Did you know that every 11 seconds an elderly adult is admitted into urgent care based on a fall-related emergency. Every 19 minutes a senior citizen dies from a fall.
It turns out the bathroom is the most common place for seniors to fall. The statistics are shocking so we need to do whatever we can to help reduce the risks, especially around the bathroom.
Here are our 9 Tips to Make a Bathroom Safer for Elderly Persons
- Make Access to the Bathroom Easier.
- Invest in Good Lighting.
- Consider Your Floor Plan and “Go Through the Motions”.
- Ditch the Throw Rug and Go “Non-slip”.
- Install Grab Bars.
- Get a Shower Chair or Bench.
- Raise your Toilet Seat Higher and add Handle Bars.
- Think About Bath Lifts.
- Bonus: Small Changes You Can Make Today!
We almost all have an elderly person in our lives that we love and adore, so let’s explore how we can keep them safer when they use the bathroom.
1. Make Access to the Bathroom Easier
You know how your kids throw their clothes in the middle of the hallway the moment they get home from school? Well, those clothes, the plugged devices laying around, toys, shoes, and other household items make it hazardous for elderly family members to get to the bathroom.
Even if there are no kids around, it is quite likely there may be boxes or bags waiting for a younger family member to come along and help put them up in the loft or in the top of the wardrobe.
Narrow hallways with obstructions in the way are like an extreme sports game for the elderly.
To avoid accidents, leave plenty of room to move around, and particularly if mobility issues require them to have walkers or wheelchairs.
So keep the hallway clean by hanging clothes, putting away shoes, and getting rid of any objects lying about in passageways that could be dangerous.
2. Invest in Good Lighting.
The chances are elderly members of your family don’t have feline-like night vision, so you’re doing a disservice to your loved ones by not having good lighting throughout the day and installing night lights.
Both daytime and nighttime can be scary for the elderly as typically they have poor vision which makes manoeuvring in the dark difficult.
The good news is, improving lighting is very affordable and requires little energy to operate with modern low voltage bright bulbs.
So there is really no excuse not to pay attention to, and provide ample lighting at night to the passageways giving access to the bathroom as well as the bathroom itself.
Even if lighting outlets are limited, modern bulbs can dispense a lot of light and depending on the one chosen, that light need not be too harsh for sleepy eyes.
Sometimes the passageway light switches may not be right outside the bedroom. A great solution, in that case, is a wall mounted, battery-powered light that can be pushed on and off and mounted right outside the bedroom door.
Another, slightly more expensive option, is to provide battery-powered or mains supplied lights triggered by a motion detector.
Install a few in the hallway that lead to the bathroom and one or two inside as well, just in case there’s a problem finding the light switch.
3. Consider Your Floor Plan and “Go Through the Motions”
Stubs, door saddles or thresholds, and uneven surfaces can be dangerous for the elderly so make sure your loved ones know exactly how to move around any hurdles in the bathroom.
Many bathrooms have door saddles that rise half an inch or so above the surface of the floor. For you, it’s no big deal but age can turn these small steps into tripping hazards. Some people eventually have great problems with raising their feet off the ground. You can either have them removed or change them into wider sloped thresholds.
You can help the elderly by going over the motions and practicing sidestepping into the bathroom. Put on some 40’s music and rock it out! 🙂
When it comes to doors, think about installing or reinstalling your bathroom doors in such a way so that they provide as little obstacle as possible to getting into and out of the rooms.
4. Ditch the Throw Rug and Go “Non-slip”
This is HUGE!
If you take away one thing from this article let it be this… water makes things slippery!
Seriously, throw rugs and tub surfaces are an extreme slipping hazard. Substitute them with non-slip mats with rubberized and slip-free bottoms, both inside and outside the bath.
Make sure you buy mats with rubber bottoms, or other slip-free attachments, to place inside of your tub and immediately outside of the shower area. You can also buy very cheap stickers and badges or other non-slip adhesive backed non-slip products to provide a grip area on the bathroom floor.
Keep these areas as dry as possible before and after elderly people have to take showers.
These efforts along with the non-slip surfaces, will reduce the likelihood of an accident significantly.
5. Install Grab Bars
Did you ever notice how you hang a few too many towels on a towel rack and after a few weeks it starts peeling off the wall? Now imagine that but 100 times worse.
That tiny metal bar attached to the wall with glue isn’t going to support someone who grabs for it as they fall.
Instead, you should invest in strong bolted bars, mounted on the walls in your bathroom.
Mounted grab bars are perfect supports to help moving around easily within the bathroom.
Have a slanted grab bar next to the toilet, inside the shower, and one near the entrance to provide the elderly ease of access and movement.
Some alternatives include a ‘U’ shaped bar tightened against the walls of a tub or a straight pole somewhere within the bathroom running vertically from the ground to the ceiling.
These bars are especially good for homes with small bathroom doors making it hard to get walkers or wheelchairs through.
6. Get a Shower Chair or Bench
I know the doctor said your grandparents need to take daily walks for their health but not in the shower!
Adding a slip-free chair or bench with rubber-tipped legs is perfect for the elderly because it prevents them from falling or exasperating too much energy while in the shower.
Additionally, having a handheld showerhead will ultimately mean that seniors can avoid walking or moving in the shower entirely, reducing the risk of falling to virtually zero.
7. Raise your Toilet Seat Higher and add Handle Bars
You think getting on and off that thing is easy. As you get older and less agile it becomes more difficult.
Many toilets are built too low and make it difficult for seniors to use.
Luckily you don’t have to replace your entire toilet. There are attachable toilet seat extenders that latch on to your toilet and come off when needed. Most models come with sidebars and handles to give users additional support.
8. Think About Bath Lifts or a Walk in Bathtub
Got some extra cash lying around? Maybe consider buying a bath lift if bathing is preferable to showering. The preference depends on the individual so a conversation on the topic needs to be had.
These remote-controlled lifts are a bit expensive but getting one could save you the awkward interaction and embarrassment of the whole bathing subject. Not only that but people all want to be as independent as possible for as long as possible. For those that like bathing, a bath lift can give a lot of confidence and pleasure just by helping the person climb into the tub or shower area.
A bath lift is easy to use and is generally better for seniors than seats or bars. While operating the lift has sidebars or flaps that dip below under the tab allowing elderly people to become submerged in water. With a click of the button, the seat is raised and the flaps extended outwards towards the sides allowing users to manoeuvre out of the tub.
9. Bonus: Small Changes You Can Make Today!
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your bathroom but there are some things you can do right now, to make your shower area and bathroom safer for elderly people.
One very simple approach is to put essential items like soap bars, toothbrushes, and razors in easily accessible locations.
If you aren’t always around and have to leave elderly unattended for long periods of time, then also get a medical alert signal or button within arm’s reach in the unfortunate event an accident does happen.
While you’re at it why not give the old bathroom a nice scrub down? One of the easiest ways to radically decrease the chances of elderly people falling in the bathroom is simply by cleaning it. Surfaces, walls, and shower areas are covered in dust, soap, and mould that can be slippery and prove detrimental for seniors.
Making small changes and tweaks to your bathroom could mean the difference between waking up to a grandparent on the bathroom floor after a fall rather than sound asleep after a safe night of bathroom use…
That sounds weird but you get the point!
We hope these tips will help make your bathroom a safer place for elderly people.
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Ian has a degree in Civil Engineering & ran a construction company for some years. He spent many years as a professional in the construction industry with his own surveying practice. He has designed many social housing projects in London as well as worked as an Arbitrator. Ian is interested in design and having just turned 60 is keen to share a wide and varied experience to help people his own age and older.