Aging at home: Tips to make the bathroom safer for older adults

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Bathrooms are the most dangerous place in the house, with 21.8 million people over the age of 15 suffering non-fatal injuries in the bathroom. This is mostly due to the increased amount of water and soap duds in this area that make floors super slippery. 

Elderly residents don't just face risks from falls and slips on a hard floor, but the majority of their injuries stem from sitting and standing when going to toilet. This is mainly due to them feeling dizzy or unsteady as they stand or due to muscle weakness in the back. Often these tumbles result in head injuries or broken hips. 

Age-proofing the bathroom is essential if a senior relative wants to age in place safely. There are some inexpensive items that can ease the burden of using the shower or going to toilet. If you want the older loved ones in your life to age in comfort and safely, these handy bathroom tips can help. 

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Have a seat for the shower

Many older adults with joint and muscle problems find standing for long periods of time difficult. This can make showering a strain for them. Showers with built-in benches are a easy fix for elderly people who find standing in the shower hard. This can be an expensive solution that requires large scale work. 

An easy solution is a lightweight, and easily portable shower stool or chair. You want something steady legs that will support their weight comfortably. Also look for a stool with a plastic seat with lots of drainage holes. Specially design shower stools can cost as little as $30. 

Install a handheld shower head

Handheld shower heads with long hoses can also ease the burden of showering that elderly people can experience. These shower heads are particularly handy for people that sit down and shower. They can use the handheld shower to wash underneath areas the overhead shower doesn't reach. This is particularly handy for older adults who have to use wheelchairs. 

Shower mats provide extra grip

Shower surfaces can be slippery, especially when there is a lot of soap suds collecting in the drainage area. One way to create a little bit of extra texture to the shower's floor is a through a shower mat. These mats create a little bit of an extra grip for people who are unsteady on their feet. 

Choose a floor-level shower

A shower that has a lip or a step up can be a trip hazard. By having a walk-in shower that is on the same level as the floor you can remove a potential fall risk. That also makes life easier for people with physical ailments, who may not be to pick their feet up off the ground, or for people in wheelchairs.  

Install a few grab bars

Installing grab bars in the shower area will make it easier for elderly people to enter and leave the shower. By placing them along the walls it gives them something extra to hold onto. This means they can remain steady on their feet as as they move across a wet and slippery floor. 

Grab bars also provide extra leverage for when they stand, and help them get steady on their feet when standing. This makes them ideal for people who'd struggle to stand from the toilet or shower stools. 

You can get a high variety of grab bars that have dual functions, like paper holder for near the toilet or even shower shelves inside the the shower cubicle. 

Install a walk-in tub 

If they find a bath tub more preferable, consider a walk-in tub. Walk-in tubs have a hinged door so they can just step in. There is a slight lip on most models that presents a small trip hazard. The biggest downside to walk-in tubs is that you have to enter before filling the bath and wait for the water drain before leaving. The door will let water escape when opened. 

Getting the temperature of the bath just right is important for this reason too, as filling it can be extremely difficult. 

Install lever faucets instead of knob handles

Sink faucets should have lever systems and not knobs. Lever systems are better for people with bad arthritis, as they don't have to grip the faucet but just apply pressure. This makes the temperature and water flow much easier to control for people with inflamed joints. 

Large bathroom cabinets

Large bathroom cabinets are better for older adults. A large majority of elderly people take multiple medications today. A large cabinet will provide them with a better space to store and organize their medication. Better store and organization will lead to less confusion regarding dosages and tablets to take.

Task lighting in the cabinet would also be beneficial. This would provide extra light where they need it the most, to read the name of the medication, as well as the dosage. 

The height of the cabinet should also suit the individual, if possible. This generally means installing it at face shoulder level so the person doesn't have to stretch up or down to access all the shelves. Cabinets for someone in a wheelchair should be installed at a low enough level to be comfortably accessible.

Visible counter edges that are rounded 

Having a counter edge that is more visible, and stands out against the colors of the walls is a good idea too. This makes it more likely that the elderly person can see and distinguish the edge of the counters. This in turn lowers the chance of them scraping their arms or hands on the sides of the worktop. 

As the potential of slipping and falling in this room are extremely high, it is also best to use curved edges. Hard edges, and sharp concerns can cause nasty head injuries.

Install a taller toilet

Accidents while getting on and off the toilet are the most common form of  injuries that people over 85 suffer in the bathroom. Making the toilet one of the most dangerous places in the room for the elderly. 

Standard toilets are about 16" tall from the ground. It is possible to buy taller toilets that are 19" in height. A taller total provides extra comfort for older adults. The higher height means they are less likely to feel discomfort when bending down to on them. It also make it easier to stand. 

It is also possible to buy raised toilet seats that are designed for people with disabilities. These toilets add inches to the toilet's height, and some even come with handles to help seniors to their feet, which reduces the risk of falls and accidents.

Lay a non-slip floor

It is best to go for a non-slip surface in the bathroom. 

Some people recommend porcelain tiles as the are easy to clean and are less slippery than other kinds of tiles. While this true, they are extremely hard and very unforgiving if you do happen to slip. A vinyl floor is a lot softer if they should fall, making it less likely that they'd hurt themselves. 

Generally, it is better to go for textured flooring. The more texture a floor has the less slippery it will be.  

Richard is a writer and editor. He published his first technology related piece about a Spectrum Sinclair 128K at ten years old, when he was a runner up in a dyslexic poetry competition. He has been writing or researching in and around science and technology since – although the work is usually less lyrical. He has worked on everything from technical manuals for users to white papers and reviews.