Life with MS

Designing Home Modifications for Multiple Sclerosis

By Lori Bellport, Certified Aging in Place Specialist 
One thing that we tend to cherish as individuals is living with independence. The disruptive symptoms of MS can make this difficult, especially over time. One important strategy in planning for your future when diagnosed with MS revolves around helping you maintain the highest quality of life through design.

Designing your space with intention will help you manage and ameliorate the issues of MS while bolstering quality of life. This means thinking about architecture, engaging in renovation for accessibility, and utilizing assistive products – especially assistive technology. Small actions add up, making your home a place for work, therapy, and rest. 

Home modifications and assistive products strengthen quality of life on two fronts: alleviating the challenges of specific symptoms and meeting individual needs. Based on a blend of these, we group home design modifications according to the following considerations. 

Safety and Accessibility 

Some common symptoms of MS increase everyday accident risks. Think about how these issues would make someone more likely to experience mobility issues and injure themselves – especially in a fall:

* Altered sense of balance
* Weakness
* Numbness

For this reason, safety needs to be the first priority in home modifications for MS. At the top of the safety pyramid lies fall prevention

The first order of business is to eliminate tripping hazards in the home. We step across raised thresholds all the time without considering how tricky this could be for someone with gait, balance, or vision problems. 

Minimize this risk by smoothing out passageways. This could involve matching varied floor heights, adding gradual ramps instead of stark thresholds between rooms, or remodeling a bathroom with a zero-barrier shower. 

Redesigning can also place the most-often-used appliances, storage, and household items in the “easy reach” zone. This might be as simple as repositioning shelves or as extensive as changing countertop heights.

The bathroom needs special attention in this regard. With slick surfaces and the obvious water element, it’s a high fall-risk area. Bathroom redesigns could incorporate grab bars, a higher toilet, and open design concepts that minimize opportunities to trip or slip. 

You’ll want to accommodate equipment that supports safe movement in the space, too. This generally means widening doorways and hallways.

But take a close look at the pathways of the home. Where does the person with MS travel on a daily basis? What sort of turning radius will they need now and in the coming years for a walker, or a wheelchair? Does the existing home build call for larger modifications, like a ramp, stair lift, or elevator? 

Energy Conservation 

Ask anyone with MS and they’ll tell you that fatigue is one of the most persistent symptoms. When your energy is limited, you want to expend it on what matters most.

For this reason, the majority of design plans for MS need to support energy conservation

Centralize and Condense 

Create “activity centers” around the house based on your consistent needs. For instance, you could have a “kitchen center” arranged for easy coffee/tea and simple meal preparation. Want to get really fancy? Add a nearby Bluetooth speaker for morning news, music, or podcasts and to control smart appliances. Stove, sink, fridge, and cabinets or shelves containing essentials can also all be installed near each other. 

From the kitchen, an adjacent home office station: desk with comfortable chair, phone or tablet stand, and built-in shelves for your pens, stickies, and organizers.

You can see how a similar approach would work by clustering clothes and get-ready items in the bedroom or toiletries in the bathroom. Think of creating “triangles of ease” throughout the house. 

Pain Management 

People with MS often deal with muscle spasticity and nerve-related pains that may come and go but never really stop. They also might deal with secondary pain from muscle stiffness and temperature sensitivity.

Certain home modifications build in tools for pain management. For example, an easy-access bathtub allows for a nice cool soak to combat nerve pain. Induction stoves use magnetism instead of flames, keeping kitchen temperatures down and lessening heat discomfort.

Don’t underestimate the value of a calming space for pain management either. Home modifications can increase soothing materials, colors, and architectural points.

Cognitive Help, Stress Relief, and Mental Health 

For many, progression of MS involves cognitive challenges with attention and processing, or mental health changes such as depression. Stress also increases MS flare-ups, so you want to break that cycle where possible. 

Biophilic design brings the outdoors into the living space and, with it, the well-studied mental health benefits of nature. This could encompass small green touches, such as a potted house plant, or larger changes, such as a bay window with built-in seating, or the addition of an indoor garden with tall planters that alleviate stooping. 

Spaces for peace. Through home modification, you can redesign an existing space or add a new room to cultivate a sense of comfort and well-being. You can also interweave natural elements in home renovation materials – stone, wood, and raw textiles.

Spaces for therapy, exercise, and rehabilitation. It’s a real challenge – staying active makes for a positive prognosis, but fatigue and muscular symptoms can make you only want to veg on the couch.

We return to that concept of activity centers to conserve energy. Create a nook for wellness activities that will help you in the long-run. Then you can avoid the trouble of rolling out a yoga mat or getting your weights out of the closet each time 

Lighting. The ability to manipulate light in the environment also influences mood and mental clarity. Bright, full-spectrum light can help combat depression. On the other hand, you might employ black-out curtains or automated blinds in your bedroom to regulate sleep cycles.

Don’t Overlook the Caregivers in Home Design 

Caregivers are often an essential part of the life with MS – if not daily, on some sort of regular basis. We recommend creating a space for the caregivers as part of a holistic design approach.

You could add a separate wing for the caregiver – or simply redesign existing spaces to incorporate nooks throughout the house. 

When the caregiver (whether that’s a family member, friend, or a working assistant) has spaces where they can recharge, they and the individual with MS will both feel the benefits. 

Hope in Home Design 

For assistance with a home design project, seek out a CAPS-certified builder or designer, like my company, Live in Place Designs. CAPS stands for “certified aging-in-place specialist” and is a program developed by the National Association of Home Builders in collaboration with Home Innovation Research Labs, NAHB 50+ Housing Council and the AARP to help individuals prepare for their future needs at home. 

People with MS can greatly increase their quality of life by employing thoughtful design that accounts for their individual needs.

Lori Bellport is a Cofounder of Live in Place Designs LLC, Lori is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, a Senior Home Safety Specialist, and a Certified Senior Advisor. She has held various executive-level positions over 15 years in the long-term care industry. She has an MBA in Healthcare Administration and a Master of Public Administration with a focus in project management. She is also a veteran of the United States Air Force and served under Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Live in Place Designs
Design for your specific health needs doesn’t have to “look” ADA-compliant. We’re here to design your space to go beyond accessible to beautiful. At Live in Place Designs we want your space to help you move easily, manage pain, and experience well-being on a daily basis.