21 Apr 10 Bathroom Safety Tips for Aging-in-Place

Aging-in-place is place is quickly becoming the primary choice for seniors. The bathroom is the first place that needs to be addressed, because falls in the bathroom are a major issue. There are a lot of hard surfaces in the bathroom on which to injure yourself, and the surfaces can be wet and slippery. Head, limb, and hip injuries are the biggest risks. In addition, the activities in the bathroom can be quite difficult and uncomfortable if you have physical limitations. So, even if safety isn’t an issue for you, being comfortable while using the bathroom may be.

We often run into resistance from seniors, who don’t want to address their bathroom needs. This can be a major problem even with Home Care assistance. There are many options that don’t involve a complete remodel, are inexpensive, and that are aesthetically pleasing.

Here are 10 ideas to start thinking about:

1)  Increase the Door Size

So, you can use your walker or wheelchair to get to the bathroom easily, but then what? If you can get to the bathroom, but can’t get INTO the bathroom you have a problem.

Increasing the size of the bathroom doorway will increase your ability to access everything easily, including when using a wheelchair or walker. It will reduce the chance of falling in the bathroom, because you have the additional stabilization of your ambulation device.

2)  Grab Bars

Adding grab bars throughout the bathroom is very important. Some people add them in the shower, and leave it at that. Although, adding multiple grab bars in the shower is most important, installing additional grab bars throughout the bathroom is also important.

Replacing the toilet paper holder, towel rod, etc. with grab bars, is something many people don’t do. Keep in mind though, a regular towel rod is NOT a grab bar. You need to install a regulation grab bar to act as a towel rod in order to get the stability you require.

Important Note:  DO NOT use suction cup grab bars. The bars need to be anchored to the wall in order for them to work properly.

3)  Raised Toilets

Most toilets these days are extremely low. They are hard for just about anyone to use, but especially if you have physical limitations. There are two options. 1) Replace your toilet with new one that is 18 inches tall. 2) Add a raised seat to your current toilet. It may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but it’s inexpensive. You can find these online or at any medical equipment store or CVS, Walgreens, etc.

4)  Lighting

Most falls occur at night, and most of those are due to middle of the night bathroom trips. Insuring that the light switches are easy see, use and access is very important. Using a backlit toggle switch makes it easy to use and easy to find in the middle of the night. Toggle switches are easier to use than regular switches, and a backlit switch is obviously much easier to see in the dark. Its also important to place the switch in a place that doesn’t need to reach to access it.

5)  Door Levers

Door knobs become increasingly difficult to turn over time, especially those with carpal tunnel, arthritis, etc. You should replace all knobs with levers, which are easier to use. Or you can cover your current knobs, which make it easy to grip and twist.

6)  Contrasting Colors

A lot of bathrooms have one color that is used overwhelmingly. That mutes the contracts between the shower, floor, toilet, etc. It will make it harder for someone with cognitive spatial awareness issues to determine where the floor ends and the shower begins. This can lead to trips and falls. The walls and floor should be contrasting colors, and where possible so should the toilet, shower, and sink.

7)  Shower Chair

This is another inexpensive option that you can pick up at any CVS, Walgreens, etc. Sitting while showering makes things easier for a great many seniors. It greatly reduces the chance of falls, which is a huge issue inside the shower due to the moisture.

If you have an older model tub, instead of a walk-in shower, it can make things a little harder. Some shower chairs may not fit in narrow tubs. And getting into the tub and over the lip, can be a big issue. If tub lip height allows, you should get a longer chair that spans the bathroom floor to the bottom of the tub. That way you can sit down on the outside of the tub, scoot down the chair, and then lift your legs over the lip. Again, this is very helpful whether you are doing it yourself or have the aid of a caregiver.

8)  Handheld Shower Head

Many seniors use shower chairs (see above), which makes it harder to use a shower with a fixed head. Installing a handheld shower head is very easy, and will allow for a better shower whether the showering is being done by yourself or a caregiver.

9)  Countertop Height

In many older bathrooms, the sinks can be quite low, and bending over can be quite difficult and uncomfortable. Today most sinks are installed at a higher level. If you have an older installation, reinstalling it or installing a new sink at an increased height can help a great deal.

10) Bathroom Mats

Most bathroom mats have a bottom service that is made to grip on tiled floors. Some don’t though. Throw rugs and mats throughout the house can be an issue, but especially in the bathroom. So, don’t forget to make sure your bathroom mats are secure and won’t cause and trips or falls.