In America, more than 600 people each day are treated in emergency rooms for non-fatal bathroom-related injuries, with more than 80 percent of those injuries resulting from slips and falls. For older adults who often struggle with mobility issues, the bathroom with its wet surfaces can be a dangerous place.
But for a room we use multiple times a day, not many people put much thought into its safety. When designing a safer and accessible bathroom, keep these six considerations in mind.
1. Grab Bars
With falls being the most common form of injury, it makes sense to install grab bars in strategic places in the bathroom. In a 2008 study, the CDC found that the two places where injuries occurred the most were in or around the tub or shower and on or near the toilet. At a minimum, you should install grab bars near the toilet and in the shower or tub to help reduce falls in these common slip areas.
2. Zero-Threshold Shower
Preventing falls and other accidents in the bathroom is mostly about removing obstacles. A shower threshold that’s even just a few inches high is an obstacle that makes it impossible for someone in a wheelchair to use the shower without assistance. Instead, a zero-threshold shower, or curbless shower, makes getting in the shower simple, whether the user is unsteady or dizzy, needs a walker, or uses a wheelchair.
3. Shower Seating
Keep showering as simple and accommodating as possible. Install secure seating that is close enough to the controls so that a senior can sit during a shower. This can prevent slipping and fatigue. Including a handheld showerhead gives the user even more control and ability.
And don’t forget all the items that will be needed during a shower. Install shelves at easy-to-reach heights and locations.
4. Temperature Controls
An anti-scald device can help regulate water temperatures so seniors aren’t in danger of scalding themselves in the shower.
5. Walk-In Bathtub
A walk-in bathtub removes the unsteady process of lowering oneself into a tub already full of water. Instead, an older adult can simply open a side door before the tub is filled, step into the tub, and fill it once settled. Many walk-in bathtubs come with sophisticated temperature controls to prevent scalding.
Prevent falls and injuries at the toilet by ensuring the toilet is at the proper accessible height, which is between 17 and 19 inches. Either replace a toilet that falls outside this height, or purchase a seat extender in a home health care store.
When a bathroom has been designed with accessibility in mind, older adults can enjoy independence and dignity. A few thoughtful preventive steps will make a world of difference to an older adult’s safety.
Chuck Winkles is the president of New Life Bath & Kitchen. Chuck was born in Southern California and currently resides in Santa Maria. He's been married to his wife Shelley for thirty-eight years and has two sons, Nathan and Noah.