Every year, more than one out of four elderly individuals fall in the United States. However, research from the CDC suggests that less than 50% of these people tell their doctor, often leading to undiagnosed health complications like head injuries and hip fractures.
In addition, even one fall doubles your risk of falling again, making preventative measures highly necessary for vulnerable family members.
One of the most significant factors that contribute to falls are home hazards, such as wet floors and throw rugs that can be tripped over. In the bathroom, the number of hazards exponentially increases for seniors. Vision problems, as well as difficulties with balance and mobility, can make it even more dangerous for the elderly.
To remedy this, making design changes to your loved one’s bathroom can help them stay safe as they go about their daily lives. Being aware of the potential safety hazards can also help you make additional adjustments to further reduce health-related risks.
Potential Bathroom Safety Hazards
Before looking at the equipment that you need to purchase for your bathroom, it’s best to explore what hazards need to be addressed to promote safety for seniors. Some risk factors may not be immediately visible to the naked eye, so these should also be considered and accounted for.
Wet and soapy surfaces
Firstly, slippery surfaces can be found in any area of the home, but are even more common in the bathroom. Wet tile surfaces, shag carpets, and puddles under the sink can cause dangerous falls on a hard and tough floor.
Soapy surfaces from leftover shampoo and shower gel can make matters even worse, especially when combined with sharp edges of furniture.
Any bathmats being used should have a non-slip surface to prevent them from moving around, while handles can provide additional grip and safety.
Toilet germs and mold growth
When you flush a toilet with the lid open, it makes it easier for bacteria to land on a damp place and grow. For instance, a toothbrush holder or a similarly dark and moist area can help germs multiply and grow.
In addition, a shower curtain can also breed bacteria, leading to moldy black spots. For seniors, this can cause eye, skin, nose, throat, and lung irritation and can worsen any existing allergies.
To prevent this, wet areas should be dried within 24 to 48 hours to stop mold growth from occurring. For elders who live alone, cleaning the bathroom may be a difficult task, so it might be prudent to hire extra help.
How can you make your bathroom safer?
There are a number of ways that you can make your bathroom safer to use for the elderly and other individuals. Investing in specialized equipment, getting rid of any obstacles, and fixing your flooring are a few of the steps you should take.
Install grab bars to prevent slips
Grab bars are great to hold on to help an elderly person navigate around a bathroom with ease. Most models are easy to install with minimal supervision, along with the aid of a loved one. They’re one of the most important bathroom safety features for the elderly that you should consider.
In general, grab bars should be positioned near high traffic areas. This includes next to the toilet, by the entryway of a shower, and even inside a shower to make it easy to move around. Keeping them positioned diagonally will be more accessible for the wrists to grip the bar at various levels.
Try using a toilet seat riser
For the elderly, bending their knees and hips to sit on a toilet can be painful if they suffer from back pain, have hip replacements, or arthritis. A toilet riser solves this issue by improving toilet accessibility.
It is placed on top of a toilet seat, making it easier to move from a wheelchair or standing up. Some models are permanently attached to the top, while others can be removed and put to the side when not in use. Finding a secure and stable toilet riser can reduce joint pain and make your loved one more comfortable.
Consider the use of shower chairs
Baths and showers can be particularly risky areas in the bathrooms for seniors who have balance issues. Shower chairs are specifically designed to prevent the fear of falling by supporting one’s body with a sturdy backrest and armrest. They can make it easier for an older person to relax during their shower.
Depending on your preference, there are a variety of models on the market. Folding stools, transfer benches, rolling shower chairs, and fold-down shower chairs all come with their respective pros and cons, so choosing the ideal size and adjustability that works for your loved one is the key to success.
Invest in non-slip mats and flooring
Bathroom flooring needs to be easy to walk on and not difficult to clean. Ideally, maintaining a linoleum bathroom floor is easy if it doesn’t have seams between the tiles. Sheet linoleum is more water-resistant but can be expensive and cold underfoot.
Vinyl is another great water-resistant and hard-wearing option, with newer luxury vinyl flooring options manufactured to resemble wood grains and stone floors.
On the other hand, seniors should stay away from frictionless ceramic or porcelain tile and natural stone as they can be dangerous to land on after a hard fall.
Because of this, looking into textured non-slip mats can provide some cushion and offer water absorption.
Eliminate any hazards along the way
Bathroom clutter can also be another unexpected hazard for an elderly individual. Anything from awkwardly placed laundry baskets to a glass bathroom scale can cause a senior to trip over in the dark and accidentally harm themselves.
Storing away items inside cabinets and drawers can help keep your loved one safe. In addition, installing rounded guards around sharp furniture corners can prevent injury.
Make sure the bathroom is well-lit
Bad lighting is a key culprit of falls and slips. If you have inconveniently placed light switches, this can make it difficult for seniors to see at night. Ensuring that the route to the bathroom is well lit will help them find their way unassisted, and wall rails can also make this job easier.
Consider installing automatic lights that turn on whenever someone enters and leaves a room. This way, a senior won’t have to remember to turn on and off the lights, saving you money on your energy bill while boosting their safety.
Keep bathroom essentials accessible
Reaching for an item on a too-high shelf can cause a senior to stumble and fall. Ideally, bathroom essentials like towels, robes, and toiletries should be located within arm’s length and well-organized.
Also, try to avoid placing items in areas that are too low like the bottom set of drawers so a senior won’t have to bend down. Lastly, consider the wall placement of any hooks and magazine or book racks so that they won’t cause additional difficulty.
Automate water temperature levels
If the water temperature is too hot or too cold, this can cause tons of discomfort for seniors. Some may find it difficult to adjust temperature settings on their own, which can result in burns and hypothermia for the elderly.
Generally, bath temperature should only be a few degrees higher than normal body temperature. If the temperature is too hot for instance, this can cause cardiac strain.
Installing a temperature sensor or smart bath assistive device can help your senior take a bath at an ideal temperature range at all times.
Ensure that seniors are always supervised
While bathing independently may be a point of pride for some seniors, they may require urgent assistance if anything bad happens to them. Installing a wireless call button can help them get the help they need from a distance.
Consider installing a wall-mounted safety button in the shower to enable seniors to call for help, or consider a waterproof smartwatch or tracker worn around the neck. Some gadgets like the BoomerAlert can even detect falls and send an automated notification to caregivers.
Get cleaning or bathing assistance if needed
Mopping up floors and keeping bathroom equipment hygienic can be a struggle for aging adults. Think about hiring extra help to get your bathroom as clean as possible and prevent any mold and bacteria from springing up.
For those who may have extreme mobility issues, having a caregiver provide additional assistance and stability can prevent accidents from occurring. On the other hand, investing in a safe and luxurious walk-in bathtub can give a senior that sense of much-needed independence.
Avoid rushing and take it slow
Most of the time, accidents happen when someone’s short on time and accidentally slips and falls while moving quickly. Remind your loved one to take their time and be especially careful when moving around the bathroom. Sudden movements can be especially risky for seniors.
If you’re unsure about what areas of your bathroom you may need to renovate, it might be best to ask a healthcare professional or an occupational therapist for safety recommendations.
Every senior has their own unique safety concerns, but this guide should be a good starting point for most cases.
If you’re looking for more information on bathroom mobility for the elderly, feel free to read our article on the best bathtubs for the elderly at Senior Strong. Comment below if you have any more suggestions!