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How to prepare your home if you have a chronic disease or serious illness

5-minute read

If you have a chronic disease or a serious illness, it is worth thinking about how to prepare yourself and your home in case problems arise. This page offers information about home modifications, medical equipment at home, telephone services, emergency call systems and sources of funding.

Who needs home-based care?

Anyone with a chronic or terminal illness, or who is frail or elderly, but who wishes to remain at home is likely to need some help.

Every condition has its own particular issues, but you might need:

  • home modifications (like a stair lift), if you have a condition like motor neurone disease
  • an emergency call system if you are elderly and have frequent falls
  • a meal delivery service (such as Meals on Wheels) if you are unable to cook
  • signs or pictures to help you remember tasks if you have dementia

Why plan for home-based care?

Planning can help ensure that you get the care and treatment you prefer. With many conditions, you can remain relatively independent and make your own decisions. If you plan well, it is easy to make changes as your situation changes.

However, if you have a degenerative condition such as dementia, it is wise to prepare for when you are no longer capable of running your own affairs.

Depending on your situation, you might need to:

  • organise for a home carer (a partner, relative, volunteer or paid carer)
  • get regular help with bathing, going to the toilet, dressing and other self-care tasks
  • have a nurse visit you at home to provide services such as changing dressings or managing incontinence
  • organise help with household tasks such as cleaning, shopping and gardening
  • do advance care planning, so you can tell others what care and treatment options you want if you are no longer able to communicate or are dying
  • appoint a substitute legal decision-maker through an enduring power of attorney

What should I consider?

Home modifications

Home modifications can allow you to remain independent and prevent injuries. For example, if you are in a wheelchair you might need to widen doorways, relocate light switches, lower a kitchen benchtop or install ramps.

Essential medical treatment

If you need medical treatment or other appointments, ask about the best way to meet with your health practitioners. They might be able to visit and treat you at home. Subsidised transport services are also available to take you to doctors’ or hospital appointments.

Medical equipment at home

You might need special equipment to manage your condition.

For example, if you:

  • have kidney failure, you could perform dialysis at home with a free haemodialysis machine
  • have a chronic lung condition, you might be prescribed home oxygen therapy, which may be subsidised by the Australian Government
  • have trouble walking, you might need a frame or a wheelchair
  • have trouble speaking, you might need specialist equipment such as a speech generating device.

The Care Gateway has information on financial support for aids and equipment.

Plan for unexpected power outages

If you rely on electrically-powered essential medical equipment, then plan for possible power outages.

The first step is to register as a ‘life support customer’ with your electricity provider.

Once registered, they will notify you in advance of intended power outages. You also need to have a plan in place for unexpected blackouts.

To avoid problems with electricity blackouts:

  • ensure you have backup medical equipment fully charged at all times
  • list emergency numbers, including your doctor, hospital and someone nearby to assist you if the power goes out

Find out more about energy and essential medical equipment from the Australian Energy Regulator.

Emergency call systems

An emergency call system linked to a telephone can be used to raise the alarm if something goes wrong. There are different types of emergency call systems, such as a transmitter, worn around your neck, that can activate the call system if you fall or need help.

Find out more about different types of emergency call services or phone the Independent Living Centres Advisory Service on 1300 885 886.

People with life-threatening medical conditions can register with their telecommunications company as a priority customer.

Telstra is the only carrier required to provide this service. Other companies may choose to provide it.

Contact Telstra for information on how to register for its priority service.

Keeping a key with a neighbour

It is worthwhile keeping a key with a neighbour or with a relative who lives nearby. That way if you need help but can’t get to the door, emergency services should be able to get in.

Where can you get funding?

Home care services subsidies

You might be eligible for government subsidies towards home care services, including personal care services, allied health support and limited nursing. Subsidies are available through:

  • National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS): aims to give people with permanent disabilities personal care and support
  • Home Care Packages: provides a package of support, including personal care, nursing care, food services and allied health support services to meet the needs of Australians over the age of 65 and some younger people with disabilities
  • Commonwealth Home Support Programme: provides entry-level home support and subsidises essential home modifications for people over the age of 65.

State and territory governments also provide subsidised home help schemes. For more information, see help at home.

Medical equipment and supplies subsidies

You might be eligible for small additional government subsidies for medical equipment and supplies.

  • Essential Medical Equipment Payment: provides a small amount (currently $157 a year for each piece of medical equipment) towards additional home energy costs due to the use of medical equipment.
  • Continence Aids Payment Scheme: currently provides up to $596.60 per year towards buying continence products for people with permanent and severe incontinence.

Other help

Charities and organisations that deal with particular conditions or types of disability, such as Vision Australia and the Cancer Council, might also offer assistance.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2019

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