The bathroom can be scary for people with mobility issues and injuries. Use these tips to make the restroom safer and more accessible for elderly relatives.
January is National Bathroom Safety Month, so now is a good time to consider how you can make changes in your bathroom to lessen potential hazards. Many personal injuries that occur at home occur in the bathroom. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that almost 200,000 Americans receive emergency room treatment for bathroom-related injuries every year.
Elderly members of your family who may have mobility and balance issues are especially susceptible to bathroom injuries. According to the National Council on Aging, one-fourth of older Americans fall each year. Further, a senior dies from a fall every 19 minutes.
For seniors, the most common bathroom hazards include:
- Slippery shower stalls, bathtubs and floors.
- Shower chairs that are not slip-resistant.
- Low toilet seats.
- Insufficiently secured towel racks or grab bars.
Fortunately, if you’re remodeling to accommodate older relatives or if you’re trying to assist an elderly person who is still living alone, improving the safety of the bathroom is not a difficult fix. Doing so will reduce the chances of a serious injury or even death. In fact, a few simple changes can make the bathroom a safer place for every member of your family.
Shower and Tub Safety Precautions
- Grab bars. Install grab bars in easy-to-reach places to assist anyone with their balance and stability entering or exiting the shower or tub.Bars bolted to studs in the wall are preferable to suction cup bars, which can easily shift or become dislodged. All grab bars should feature a slip-resistant surface rather than a glossy finish.
- Tension pole. If grab bars are not suitable for your shower or tub, consider a tension pole. This fixture reaches from floor to ceiling and provides the elderly with something to hold onto for balance and support while bathing.
- Shower chair. In addition to providing stability for those with balance issues, a shower chair allows those who have difficulty standing for long periods to rest while bathing. Look for shower chairs whose legs are equipped with non-slip rubber tips.
- Handheld shower head. A shower head you can hold in your hand makes bathing much easier for the elderly, and being able to shower on their own gives them a greater sense of independence.
- Nonslip mats or tape. Place these fixtures in shower pans and tub bottoms to help prevent slips and falls.
- Bathtub transfer bench. Bathtub transfer benches are designed to extend beyond the outside edge of the bathtub and are extremely beneficial for those who have difficulty stepping safely over the tub wall. Rather than stepping into and out of the bathing area, you simply slide and shift your weight from one end of the bench to the other.
Bathroom Floor Safety Precautions
- Nonslip mats or rugs. Falls often occur when the elderly step out of the shower or tub. Placing mats or rugs backed with nonslip materials on the bathroom floor prevents water from accumulating there and creating hazardous conditions. Do not lay towels on the floor for this purpose. Towels can slide on tile flooring or become tangled around the feet, increasing the risk of a fall.
Toilet Safety Precautions
- ADA-approved raised toilet. Standard toilet bowls are approximately 15 inches high, but many manufacturers now produce models with elevated bowls, making it much easier for the elderly to raise and lower themselves from the toilet. Risers that can be attached to your existing toilet are a less expensive alternative. Toilet riser heights can range from 2 to 4 inches.
- Grab bars. To further facilitate elderly access to the toilet, consider installing grab bars much as you might in the tub or shower.
Bathroom Sink Safety Precautions
- New faucets. Some faucet handles are difficult for arthritic hands to grip and turn. These fixtures can be replaced with ADA-compliant faucets that are easier for seniors to use. They can reduce the risk of the elderly losing their balance, as they try to gain leverage to turn the water on and off.
- Water temperature. Consider reducing your water heater's thermostat to reduce the risk of scalding.
Additional Bathroom Safety Suggestions
- Place essential items within easy reach. When using the tub or shower, seniors should be able to reach toiletry items without having to stretch or bend. You can hang a simple shower caddy over the shower head within easy reach or install soap and shampoo dispensers along the shower wall. Either way, you can prevent product bottles from cluttering the floor or the bottom of the tub and creating tripping hazards.
- Make the bathroom easy on the eyes. High-gloss paints and tiles can produce glare, so use matte finishes to make potentially hazardous areas in the bathroom more visible. Choosing wall and floor colors or patterns that contrast can also make the bathroom easier to navigate.
- Install proper lighting. Poor bathroom lighting can increase the risk of falls. Use night lights to make sure that the path from the bedroom to the bathroom is well lit, and make sure the bathroom has adequate lighting throughout.
By adding some of these suggested safety measures to your home, you can transform your bathroom into a safer place for elderly relatives or anyone with mobility and balance issues.
For more tips on how to organize your bathroom and make your home a safer environment, browse Home Matters, the American Home Shield® blog.