Australian-first research has shown that modifying the home of a community care client can reduce the need for care by an average of 42 per cent and lead to a 40 per cent improvement in a person’s quality of life.

Some 157 older people and people with a disability were studied as part of the research, which has demonstrated the significant role home modifications can play in not only supporting but substituting for care, and in a restorative approach.

Dr Philippa Carnemolla presents her research at the Three Minute Thesis competition
Dr Philippa Carnemolla, UNSW Built Environment, presents her research at the Three Minute Thesis competition.

Dr Phillippa Carnemolla, industrial designer and research associate with the Home Modification Information Clearinghouse, who conducted the research for her PhD, said people who received home modifications associated them with increased independence, safety and confidence, and improved mobility at home. They also enabled a return home from hospital and increased social participation.

Significantly, the study found that the cost of the home modification did not predict greater savings in care hours or improvements to quality of life. In fact, some lower cost modifications in the study resulted in significant reductions in informal care hours.

For example, Dr Carnemolla said a $286 home modification of a handrail from bedroom to bathroom reduced informal care task hours from 110 hours per week to 10 hours per week, with the caregiver being able to return to work.

“What my research does is point towards individualised design solutions to ensure that a home modification targets the individual needs of each participant,” she told Community Care Review.

The study found there was less reduction in formal care hours compared with unpaid care after a modification, but Dr Carnemolla said this may in part reflect high levels of unmet need for formal care. The impact of home modifications could be to enable the redirection of care resources to other services, rather than simply reducing overall care, she said.

The home modifications in the study ranged from $40 to $68,000 and included the installation of handrails, ramps and lifts to complete bathroom renovations.

Dr Carnemolla gave the example of study participant Christopher, 49, who had injured his spinal cord and was unable to walk upstairs to use the bathroom.

As a result of a home modification, he was able to get to the bathroom and shower himself without help. For his carer, physically and emotionally stressful work was reduced and Christopher regained the energy to go out to the movies with his wife, as a result of the changes to his home environment.

The findings showed that at a policy level housing, health and care policy needed to be considered together and were interdependent, as changes to people’s housing have a significant impact on people’s health and care needs, she said.

Building on these results, an economic analysis of the data is currently being conducted by a health economist to assess the financial impact of home modifications.

Dr Carnemolla will present her findings at the Home Modifications Australia Conference 2016 in Canberra 28-29 April.

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