Seven ways to make the bathroom safer for seniors

441806554_8a4a412b36Who really wants to worry about bathroom safety?

The problem is, the bathroom is pretty much the most dangerous room in the house. According to data from the National Safety Council, bathroom accidents make up about 70% of all home accidents.

That’s a lot of accidents.

Why?

Combine water with the slick surfaces of bath tubs, showers, and easy-to-clean flat surface floors, and you get a situation not that different from an ice rink.

For seniors with strength issues, balance issues, and mobility issues, the situation gets even more dangerous.

The danger of slipping is compounded by the fact that most surfaces surfaces in the bathroom are pretty hard. It’s one thing to trip in your living room and fall onto a carpeted floor. It’s another to fall and hit your head on the hard side of the bathtub, or the sharp corner a bathroom vanity counter.

Here are seven simple things you can do to make the bathrooms safer.

1. Get rid of rugs. Throw rugs or other items on the floor can cause tripping hazards. Remove them. (You can get a simple anti-slip mat for the area immediately outside the shower so that when the person steps out they have a place to stand and that will get too slippery.) Make sure that this mat is out of the main traffic pattern, doesn’t slip on the floor, and doesn’t present a new tripping hazard.

One of the areas of resistance that you might run into is that without throw rugs the bathroom floor is cold. If this is a dealbreaker for the person you’re working with, see if you can find floor coverings that have less of a chance of tripping them up, and be sure to follow the other recommendations in this list.

Particularly watch out for rugs that tend to get flipped up, wrinkled, or otherwise present height-related tripping hazards.

2. Make it brighter. Making the room brighter will make it easier for the elderly person to avoid tripping. Imagine a situation in which a towel has fallen to the floor that is roughly the same color as the floor. In low light, an elderly person not expecting the obstruction on the floor might get snagged it.

Remember that one of the first mobility changes that happens for seniors is their gait turns from what we would consider a standard walk to more of a shuffle. (When I watch my wife’s grandfather walk (age 96) I notice how close to the ground his feet are at all times.) All of the little ups and downs caused by our random rugs spread around the house, including in the bathroom, are much more of an obstacle to him than they are to us.

You could start by making sure all the lightbulbs in the bathroom are working.

Then upgrade the bulbs to brighter wattage, and consider installing modern bright LED light bulbs because they can be on all the time and cost much much less than a regular incandescent bulb. It might be necessary to install additional lights in the ceiling to make the room really bright.

We recently did this in our bathroom at home, going from two wall fixtures to the same two wall fixtures plus 3 ceiling cans holding LED lightbulbs. It’s like night and day. I can’t understand how we tolerated such a dark bathroom for so long now that there’s enough light to really make it bright.

Night lights are pretty much essential item. These can be had for just a few dollars but will give enough light to show where the light switches and will help the senior get the lights turned on when they need the bathroom in the night.

Of course, lighted switches make it even easier to find the light switch. You could even install a motion sensor light switch that would automatically turn the lights on anytime someone came into the room.

3. Make the shower or tub safer with anti-slip adhesive strips. This is pretty much a no-brainer for any shower. Purchase some non-skid strips from your local hardware store or buy them online. They’re cheap and you can install them yourself in a few minutes.

Some geriatric experts feel that the kinds of strips are better then shower or tub mats because there’s no danger of them moving around, and they don’t present another change in levels that can hurt someone’s balance. But others feel that a no slip bath mat is just fine.

4. Install grab bars. Just like a handrail helps us keep our balance when going up and down the stairs, a bathroom grab bar helps people keep their balance in the shower, and helps people get in and out of the shower safely.

You might consider adding several grab bars to the bathroom. One should be inside the shower. Another, if necessary, to provide support when entering or exiting the bathtub or shower, and perhaps more in other areas of the bathroom depending on the layout.

Grab bars are designed for two things, helping people keep their balance, and helping to hold them up if they lose their balance. To accomplish both of these you really need full on metal grab bars properly attached to the walls. While this is easier than installing the lights in your ceiling, it still may require the services of a contractor or handyman.

A simpler, stopgap solution is to use a suction cup grab bar. These have suction cups that let them stick onto the tile in your shower. They’re not designed to hold a person’s body weight, so they’re not designed to help you stop the fall, at least not one that’s already started. But they can provide helpful balance assistance to prevent you from losing your balance. And they’re pretty cheap.

5. Upgrade the shower so people can shower sitting down. It seems pretty obvious that if you’re sitting instead of standing you have a lower likelihood of falling down. That’s why it can be smart to buy a shower chair, which is a small waterproof stool you can sit on while you clean yourself.

In order to use the shower chair effectively, you’ll probably also want an adjustable height sliding showerhead that you can hold in your hand and wash yourself with, or at least you’ll need a shower head that moves up and down into a better position. While you’re at it, you might also want to get a anti-scald shower that will prevent the water from being scalding hot.

6. Get a more comfortable toilet seat. It’s pretty easy to upgrade your toilet with a higher seat to make sitting down and standing up much easier for people with limited leg strength or mobility. An elevated toilet seat can be added directly to the existing toilet. If the bathroom is shared by others, or if modifying the toilet is not an option, you can also purchase raised toilet seat that can be put over the existing toilet to provide a stable platform. Some of these come with padding and with arms to give seniors a little bit of leverage to get back up.

7. Change the bathing supplies. Many seniors find a long-handled sponge is helpful for washing themselves. It can help them reach areas that are hard to get to. Your senior may also appreciate changing from bar soap to liquid soap. Some people experience that bar soap is hard to hold onto, and if you drop it then you risk losing your balance when he reached down to pick it up. Of course, liquid soaps can come in hard to manage dispensers, so it’s worth putting thought into the best kind of liquid soap dispenser for the person you’re working with.

Do you have other ideas for making a bathroom safer? Share them in the comments.

Photo Credit: butkaj.info  cc

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