We all know that the bathroom, and more specifically the shower, is where a lot of accidents happen when it comes to people of an older age, so shower safety for the elderly is an important topic. Did you know that in 2014 over 27,000 Americans over 65 years old died from falls, about 2.8 million were treated in hospital, of which around 800,000 were hospitalized. Only around 50% of falls are actually reported. Most of these falls occur at home with the bathroom being the most likely place to fall.¹
I’m sure you know that due to a decrease in balance, coordination, and other problems that come with age, senior citizens might find it hard to use the cramped and slippery shower.
What can you do to maximize safety in the shower for your elderly relatives so they will be able to shower with confidence?
- Choose the right kind of shower for seniors – install a shower enclosure or over bath panels – minimize the chances of water spilling onto the bathroom floor
- Make sure that the path to the shower is clear
- Make sure that the shower is big enough for the needs of the elder in question
- Install grab bars
- Use non-slip items to prevent falling
- Place a shower seat to allow easy washing of feet and back
- Make sure that necessary items inside and outside of the bath are accessible
- Adjust the pressure and the temperature of the water
- Install a panic button or place a waterproof mobile phone in the shower in case of emergencies
Not only will attention to these things help confidence to shower but it is your parents we are talking about then you will be less worried in the knowledge the bathroom is safer for them.
I think the quick list above is pretty good but necessarily a bit brief so let’s explore each a bit more in depth, shall we?
If you have an elderly family member, it’s super important you learn how you can turn the shower into a safe environment. By doing so, you will provide the opportunity for them to stay independent for much longer than expected.
What are the Main Safety Issues the Elderly Face when Showering?
There are a few safety issues and problems you need to think about when it comes to showering:
- The shower door and the shower curtain may get in the way
- Restricted showering area size, with not much room for maneuvering
- Fixed shower heads that aren’t always accessible
- Slippery surfaces such as the floor and towel rails
- Standing up for a long while and bending to wash the feet might be an issue
- Not all items, inside and outside the shower, are accessible
- Not all shower seats are secure
- Water can spill onto the bathroom floor
- Getting in and out of the shower can be tricky
- Calling for help in case of emergency is not always possible
- Water can be too hot, and water pressure may not be suitable
Let’s explore some solutions you can implement to lessen the chances for injury in the shower.
What Types of Showers are Suitable for Older People?
Most people either have a shower stall or a bathtub installed in their bathrooms. Although the bathtubs seem to be more luxurious, they are impractical when it comes to people of an older age.
Showers do a better job of preventing water from reaching the bathroom floor, in addition to providing easy passage to anyone who uses it. There are two types of showers you can find:
- Over bath panels – if you have a tub in the bathroom and you don’t have the funds to remove it, install these panels.
Some panels also feature a shelf you can use, or they can swing both ways, which is quite useful.
- Shower enclosures- stalls that allow easy access, while preventing water from getting to the bathroom floor and making it slippery.
Usually, the stalls and the panels are made of opaque glass, which means that you won’t have to use a shower curtain that can get in your way.
You can also install trench drains around the shower to keep the water in a contained area. These are drains that trap water coming out of the shower before it gets to the main bathroom floor and not that difficult for a professional to install.
How to Provide Safe Access to the Shower
Access to the shower area includes access to the room itself. Make sure corridors and the path leading up to the room are clear from boxes, toys and other stuff you might have lying around.
The bathroom tends to be small and cluttered, which means that tripping on something that lies on the floor is not out of the question.
Keep the access to the shower clear – remove all unnecessary items, get rid of rugs, and make sure that the drying mats are not loose so they won’t trip anyone up.
What Shower Dimensions and Design are Best?
The first thing to consider is whether the shower is big enough or not. Make sure that there is plenty of space to move around and space to easily make use of all necessary aids without risk of injury from being cramped.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, shower stalls should be at least 36 by 36 inches, and the curb shouldn’t be higher than half an inch for people who can enter the shower on their own. These dimensions are insufficient and you should aim to provide a bigger area. They are minimums, not optimums!
If the shower has to accommodate a wheelchair as well, the shower opening has to be 60 inches and the width at least 30 inches
You can also think about installing a zero-threshold shower, which allows wheelchairs and walkers to pass freely.
In some cases, those showers don’t even need a door since the floor slopes down, and the water goes straight to the drain.
What Types of Grab Bars Should I Get?
Grab bars are the most useful add-ons you can install to help people with impaired function shower with minimal risk of falling.
Grab rails come in various sizes, and you can install them horizontally or diagonally, anywhere you’d like.
To make sure the bar is sturdy enough, you should anchor it to interior wall studs. Installing these rails requires some tools: a hammer, a lever, and a drill, so come prepared.
If you have hollow walls don’t forget a stud finder to avoid drilling holes all over the wall finishes with nothing behind to fix to! With one of these handy tools, finding the obscured studs will be easy as you only have one layer of drywall to get through.
Thicker wall coverings, such as plaster, can become more of an issue but are typically applied to solid walls. You can tell if a wall is solid with experience, just by tapping and listening whether it sounds hollow or not. If you are not sure or lack confidence in installing one properly then it’s probably worth paying a tradesman to come to fix it for you.
Finding the right place to install the grab bar means asking the user to demonstrate how they shower – don’t worry they can do this whilst clothed. You are just looking to see where they put their hands and in what position they reach out to steady themselves.
Another option is a floor-to-ceiling pole grab bar – these are arguably easier to install than the grab bars on walls but still need sound fixing. They aren’t permanent, and for some, you don’t need any tools to install them.
