work on is turning over in bed, getting in and out of bed, creating good posture for drinking and eating, and preventing falls.”

“Ordering an O.T. home visit can be very helpful,” says Dr. Okun. “They can walk through your home and make specific recommendations for changes in the layout—or alternatively additions to rooms such as the bathroom—which can make living easier.”

The American Occupation Therapist Association (AOTA) can help you find the right occupational therapist for your needs so you can benefit from personalized support while you adjust.

Take advantage of technology 

The addition of new technologies from Google Home and Amazon Alexa allow for greater flexibilities and freedoms for people with Parkinson’s who could have challenges holding or reaching household devices. You can use your voice to make a call, play a favorite album, surf the web or even call for emergency help.

Adapting and looking ahead 

Every day, the quality of life is improved for countless people with Parkinson’s Disease all across the globe, thanks to continued technology developments, combined with the added exposure and research from the Parkinson’s Foundation and others like it. No matter how you choose to adapt your home, one thing is for sure – there’s plenty of support to help you find your way.

Lena Borrelli

Contributing Writer

Lena Borrelli is a Tampa-based freelance writer who has worked with leading industry titans, such as Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, and Simon Corporation. Her work has most recently been published on sites like TIME, ADT, Fiscal Tiger, Bankrate and Home Advisor, as well as many other websites and blogs around the world.