Caring for a physical disability at home

Written by Zenya Smith12/09/17


Live-in care

Later life can naturally make it more difficult to move around and live an active life. It’s all part of the normal ‘slowing down’ we expect as we get older.

For those living with a physical disability, however, getting older can bring added complications. Whether you’ve lived with a physical disability your whole life, or it happened suddenly as a result of an accident or a illness, navigating changes in abilities and strength can make some everyday tasks difficult, and certain situations more dangerous. 

In this guide we’ll look at some of the ways a physical disability can impact later life, and how family, friends, and professional carers can help make things easier. 


Physical disabilities and later life

We all expect to find certain things a bit harder to do when we grow older, with a natural reduction in muscle strength and lower energy levels often part and parcel of the ageing process. Sometimes though, these experiences can be made worse by certain health conditions.

Arthritis for example can have a big and lasting impact on someone’s mobility and ability to live independently. Some people may not consider arthritis a disability because in many cases symptoms can be mild, or managed with the right interventions. However, under the Equality Act, if your arthritis has had – or is expected to have – a serious effect on daily living for at least 12 months, then it is classed as a physical disability and you could be eligible for some support. 

Sometimes mobility problems can be brought on more suddenly in later life, and have a more instant impact on how you live day to day. For example, a stroke or spinal injury from a fall may leave a person unable to get around independently. In some cases this can be temporary, however for others the damage can be permanent and require on-going support. 

Other limiting conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia bring with them a range of physical side effects in conjunction with the neurological ones.


What adaptations might you have to make in the home? 

There’s a wide range of changes you can make around the home to make living with a disability easier. Adaptations can be focused on supporting independent living so that a person can do things for themselves, but they can also make it safer for carers to provide assistance when needed too. 

Minor adaptations 

These are things that can be installed fairly easily, without the need for major structural work or renovations – 

Grab rails

Made from metal or plastic, grab rails are often fitted at doorways or in risky areas of the home such as by the toilet or shower. If you find yourself or a loved one reaching out or steadying themselves on a particular wall or doorframe, it could be a good place to install one. They come in a variety of lengths and styles. Horizontal rails are  often used to used to push up – for example when getting up from the toilet,  vertical rails are used to pull up, for example when getting out the bath or steadying yourself in the shower, and diagonal rails will help with pulling and pushing. 

Lever taps 

These taps have a longer handle to grip to push and only require a small amount of movement to turn off and on. Some work by pushing up and down, as opposed to twisting, which can be more difficult for people with less dexterity or who struggle to grip. 


Ramps can easily be installed external steps – such as a front or back doorway, and to small steps around the home. They can even be used in internal doorways where floors in different rooms are slightly uneven – removing the risk of tripping. There’s a huge range available, just be aware of durability, for example a metal ramp with rubber grips may be more suitable for outdoor use in all weathers. 

Bath lift 

A bath lifts fit into a standard bath and raises a person in and out the bath safely. They’re usually battery powered so it’s important to consider how often you’ll need to charge it and if you’ll be able to charge and replace the battery yourself. Bath lifts can cater to people with lots of different mobility issues. For example, upright and reclining models offer more back support, and are often the choice of people who struggle with balance when sitting. Inflatable or canvas strap designs offer a bit more freedom of movement. 

To use a bath lift it’s important to check that you can get in and out of the seat safely, and can lift your legs over the side of the bath. The movement is similar to getting into bed. 


Major adaptations 

Larger adaptations are likely to require professional tradespeople to install. They may mean remodelling parts of the home like the kitchen or bathroom to make them more accessible. 

  • Lowering the kitchen sink and counter tops. You may also choose to remove under sink storage if you or a loved one uses a wheelchair so that they can get closer to the sink when washing up. 
  • Installing more accessible power outlets 
  • installing a stairlift. There are two main types, one that can travel up and down straight staircases, and those that can navigate a curve in a staircase. You can also get special perch seats if sitting is uncomfortable. 
  • Creating a wet room or adding a larger walk in shower if getting into a bath or shower cubicle is difficult
  • Widening doorways 


Where can you get support with home adaptations? 

