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Safe Bathrooms for Seniors - Download Our Checklist & Tips

November 16, 2015

Download: Elder-Safe Bathroom Remodeling Checklist from Visionary Baths & More.

Imagine if the simple act of using the bathroom became one of the biggest risks you took every single day.

For the growing number of Americans 65 and older, this type of risk has become a fact of life. According to the CDC, falls are on the rise for older individuals, with over 2 million people being taken to the emergency room every year due to falls.

As the American population gets older, these numbers will likely rise as more individuals “age in place,” choosing to stay in their homes or move in with their children instead of relocating to retirement communities.

That’s why so many homeowners are now remodeling their homes with the safety of elderly inhabitants in mind. Whether you’re anticipating an older parent moving in or you plan to age in place in your own home, now might be the time to consider an elder safety bathroom remodel. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Entryways

Many falls happen before the individual even makes it to the bathroom. Frailty, as well as mobility issues that necessitate the use of a walker or wheelchair, can make traveling through the home difficult and even dangerous. Consider:

Location

Remodel a bathroom on the first floor of your home so that elderly inhabitants don’t need to climb the stairs each time they have to go. If possible, remodel and rearrange your home so that all main living areas are easily accessible on the first floor.

If your only bathroom is upstairs, make sure that your stairway has handrails on both sides. Install a chair lift if possible. Make sure steps are clearly defined and well-lit.

Clutter

We tend to visually “tune out” the clutter that we’re used to. But simple things like toys, laundry baskets and shoes, when left out in the hallway, can pose a huge hazard to elderly or mobility-impaired individuals.

Doorways

Bathroom doors can be narrow, which can make entrance using a walker or wheelchair difficult. If you can’t widen the doorframe, make sure the path is unobstructed so that an elderly individual can enter the bathroom as easily as possible. Be wary of high door saddles or thresholds - even a half of an inch can make wheeling a walker into the room next to impossible. Physical therapists can help elderly individuals to learn how to move around their home in the safest possible manner, but a smart remodel can make that kind of step unnecessary.

Floors

Bathroom floors are usually slippery tile that’s easy to get wet. When remodeling your floors for elder accessibility, consider:

Bath Mats

If you don’t already have a bath mat, get one. They can make the difference between slipping and staying on your feet. Make sure that the mat has a rubberized, slip-resistant back for maximum safety.

When choosing a mat or rug, make sure that you eliminate obvious trip points. For instance, high-pile carpeting can make it very difficult for an elderly individual to maneuver their walker, so a low-pile option should be sought whenever possible.

Shower & Bathtub

The shower poses the most serious risk of injury for elderly individuals. Not only is there a heightened risk of slipping and falling, but bathing yourself becomes increasingly difficult when your mobility is restricted. Consider:

Grab Bars

Grab bars are an absolute must for any elder- and mobility-accessible bathroom. They provide bracing and support for almost everything that you do in the bathroom and should be placed wherever someone might need extra leverage.

As a rule of thumb, a few grab bars in the shower should be sufficient. Horizontal, vertical and diagonal grab bars are options, depending on where your studs are, and a minimum of two grab bars in the shower should give individuals the support they need to bathe safely.

If you’re doing a total bathroom remodel, then it might be a good idea to also install bracing in your walls in anticipation of grab bars. Most grab bars need to be able to support 250 - 300 pounds.

If you can’t install permanent grab bars, clamp-on U-shaped grab bars can be attached to the side of the bathtub to provide support without drilling into the walls.

Remember, grab bars don’t have to be the sterile metal, hospital-style bars you likely imagine. They come in a variety of colors and with a variety of textures installed for improved grip.

Roll-in/Walk-in Bathtubs

Even more than grab bars, roll-in or walk-in bathtubs can make a senior’s life much safer and easier. By eliminating the threshold between the tub and the floor, you eliminate the need for an individual to step into the bathtub and potentially slip and fall. A roll-in shower makes transitioning into a shower chair much simpler for individuals in wheelchairs.

Adjustable Shower Head

For maximum safety and comfort, consider investing in an adjustable or hand-held shower head. Not only will this make bathing easier for someone who is mobility-impaired, but it also makes the use of a shower chair much more realistic.

Shower Chair

Seated showers are a must for individuals in wheelchairs, but they can be much more comfortable for any senior. They’re affordable, easy to install and can make a huge difference.

Toilet

While not as dangerous as the shower, getting on and off the toilet can be a struggle for the elderly and mobility-impaired. Consider:

Toilet Grab Bars

Getting in and out of a seated position, especially if the individual is in a wheelchair, can be difficult. Much like the shower, two grab bars by the toilet can provide the leverage someone might need to safely go to the bathroom.

Senior-Friendly Toilets

Raising the height of the toilet might seem like a minor change, but it can make a major difference for a senior with mobility issues. “Chair-height” toilets are a few inches higher than normal toilets but make transferring from a wheelchair to the toilet relatively easy. You can also purchase seat extenders, which raise the seat of the toilet more affordably. You should also ensure that the toilet paper holder is easy to reach and easy to use with one hand.

Sink

Adjustments to your sink will depend on whether the individuals in your home use wheelchairs or not. Consider:

Height

If an individual uses a wheelchair, then lowering the sink would make it much easier to use. Otherwise, a taller sink might be a better bet, as it will eliminate the need for the individual to bend over to wash his or her hands.

Faucets

You likely take for granted how easy it is to turn your faucets on and off, but for an elderly individual, this can be uncomfortable and difficult. From lever faucets to foot-operated faucets, there are tons of different styles out there that make using the sink much easier.

Visibility

We’ve focused so far on mobility issues, but vision issues are just as important for promoting safety for older individuals in the bathroom. Consider:

Lighting

Make sure your bathroom is well-lit and that light switches are easily accessible from the doorway.

Mirrors

Make sure mirrors are placed so that they’re easy to use for anyone who might be using your bathroom. This is especially important for individuals in wheelchairs.

For your convenience, we’ve collected all of these tips in a handy PDF checklist. Download: Elder-Safe Bathroom Remodeling Checklist from Visionary Baths & More.


Related Topics: Bath