Make sure that the user won’t confuse grabbing bars with towel rails since those are not sturdy enough, and they can pose as a threat. In fact, towel rails are often just glued to the walls but appear as if they can support you. The problem is they do support light pressure which gives a false sense of security as one day they will fail and actually be the cause of a fall. Danger!
Methods to Prevent Slipping – Mats, Coatings, and More
There are various items you can purchase to reduce the danger of falling in the shower.
First of all, you can always place non-slip mats inside the shower and outside of it. These safety mats are cheap, and they serve as a friction agent that helps keeping your balance on a slippery surface.
You can also use an anti-slip coating which is a bit more costly, but it is more durable than any stick-on products.
Also, take into consideration the fact that grabbing the installed grab bars with wet hands can be difficult. To solve the issue, you can purchase gripping tape. Cheap and easily removed, it provides you with enough friction to allow a solid grip even with wet or oily hands.
Are Shower Seats a Good Idea?
Standing for long periods of time and reaching for the feet can be quite tricky for most people and especially as you get a bit older.
Shower safety seats allow the person in question to rest while showering, in addition to making it easier to wash everything below the waist and reach the back without losing balance. Especially so when there are grab rails nearby to assist getting back up on your feet.
The seats vary in size and cost, but generally, they are inexpensive and portable.
Make sure that the seat you purchase has non-slip surfaces attached to the legs, so the elderly who uses it won’t be at risk of falling off of it while showering.
You should also place the seat by one of the shower walls, in case there is a need to reach something solid for more balance.
How to Provide Accessibility Inside and Outside the Shower
When we want to take a shower, we use a lot of different items: clothes, towels, hair products, soap, and more. If those items are scattered around the room, the showering process will turn into a long and tiresome endeavor.
Therefore, you need to make sure that all items are positioned within an easy reach when showering: place towel racks right outside the shower enclosure, install low shelves near the showerhead or the shower seat, and store everything that might be needed in close proximity.
Also, make sure to install a detachable shower head that can be easily reached and use even when sitting down.
Ways to Control Water Pressure and Temperature
When you reach a certain age, the skin becomes more sensitive to pressure and heat. If the water temperature is not right, the skin can suffer from burns or infection much more easily as you get older.
This means that you need to make sure that the water stays around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38 degrees Celsius. To do so, you can use a variety of anti-scolding control devices.
There are various types of anti-scalding valves out on the market, which all stay within 3 degrees, more or less, of the temperature setting you choose. The most suitable valves are thermostatic valves, which allow you to control water temperature without changing the water flow.
You should also choose a smart shower head that comes with various pressure settings, so you will be able to adjust the water pressure freely. There are plenty of advanced shower heads you can buy at any store, ranging from a few bucks to approximately $50.
Last but not least, you may want to consider investing in full body water jets, which are harder and more costly to install, but they keep the pressure on all parts of the body even and give a feeling of luxury. I want these!
Providing a Way to Call for Help in Case of Emergency
Unfortunately, accidents can happen even when you do your best to prevent it in advance. In case of emergencies, you should install a panic button within an easy reach of the shower chair or the floor.
Various panic buttons will allow someone in trouble to contact a caregiver, a family member, or emergency services with minimum fuss and at any time.
You may also consider placing a waterproof mobile phone in the vicinity of the shower. There are simple phones designed precisely for the purpose, and you only need to program a few numbers in so your senior family member will be able to contact you easily.
Making so many changes may seem like a daunting task, but it is worth it. Dang the expense and give some serious thought to what upgrades can be made to make showering a pleasant and safe experience for senior family members.
You will be surprised at how much easier the process of showering will become. One of the biggest issues as you get on a bit, is the fear of falling and breaking a bone because you are acutely aware of how long bones can take to heal, probably by an experience of that happening to a friend.
Confidence is a powerful positive force and it is not very expensive to give that gift by a few simple upgrades. We need to understand the problems that are not affecting us – yet!
So, hurry up and make a few improvements and help change their quality of life for the better!
How can I prevent slips and falls in the bathroom?
There are three main reasons the bathroom is responsible for falls. Even though only responsible for about 1 in 8 of the falls at home, probably through an appreciation that greater care need be taken, it is still an area crying out for simple steps to avoid falling.
- Slipping on wet floors – use suction or rubber backed non slip mats and have enough grab rails especially to aid getting out of the bath, off the toilet etc. Adhesive non-slip tape or stickers is another solution
- Loss of balance when trying to wash inaccessible parts of the body – grab rails in the shower or next to bath as well as providing a seat to help access and handled sponges to help reach the back
- Tripping on loose mats or changes in level – remove loose mats and ramp changes in level with non-stick surfacing
How much is a Safe Step Walk in Tub?
Safe Step is actually a brand name but there are many walk in tubs that double as showers with a seat ranging from around $1,500 to $6,500 and up. Major bands such as American Standard, are also in this market. The more expensive end of the range have massage jets and are more like a spa, hence the higher cost.
Some people find showers a better solution to tubs and some find specially adapted baths a better option. Walk in tubs are a great solution and provide the benefits of both showers and a bath, particularly for people who cannot lift their feet easily, cannot stand for a long time or have problems with flexibility.
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1. Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged ≥65 Years — United States, 2014 – Centres for Disease and Control
2. San Francisco Gate – Specifications for a Tiled Shower – Americans with Disabilities Act
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.