How To Create A Safe Bathroom For The Elderly
Many of the unforeseen challenges of aging occur in unlikely places, the most common of which is the bathroom. The typical layout, fixtures and activities associated with this room combine to make it one of the more dangerous parts of the home, especially for the elderly. When building or renovating a bathroom for an elderly user, safety is a top priority. With a few simple changes, and some larger ones, you can create safer bathrooms for ageing family members and more efficient for PCS caregivers.
Things to Consider When Setting Up a Bathroom
As you prepare to set up or upgrade a bathroom for an elderly individual, there are two major issues to keep in mind. First, it's essential to remember that bathrooms are often very wet places; that's just what comes with the territory. Wet floors are a common bathroom hazard, especially for the elderly, who may slip more easily and suffer more serious injuries as a result.
For those with more serious mobility or balance issues, even a dry bathroom floor is potentially dangerous if it is cluttered or very polished. With that in mind, you may want to consider flooring options that minimize the risk of slipping. Another major issue to consider is whether anyone using the bathroom requires a wheelchair or other device to help them move about. A mobility device’s size can greatly impact how easily its owner can navigate small spaces such as bathrooms.
Slip/fall risks and accessibility should be your major considerations when designing a bathroom for elders, and should inform most, if not all, of your design choices.
Accessibility is crucial to safe bathroom design. The space, especially the floor, should be free from barriers and hazards. You should keep the floor clear of items such as loose rugs or shoes, particularly around access and entry/exit points. Additionally, good bathroom lighting is vital for the elderly to see any potential hazards in their way. Be aware that ageing eyes require brighter lights than younger ones. A light that someone in their forties considers sufficient will likely be too dim for someone much older. A bright, well-lit bathroom will reduce fall risks for elderly loved ones.
Bathroom doors may seem like an insignificant design element when you’re setting up a bathroom, but for the elderly, a poorly designed door can greatly impede access. When choosing your new bathroom door, here are some crucial features to look for:
· Wheelchair accessibility – As already noted, wheelchair accessibility is paramount when designing bathrooms for elderly users. This includes the bathroom door. You should be sure to choose one that wheelchair users can open and close with ease.
· Sliding doors - Where possible, the most accessible type of door is a sliding one. Because they slide instead of swing, these doors are less of a barrier to easy access/exit. As an extra bonus, sliding doors are more space-efficient, allowing you more freedom to design the layout of the bathroom itself.
Doorknobs: The choice of doorknob can also significantly impact an elderly individual’s ability to open and close a door. Choosing lever knobs instead of twist knobs improves usability, as twist knobs can present physical challenges for users with arm or wrist-related issues such as arthritis.
The choice of flooring plays a key role in keeping an elderly individual's bathroom safe. Ideally, as already explained, the floor should be made of a non-slip material, especially as it may often be wet. Some ideal flooring options include:
· Cementitious Boards
· Rubberized flooring
Beyond the material itself, another important flooring element is the color. A color that contrasts with that of the wall will make the boundaries between floor and wall very clear—this helps minimize visibility-related accidents. Again, rugs are not ideal for bathrooms with elderly users, but if you must use one, be sure to either buy one with rubber backing, or use rug tape to hold the rug in place.
The toilet is a fixture that often causes injuries for elderly users. The average toilet is much lower to the ground than other everyday seating, which can be problematic for those with joint or other mobility issues. Low toilets can strain tired or weakened muscles, leading to the potential for injury or fall. When considering toilets for elder use, you should try to choose an option as close to regular chair height as possible – this additional height will make sitting down and standing up much easier. In addition, the toilet should be tightly installed on both the floor and wall, using the correct size and number of bolts. Improperly installed toilets can break or wobble; this is not ideal for elderly users who could fall or otherwise injure themselves on an unstable toilet.
Grab bars are an essential tool in the elder safety toolbelt and should be installed in any bathroom frequented by elderly users. These supports improve accessibility and stability, especially in areas where lots of physical movement is needed. It's best to mount grab bars in places where users will be sitting, standing, walking or otherwise moving their bodies. The toilet and shower are key spots for grab bars, as are any empty walls that bathroom occupants need to walk past. By thinking ahead about which bathroom areas may cause mobility trouble, and what positions and angles your grab bars should be installed at, you can help avert fall injuries.
Faucets are commonly thought of as simply a way to add some style to a bathroom, but for the elderly, faucets are often another area in which to consider function rather than form. As we’ve noted in previous sections, installing items that require minimal effort to use are best. Faucets are no different. The best options, if your budget allows, are motion-sensing faucets, which limit the amount of movement and effort required to use them.
For bathroom users of all ages, the shower poses one of the most serious fall risks. For the elderly, shower-related fall hazards must be given exceptional consideration. It’s probably impossible to build a shower that’s truly fall-safe, but here are some tips to help you to maximize safety:
· Try for a shower only if possible – Bathtubs require far more movement than shower boxes. Users must step over the sides of a tub, squat or sit down, and stand up. Additionally, the smooth and usually concave surface of a tub is a major fall risk. A simple shower box is a much safer option for elderly users.
· Allow room in the shower for a caregiver – Your shower box should be large enough for two people to easily move about inside it. This enables caregivers to assist elders with bathing and help them avoid a fall.
· Install additional showerheads – Providing multiple showerheads with flexible hoses allows the caregiver to help the elder to bathe thoroughly, while minimizing movement. Your shower will be safer if occupants don’t have to turn around frequently or navigate around one another.
· Use collapsible stools – Collapsible stools made specifically for showers are a great way to ensure safety and comfort. Standing for extended periods isn’t possible for some elders, and collapsible stools are a space-efficient way to allow them to sit down during a shower.
· Eliminate curbs – Many showers require users to step over a small curb to enter a shower box; this is yet another potential fall risk and mobility barrier for the elderly. You should opt for curb-less showers if possible.
Careful consideration of these bathroom design elements will allow you to maximize accessibility and safety for elderly users. So far, we have considered proactive approaches, but some bathroom safety solutions are more reactive.
You can try to plan for every eventuality, but sometimes accidents are inevitable. As such, it’s important to have a plan for what to do if an accident should happen. Emergency buttons can safeguard elders, allowing them to call for help if they fall or otherwise injure themselves.
Much like hospital bathrooms, an elder’s home bathroom should be equipped with emergency buttons in strategic locations. Useful spots for emergency buttons include around the toilet, shower, and sink, as these are the bathroom’s highest traffic areas. By thinking strategically, you can rest assured that your elderly loved one can call for help regardless of where an accident in the bathroom occurs.
The bathroom is a dangerous, though necessary area of an elderly individual’s home. However, there are plenty of safeguards that you can put in place to help prevent accidents, or to summon assistance should an accident occur. Prioritize accessibility at every step of your bathroom design process. With proper care and planning, visits to the bathroom do not have to be a nerve-wracking experience for elderly users and their caregivers.
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