Equipment to improve the home: where to buy it and when is it free?

You can hire or buy equipment to improve the home of a person with dementia. Some equipment is provided for free by social services and the NHS. 

Using equipment and making adaptations at home
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The vast range of products available can feel daunting when you’re considering how to make things easier for a person with dementia. Focus on their individual needs and use available help and support.

Where can I get advice on buying equipment for a person with dementia?

When you’re considering getting equipment or making adaptations to the home, get advice from health or social care professionals. 

They can advise on:

  • useful equipment
  • strategies to help with everyday activities (such as washing, dressing or moving around the home)
  • appropriate ways to cope with changes in mental and physical abilities.

Occupational therapists work in health and social services, and in both private and voluntary organisations.

You can contact an occupational therapist through the GP or hospital consultant, or through your local authority’s social services team.

For private occupational therapists, contact the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (for contact details see 'Other resources').

A qualified physiotherapist (known as a ‘chartered physiotherapist’) can advise on:

  • ways of helping someone with dementia move safely
  • mobility aids (such as walking frames and wheelchairs).

If the person goes to the hospital, they can ask to speak to a physiotherapist based there. Otherwise, they can ask the GP for a referral to the hospital physiotherapy department.

For private chartered physiotherapists, contact the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (for contact details see 'Other resources').

A district nurse can advise on:

  • the kind of equipment needed for nursing someone at home
  • any adaptations that might be useful.

A continence adviser can advise on:

  • problems relating to incontinence
  • specific aids and equipment to help with this.

Both district nurses and continence advisers can be contacted through the GP surgery or health centre.

Buying equipment for a person with dementia

Can the person with dementia test the equipment first?

When looking for a piece of equipment, it is useful to see how the product works before buying it. Some ways you can do that include:

  • asking for a product demonstration in the shop so that you can see how a piece of equipment works
  • watching online videos that show people using and reviewing the items
  • getting advice from organisations such as the Disabled Living Foundation (see 'Other resources' for contact details). Their online tool AskSARA uses results from a questionnaire to suggest products that might be helpful
  • visiting disabled living centres and ‘assisted living’ shops on the high street to get more information about equipment, and to try out products before buying them
  • going to events that focus on older people and people with dementia, such as the Alzheimer’s Show, where suppliers of equipment often showcase their products and give an opportunity to try them out.

Where can I buy equipment for a person with dementia?

Once you have decided what might be needed, you can buy equipment from many different sources. Many suppliers have mail order services or an online shop, and some items may be available from high street retailers and local pharmacies.

Some equipment designed to help with disability such as wheelchairs, sanitary devices and riser recliner chairs should be exempt from VAT, so it is a good idea to ask about this before buying.

It is also worth noting that sometimes the best ‘equipment’ may just be a simple household item from an ordinary shop, such as a walking stick or long-handled sponges.

Tips for buying equipment for a person with dementia

If you are thinking of buying equipment, it may help to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How easy is it to set up and use?
  • Is it safe for the person to use on their own?
  • If the product needs to be installed, who arranges this and is there a charge?
  • Will the equipment make tasks more difficult for you or other people in the household?
  • Will the person need to be shown how to use it?
  • Is there an easier or cheaper option?
  • Could using or relying on the equipment lead to a loss of current skills or other negative consequences?
  • Does the equipment need regular maintenance? Who does this and who pays for this?
  • Are spare parts easy to get? Are they expensive?

It is a good idea to buy products which have been tested and approved by standards institutes, as this guarantees that the item has passed certain quality checks. For example:

  • Equipment that conforms to European safety standards will have a CE kitemark.
  • You may also see a BSI mark on some products. This means they have been tested and approved by the British Standards Institution.

It is also a good idea to buy products from an organisation which belongs to a trade association such as the British Healthcare Trades Association. If a company is part of a trade association, it has to sign up to a code of practice which ensures that it meets particular standards of service.

Can I hire equipment for a person with dementia?

If equipment is only needed on a short-term basis, then it may be possible to hire rather than buy it. The duration of these hires will vary depending on whether the GP or occupational therapist has made a medical referral for the equipment.

Some charities and organisations offer this service – for example, the British Red Cross lend wheelchairs and toilet aids free of charge. For contact details see 'Other resources'.

A specialist hire company or the manufacturer or supplier of the products may also be able to lend them out temporarily. The Disabled Living Foundation or your nearest disabled living centre should be able to give more details on this (see 'Other resources' for contact details).

How social services decide when to provide equipment

Social services departments have a duty to assess the care and support needs of a person living with dementia. This will usually include making recommendations for equipment or adaptations that could help in the home.

This is called a ‘needs assessment’, and everyone has a right to one, even if they will need to pay for their own care. Carers can also ask the local authority for a carer’s assessment, which looks at services that may be helpful for the person providing care.

The aim of these assessments is to work out exactly what the person’s individual needs are, and the level and type of support required to meet these needs. Even if funding cannot be provided, the needs assessment may still give helpful advice about the kind of care and support needed.

Assessments for care and support are slightly different in England, in Wales and in Northern Ireland.

An occupational therapist can also visit the home to assess if any equipment or adaptations are needed. This is called an occupational therapy home assessment and can be set up by social services. 

The occupational therapist will advise on whether or not a particular adaptation or piece of equipment will help to meet the person’s needs. They can arrange to provide minor adaptations such as:

  • handrails
  • adapted cutlery
  • special chairs.

The equipment available will vary from one local authority to another.

Social services will also carry out a financial assessment to decide whether or not someone qualifies to have their care and support funded. Financial assessments will be different depending on if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Social services have a duty to fund some aids and minor adaptations up to a cost of £1,000 for each adaptation. This includes the cost of buying and fitting the adaptation and is offered regardless of the person’s income and savings.

Adaptations of this kind include equipment for daily living such as:

  • shower chairs
  • a concrete ramp or steps
  • raised toilet seats. 

More expensive equipment can also be provided by social services, but this will be means-tested, meaning it will depend on the person’s financial situation. 

If major adaptations are needed, grants towards the cost may be available in some cases.

After a financial assessment, some people may be given a personal budget by social services which they can use to hire or buy their own equipment. This is given as a direct payment.

The person may have to contribute to this budget themselves, depending on their financial situation. 

Can the NHS provide equipment for a person with dementia?

The NHS can provide certain types of equipment to aid mobility, such as walking sticks, walking frames and wheelchairs. These are provided on long-term loans, for as long as the item is needed, and can be arranged through the GP, hospital consultant or physiotherapist. There is no charge for the equipment, but a refundable deposit may be needed.

Wheelchairs – which are available from the local NHS wheelchair service – are usually standard models. Some health authorities offer voucher schemes towards the cost of a more expensive chair. The wheelchair service can supply details on this. The NHS will pay for servicing and repairs, as long as these are not needed because of misuse or neglect.

Equipment needed for nursing someone at home should be available on free loan from the local NHS community health service. This includes:

  • bedpans
  • pressure relief mattresses
  • hoists
  • hospital beds.

An occupational therapist or district nurse will assess whether this equipment is needed.