Six Steps for a Senior Safe Bathroom
Having a safe bathroom is important for all family members, but especially for our aging parents. They may have developing issues with balance, endurance and strength as they age. These issues can increase their chance of falling.
Falling is a leading cause of injury among our aging population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency rooms for fall injuries. One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.
Most seniors prefer to live at home (called aging-in-place) in familiar surroundings where they’re comfortable. But as they age and their mobility lessens, falling becomes a primary concern for their safety. A broken hip or other serious fall injury could remove them from their cherished home and significantly reduce their quality of life.
If you have elderly parents, fall prevention should be a serious concern for you. A very serious concern. Prevention is much better than patient rehabilitation.
Effective fall prevention requires an evaluation of the entire house. It’s probably best to evaluate each room’s use and the daily routines of your parents. The idea is for the whole house to be safe and functional.
Start with the Bathroom
I believe the most important place to start is the bathroom.
Bathrooms have a reputation for being the most dangerous room in the house. They are full of hard surfaces and are wet and slippery. That’s a bad combination. And they’re usually one of the busier rooms in the house; thus, the need for a senior-safe bathroom.
Providing a safe bathroom for elderly parents will involve the evaluation of both the facility and the person using the facility. A person’s abilities will direct the type and the application of modifications needed. I suggest consulting an occupational therapist or a physical therapist to get recommendations about what the senior’s physical and cognitive strengths and weaknesses are. A senior who uses a walker around the house has different modification needs than one who is mobile, but has vision and hearing disabilities.
Here are some basic modifications you can accomplish that can help provide a safe bathroom for all users, generally.
Six Modifications for a Safe Bathroom:
- The bathtub/shower should have grab bars and a no-slip mat. The bars should be located in the correct height and location for the user, and installed to be rigid and stable. If the bar suddenly detaches, it could be the cause of a fall. So read the manufacturer’s instructions about installation. If you’re not confident, then you should hire a professional to install it for you. A good installation is important. Don’t “cut corners” here.
- Provide a shower chair and a hand-held shower wand for bathing. This is especially helpful for persons with balance issues. For example, when they wash their face or hair, closing their eyes may cause imbalance. Some medications may cause balance problems. If the issues are temporary, the shower chair can be removed and stored away until needed again.
- Having an additional non-slip mat outside the tub/shower is important, helping provide a stable transfer in and out. A word of caution: make sure the mat is not a trip hazard. If so, better to remove it when not bathing.
- If the bather is still having trouble getting in and out of the tub, even with the above modifications, you may want to consider a transfer bench. This will enable the user to sit down outside the tub, then lift her legs over the tub side safely for entering or exiting.
- Getting on and off the toilet can be challenging. There are safety rails available that will assist in this transfer. A toilet seat that has a higher height than usual may help also.
- Improved lighting is always helpful. Replace and/or relocate fixtures throughout the pathways of a home. Consider the lighting situation at night when sleepy heads go to the bathroom.
Improve your Chances
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that even our best efforts will prevent all falls. However, prevention is still necessary. Removing hazards and providing assistance will improve the chances of your loved one’s ability to remain independent, safe, and confident in their own place.
If you would like to learn more about this subject, we offer an e-book titled Preventing Falls Around the House. It’s completely free when you sign up for our monthly newsletter.