The kitchen is full of sharp objects, but the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house for seniors. According to the National Institute on Aging, more than 1 in 3 seniors over age 65 fall each year, and 80 percent of these falls are in the bathroom. Creating an aging-in-place bathroom that accommodates changes in your loved one’s health and function can be difficult — but not having a plan can be more difficult, cost more money and cause more heartache.
Is Your Loved One at Risk?
Anyone can slip and fall in the bathroom. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 235,000 people over age 15 visit emergency rooms because of injuries suffered in the bathroom.
But seniors are more susceptible to falls because of low and high blood pressure, impaired vision, decreased muscle mass, delayed reaction time, poor posture, infections, diseases, and stress. Older adults and their caregivers should be aware of bathroom activities that are associated with a high risk for injury and of aging-in-place bathroom modifications that might reduce that risk.
Most falls occur while:
- Getting out of the tub or shower;
- Getting on and off the toilet; and
- Attempting to use towel bars, sink tops or other objects to support balance.
But an aging-in-place bathroom requires more than a non-slip rubber mat in the shower and a grab bar by the toilet.
Aging-in-Place Bathrooms for Seniors
Here are some important changes you can make that take your loved one’s bathroom from the most dangerous room in the house to a bathroom that allows them to safely age at home.
Install a Low-threshold or Curbless Shower
Getting into the shower isn’t as big of a fall risk as getting out of the shower. It helps to have a shower with a threshold that is less than 2 inches tall. This allows seniors to get out of the shower or tub without having to lift their leg up high. A curbless shower is ideal for seniors who use crutches, walkers or wheelchairs.
Get a Shower Seat and a Handheld Showerhead
Built-in shower seating or a shower chair can provide stability for seniors who have difficulty standing for balancing. If you opt for a shower chair, look for one with rubber tips on the legs to prevent sliding. It helps to have a handheld showerhead with a 3- to 6-foot-long hose, too.
Reach for Grab Bars
Many seniors reach for towel bars to support themselves when moving about the bathroom, but these were built for holding towels, not supporting seniors. Install grab bars at the entrance to the shower or tub, inside the shower or tub, and near the toilet. Not all grab bars turn the master bathroom into a hospital bathroom, either. Look for ones that match the towel racks or other bathroom fixtures.
Use a Raised Toilet Seat
Many seniors struggle to lower themselves all the way down to to the toilet seat. If your loved one has difficulty, look for a raised toilet seat, which adds 3 to 4 inches to the seat and reduces the difficulty associated with rising from or sitting down on the toilet. For added security, consider a raised toilet seat with built-in grab bars.
Keep Toiletries Accessible
Instead of putting the extra rolls of toilet paper in a cabinet that requires your loved one to bend and reach, make sure there is plenty of counter space or cabinets that are easy to reach. Built-in storage spaces, both in the shower and throughout the rest of the bathroom, reduce the need to crouch or bend down to reach things such as shampoo and soap while showering.
Install a Phone or Help Button
Falls happen, so there should always be a phone or help button in the bathroom that can be reached from the toilet and the shower area for extra protection.
“The whole idea is safety, access, comfort, and convenience,” Steve Hoffacker, a specialist in aging-in-place design, told Consumer Reports.