Your local social services should offer a free service to assess your home and recommends changes to help. You can apply for an assessment online. The assessment will usually be carried out by an occupational therapist who’ll take a look around and ask you what parts of your daily life you find difficult. It can help to have someone with you during the assessment in case there’s anything you forget to mention. 

The council should pay for each adaptation that costs less than £1,000, which will usually cover most minor adaptations. For larger adaptations, you can seek support from a home improvement agency, who can help with planning and costs. 

How you can support a person with physical disability

If you’re supporting a loved one with a physical disability, it can sometimes be difficult to get the balance right between helping them and hindering their sense of independence. Family caregivers may find the following steps useful – 

Helping with everyday life 

  • Ask before stepping in and doing something for them. Be patient and focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities, there may be a way you can adapt the task so that they can do all or part of it themselves. 
  • Don’t push them to do something they cannot do. 
  • Treat them as you would if they didn’t have a disability. Ask them before touching or moving them. Don’t force them to do or go places they don’t want to. This is especially important if they are in a wheelchair – while you may wish to help by pushing them, they may be more than capable of manoeuvring the chair for themselves.
  • Be mindful of your language, as some phrases can make it feel like their disability is defining them. For example, instead of saying ‘they’re disabled’, say ‘they live with a disability’.
  • Involve them in their care decisions. Have open conversations and respect their choices and dignity. 

Emergency response 

Even with the best of intentions, unexpected things can happen so it’s good to have a plan in place should an accident or emergency happen to help everyone feel calmer and more in control. 

Work with your loved one to create an emergency plan. This should include a list of people to call, details of doctors, medical specialists, and the medication they’re taking. You can find out more about creating a plan here. 

Supporting emotionally 

It’s important for a person living with a disability to look after their mental well-being, as adapting to and living with any health condition has the potential to negatively affect their mood or behaviour.

For some people, having a friend or family member pop round for a cup of tea and a ‘how are you doing today?’ can make all the difference. For others, they may feel more comfortable talking to someone they don’t know, such as a support helpline like the Samaritans or a mental health counsellor.  

Some useful organisations include – 


If you’re caring for a loved one, it’s just as important to look after yourself too. Sometimes looking after a loved one can bring you closer together, however it can also put new strains on your relationship. If you’re feeling stressed, tired or upset it can impact on the support you’re providing. Speak to your GP about carer support services if you’re worried. 

Social activities 

Social isolation is common in people living with disabilities as it can be difficult to get out and about. Some clubs and services may feel inaccessible, and lead to people feeling excluded too. Work with them to understand what they’d like to do and start by making small steps, especially if they’re feeling low or apprehensive about their social life. A simple walk in the park or trip to a museum could be a good place to start. 

Support groups can help them meet with people in similar situations, share their own experiences and learn new ways to cope. If they’d prefer to socialise with people who don’t share their condition, Age UK have a huge range of local social clubs like arts and crafts and coffee mornings on their websites. 


How can a live-in carer help?

Professional live-in care is becoming an increasingly popular form of elderly care among those living with a physical disability. A companion care worker moves into the home to help where needed while encouraging independence and maintaining as much normality as possible. 

A live-in carer will do only as little or as much around the house as you want, taking on household management tasks such as cooking, cleaning and light gardening, in addition to personal care tasks such as bathing, and getting into and out of bed or a wheelchair. 

Carers will be able to take you to and from those all-important hospital and doctor’s appointments and social activities, something which many disabled people living alone in old age can struggle to manage.

Carer’s can also assist with hoisting if it’s safe to do so singlehandedly – as directed by an occupational therapist. However, if you may need an additional carer to visit at certain times of day if two people are required to use a hoist safely. 

If your loved one needs specialist dementia care, they will be carefully matched to a carer who is trained to look after people with the condition, as well as those who are disabled.


This article is for informational purposes only and not to be taken as medical advice. For medical advice, always consult your GP.

Learn more about live-in care

Take a look at more Elder guides on the benefits of live-in care. 

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