Equipment and home adaptations
Equipment and changes to the house (adaptations) can help make things easier for you and the person you look after.
The healthcare team can tell you what support is available, how to get it and about any costs.
They may also arrange for the person you look after to work with an occupational therapist (OT). OTs give information, support and equipment to help with everyday tasks.
Occupational therapy assessment
The OT will assess the person you look after before they go home. They can give expert advice on what might be suitable for you and the person you care for.
They may also arrange for the person you look after to see a physiotherapist (PT). PTs give advice and support on how to help the person you look after with moving around (mobility).
The OT or PT will show you and the person you look after how to use equipment safely. They can also tell you where to position or store it.
Organisations such as Living Made Easy can give you an idea of what equipment is available and where you can buy it.
You can also hire equipment:
- to see if it helps before buying
- if you only need something for a short time.
You can hire equipment from the Red Cross to help with mobility and going to the toilet.
A walking stick can help with balance. A physiotherapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT) can advise you on which type might be best for the person you look after.
For safety, the stick needs to be the correct height.
You can get walking sticks that are:
- left or right-handed
- come with feet, so they stand up by themselves.
Sometimes the person you look after can borrow a walking stick from the hospital. You may need to pay a deposit. Mobility shops and websites also sell walking sticks.
Walking frames (Zimmer frames)
Walking frames give more support than a walking stick. It is important that the frame or stick is at the correct height so that it is safe to use.
Walking frames may:
- come with or without wheels
- have seats, trays or baskets attached
- fold down to fit in the boot of a car.
Your PT or OT can advise you on which type of frame is suitable for the person you are looking after.
If the person you look after struggles to walk, you may find a wheelchair helpful when going outdoors and into shops and buildings.
Your PT or OT may advise you on whether to borrow, rent or buy one. It might depend on:
- how long they might need it
- how often it will be used
- whether it is for indoors or outdoors.
If the person you look after needs a wheelchair for a longer time, the GP, PT or OT may refer them for a wheelchair assessment. The assessment can help find out if they need one, and which type would be most suitable. If they want to get a wheelchair on the NHS, they will need a wheelchair assessment.
Buying a wheelchair
A mobility scooter can be useful for covering longer distances. They can often be folded to fit in the boot of a car. They can be expensive. You may want to think about:
- how often the person you look after will need it
- whether it will go on the road as well as the pavement
- where you might keep it
- the care and maintenance costs.
A PT or OT may give advice to help you decide.
Toilet, bathing and dressing aids
A raised toilet seat may make going to the toilet safer and more comfortable for the person you look after.
If they find getting to the toilet difficult, you might want to think about having a urine bottle by the bed, or a commode.
A commode is a chair with a toilet bowl hidden underneath. The person you look after can keep it close by. If they worry about getting to the toilet at night, it may be useful to keep in their bedroom.
Equipment to make bathing safer includes:
- handrails in the bathroom
- slip mats
- shower seats.
There is also equipment to help with putting on underwear, socks, tights and shoes.
Beds and chairs
If the person you look after spends a lot of time in bed, it is important they are comfortable. The district nurse can arrange:
- a pressure-relieving mattress
- an adjustable bed rest
- blocks to make a bed higher – these are called bed raisers
- a hospital bed at home.
Ask the person you look after what could make them comfortable. They may need to try different sitting or sleeping positions. Using lots of pillows can help. For example, V-shaped pillows can relieve pressure on the back.
If their arms or legs are swollen, you can use extra pillows to support them and help reduce the swelling. District nurses can usually provide a pressure-relieving cushion.
An OT or PT can give you advice on the main chair that the person uses. They may be able to provide furniture raisers to make chairs higher and easier to get in and out of. They might be able to provide a more suitable chair, such as a recliner.
If the person you are caring for has breathing problems, the district nurses or palliative care team can arrange equipment to use at home.
This may include an oxygen cylinder or a nebuliser. A nebuliser gives medicine as a vapour to inhale.
Other types of equipment
The occupational therapist (OT) can suggest practical changes to make the house safer, more comfortable and easier to live in. This could include putting handrails in the bathroom, or moving the bed downstairs.
It is also sometimes possible to make bigger changes. This can involve putting in a toilet or shower downstairs, or fitting a stair lift. This can take a few months of planning and involve building work.
You and the person you are caring for will need to talk to an OT about any bigger changes to the home. This is to make sure you understand how the change might affect everyday life while it is being made.
The local authority might pay for the changes if the person you are caring for lives in a council or housing association house or flat.
If they own their home or rent it privately, they may still be able to get some financial help. Ask the OT, social worker or your local social services about this.
You should make any claims for financial help before building work starts.
If the person you look after needs more care or is coming home from hospital, you may want to organise their room for them.
Here are some tips:
- Ask them which room they would like to have – they might prefer to be near the bathroom.
- If possible, position the furniture so that you can get to each side of the bed safely.
- Leave things within reach for them.
- Ask which of their things they would like in their room – for example, their computer or tablet, or special ornaments and photos.
Technology can help people living with cancer to be more independent. It can also reassure you both.
Carers UK has information about the following types of technology that can help you and the person you look after:
By touching a button worn around the neck or wrist, the user can contact a 24-hour emergency response centre for help. These can be helpful if someone falls.
Passive infra-red (PIR) detectors
These devices are placed on the walls to monitor activity. They can tell you whether the person you look after is moving around, and if someone else is there. PIR detectors can also tell you whether appliances such as the kettle are being used.
Property exit sensors
These can tell you when people come and go from the house.
Wearable GPS trackers
These can be useful if you worry that the person may leave the house and get lost or be unsafe.
You can set up cameras with motion sensors around the house or on the doorbell.
Carbon monoxide, gas, smoke and flood detector
Sensors can detect a gas leak, fire or flood in the home, and send alerts.
Vital sign monitoring
This can send information from heart or blood pressure monitors to a monitoring centre, and then to the person’s GP or healthcare team. This can help check conditions such as asthma, heart failure, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Devices can remind you about taking medication and issue the correct dose at the right time. They can also lock to prevent the person taking too much medication, and send alerts if medication has not been taken.
Bed or chair sensors
These can detect if the person has have got up but not returned in a set time. It automatically sends an alert to a carer or emergency service..
Some adult social care departments may have a technology team that can offer advice and tell you about any costs involved.
Mobile apps can also be useful. You can download them from the app store onto your phone. The Carers UK app Jointly can help co-ordinate care between several people.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our looking after someone with cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Supporting adult carers committee. Supporting Adult Carers: NICE guideline [NG150] Published: 22 January 2020. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng150 (accessed May 2022)
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. People's experience in adult social care services committee. People's experience in adult social care services: improving the experience of care and support for people using adult social care services: NICE guideline [NG86] Published: 20 February 2018. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng86 (accessed May 2022)
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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The language we use
We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.
We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:
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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.
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