8 Ways To Make a Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy-Friendly Home

Posted on September 11, 2023

We often don’t realize how much we take for granted in our daily lives. Tasks that seem easy to many people can be incredibly hard for people living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). This progressive neuromuscular disorder causes muscle weakness and mobility issues. Children, teenagers, and adults with DMD may find it challenging to move around the house, open doors, or use stairs. If you’re a caregiver for a child or loved one with DMD, you may have to find new ways to make your home more accessible.

This article covers eight ways to make your living space more DMD-friendly. These home modifications can make your child’s or loved one’s life more comfortable and help improve their quality of life.

Mobility Issues and DMD

DMD is a genetic disease caused by changes in the dystrophin gene. The dystrophin protein helps hold muscle cells together. People with DMD don’t make enough dystrophin, meaning that their muscles wear away over time and are replaced by fat or scar tissue. This is why your child or loved one loses muscle mass, which affects their ability to walk, climb stairs, and lift their arms.

Eventually, people with DMD will need to use a mobility device like a wheelchair or an electric scooter to get around. The sooner you make accessible changes to your home, the easier it’ll be for your child or loved one to adapt when the time comes.

Here are eight ways you can make your home more accessible.

1. Install Ramps or Buy a Portable Ramp

Stairs can be difficult to climb when living with DMD. If your child or loved one uses a wheelchair or scooter, they may be limited to where they can go. Consider getting a ramp installed if you have steps leading into your house.

You can look for an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant ramp at your local hardware store and have it installed by a professional. They can help you find the best length ramp to avoid making it too steep. Permanent wheelchair ramps tend to be pricey, with their average cost running close to a couple thousand dollars for the ramp and installation.

For a cheaper option, you can look for a portable wheelchair ramp. These ramps come with handles and fold for easy transportation and use. Compared to expensive permanent ramps, portable ramps may only cost a few hundred dollars. Be sure to check the weight limit, especially if your child or loved one uses an electric wheelchair.

2. Choose Low-Pile Carpeting or Hard Flooring

Although comfy, plush rugs add a nice touch to your home, they can be difficult for wheelchairs and scooters to roll on. Choose appropriate flooring to make it easier for your child or loved one to move around. Low-pile carpeting, hardwood or laminate flooring, and tiling are all great options.

As you’re making flooring modifications, be sure to tape down or cover cords for lamps and electronics. It’s also a good time to clear away any clutter that may be in your child’s or loved one’s path throughout your home.

3. Rearrange Your Kitchen Cabinets

If you keep cups or bowls your child or loved one often uses in the top kitchen cabinets, it might be time to reorganize. Bring them down to the lower cabinets and drawers instead. If your child or loved one uses a mobility aid or wheelchair, they’ll appreciate being able to reach what they need without assistance. Use the newly empty space in the upper cabinets to store your pots and pans.

If you have deep cabinets or a Lazy Susan cupboard in the corner, consider getting rolling organizing trays that slide out. You’ll be able to fit more in these spaces while still making them accessible.

Some other kitchen additions that could help people with DMD include:

  • Side-by-side refrigerator that allows both refrigerated and frozen items to be seen and accessed at lower heights
  • Side-opening oven, which is easier to use by someone in a wheelchair
  • Roll-under stove top and sink
  • Touchless kitchen faucets

4. Make Easy Door Modifications

Traditional doorknobs require hand strength to grip and turn. People with DMD lose their grip strength over time, making it difficult to open doors. You can easily replace doorknobs with long lever-style handles that only need to be pushed down with a hand or elbow.

Take a closer look at your door hinges, too — they may take up valuable space your child or loved one could use to get through the doorway. The ADA states that doorways need to be a minimum of 32 inches wide to accommodate wheelchair users. To gain a few inches, replace your traditional hinges with offset hinges instead. They’re available online or in stores for $15 to $20.

5. Raise Chairs and Furniture

As your child's or loved one’s DMD progresses, they’ll continue to lose muscle strength and control. This progression can make it hard for them to get in and out of chairs, couches, and even their bed. The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) notes that raising the height of furniture around your home can make a big difference for your child or loved one.

Look at your local hardware store or online for furniture risers. These plastic pieces are easily added to the bottom of chair legs and bed frames to lift them a few more inches off the ground. Furniture risers are a relatively cheap home modification, costing around $20 for two sets of four risers.

6. Install Grab Bars and Handrails

If you have stairs in your home, they likely have handrails for safety and support. If there aren’t any, adding some can help your child or loved one safely get up and down the stairs. Carpeting or nonslip rubber mats on stairs help prevent slips and falls as well.

Grab bars are also a great addition to help people with DMD balance when standing up or sitting down. Your child or loved one may rely on nearby furniture or another person to help them, but it might not always be safe or convenient. Grab bars can help them maintain their independence.

Some places to think about installing railings or grab bars include:

  • In the bathtub or shower
  • Next to the toilet
  • Next to your child’s or loved one’s bed
  • In the kitchen or near the dining room table

Because railings and grab bars need to support a person’s weight, they’ll need to be installed securely into wall studs. Consider hiring a contractor with experience in installing these assistive devices and who is familiar with ADA requirements. With labor and materials, it can cost a few hundred dollars to have grab bars installed.

Although they’re expensive, stair lift chairs are also an option to help someone get up and down the stairs more easily. Stair lift chairs offer an electronic seat that moves up and down the stairs along a rod. They allow people to use the stairs and help reduce the risk of falling.

7. Upgrade Your In-Home Tech

Technology is quickly advancing, and assistive devices make it easier than ever to turn lights on and off (motion sensor lights), play music, and even lock your doors. Visit your local electronics store and ask about ways you can upgrade your home to be more hands-free.

You can connect many devices to your home’s Wi-Fi and control them with a home assistant, like Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Nest, or Apple’s HomePod. They can all be programmed to respond to voice commands. You can also set up apps on your child’s or loved one’s smartphone or tablet.

The prices of these systems vary — the best option may be one that works with other tech already in your home. While it’s an up-front investment, your child or loved one will appreciate that they can easily control their bedroom lights and TV volume.

8. Modify Your Bathroom

The bathroom is another area of the house where it would be helpful to make some modifications. In addition to grab bars around the toilet and in the shower, some alterations that may make the bathroom easier to use for you or your loved one with DMD include:

  • Raise the toilet seats or purchase a toilet seat riser.
  • Add a seat to the bathtub or shower.
  • Install a roll-in shower or use a camping shower, which could be set up in the kitchen.
  • Install a nonskid floor to help prevent falls.

Find Your Team

At myDMDcenter, the site for people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and their loved ones, people come together to gain a new understanding of DMD and share their stories with others who understand life with DMD.

What changes have you made to make your home more friendly for your child or loved one with Duchenne muscular dystrophy? How have the changes helped to improve their quality of life? Share your experiences in the comments below.

    Posted on September 11, 2023
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    Kiran Chaudhari, M.B.B.S., M.D., Ph.D. is a specialist in pharmacology and neuroscience and is passionate about drug and device safety and pharmacovigilance. Learn more about him here.
    Emily Wagner, M.S. holds a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology. She is passionate about immunology, cancer biology, and molecular biology. Learn more about her here.

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