One-fourth of older Americans fall each year, according to the National Council on Aging. Every 19 minutes, a senior dies from a fall, and every 11 seconds, an older adult is sent to the emergency room for treatment for a fall-related injury.
Falls in the home often result in minor injuries, but a fall in the bathroom can be fatal.
Bathrooms can be a hazardous place for seniors, particularly those with balance issues. Common hazards include:
- Slippery floors and showers/bathtubs
- Low toilet seats
- Shower chairs that are not slip-resistant
- Insufficiently secured grab bars or towel racks
A few simple changes can make the bathroom a safer place for seniors and reduce the risk of injury.
1. Install Grab Bars
Grab bars are essential for seniors with poor balance and difficulty getting in and out of the tub. Many seniors rely on towel bars to keep them steady and balanced when getting in and out of the bathtub, but these bars are not designed to support more than a few pounds of weight.
Install grab bars in places that are easy to reach, so seniors can enter and exit the tub with greater ease.
These bars are best suited for seniors who have good upper-body strength and are able to grip the bar while standing or moving.
Make sure the bars are slip-resistant and are easy to see (i.e. a contrasting color). While you can purchase grab bars that suction cup to the wall, but bolted on bars are the much better and safer option. Suction cup bars can easily come loose and slide down the shower wall, which greatly increases the risk of injury.
Grab bars are an inexpensive investment that can save you or your loved one from a serious, life-changing injury.
2. Invest in a Good Shower Chair or transfer bench
For seniors who have difficulty staying balanced while standing, a shower chair is a great investment. Shower chairs give seniors the stability they need for safe showering, and also provide a place to rest.
Opt for a chair that has rubber tips on the legs, which will provide the non-slip grip and prevent the chair from sliding.
A bathtub transfer bench is for those people who have considerable trouble getting in and out of a shower. The bench starts on the outside of the tub. When you sit on it, you gradually slide the seat into the shower.
There are many different types of shower chairs available. Some are simple stools, which are great for seniors who can still get into and out of the tub on their own. There are also chairs that are elongated on one side to allow seniors to transfer into the tub without having to risk falling.
3. Install a Walk-in Tub
A walk-in tub is a great option for seniors who do not want to take the risk of falling while getting into or out of the bathtub.
These tubs have doors that allow users to walk in and sit down without having to worry about climbing over a traditional tub ledge.
Walk-in tubs are an investment, but will help seniors live more independently with less worry about slips and falls in the bathroom. You can read more about walk-in bath tubs here.
4. Place Non-Slip Mats in the Bathroom
Non-slip mats allow seniors to navigate the bathroom easily and without the risk of falling. To minimize the risk of falling in the tub, place a non-slip mat on the floor of the tub or shower. Opt for a mat that has a non-slip surface.
For outside the tub, place non-slip rugs in front of the shower/tub, toilet and sink. These are the areas in the bathroom where seniors are most likely to fall (outside of the shower).
Non-slip rugs and mats will help minimize the risk of falls on slippery wet tiles.
A non-slip mat is an absolute must-have item if you are elderly. This is one of the main causes of injuries. Falls from standing in a slippery tub are completely preventable with a good mat. They are very inexpensive too.
5. Install a Raised Toilet Seat
These toilet seats raise the toilet seat height by three to four inches, which makes it easier for seniors to sit down.
Grab bars should also be installed near the toilet to provide further balance assistance and reduce the risk of a fall.
Many raised toilet seats come equipped with grip bars, but additional bars on the wall will give seniors something to grab onto should they slip.
6. Put Essential Items Within Easy Reach
Installing a shower caddy at arm’s height can help make it easier to reach essential items, like shampoos and soaps. These should be mounted into the wall, if possible, as suction cup models can easily fall off the wall.
An optimal setup would be to install dispensers on the wall of the bathtub or shower, so there’s no need to worry about product bottles slipping and falling out of the senior’s hands.
Mounted dispensers are affordable and easy to install. When empty, seniors or caregivers can easily refill with more product without having to worry about bottles cluttering the shower and creating more hazards.
7. Make Lighting and Door Changes
Simple changes to the room’s lighting and doors can also help improve safety. Poor lighting can increase the risk of falls simply because of poor visibility. Ensure that the path between the bedroom and bathroom is well-lit, and that the bathroom itself has adequate lighting.
Nightlights are a great way to ensure the path to the bathroom and the bathroom itself is well-lit.
In addition to lighting, you may also want to consider the bathroom door and the way it swings open or closed. Does the door swing out or into the bathroom? Outward-swinging doors may be the better option, as emergency personnel and caregivers will have easy accessibility should a senior fall against the door.
In addition to these seven changes, caregivers may also want to install a telephone in the bathroom, so seniors can call for help if needed. A waterproof medical alert system is another consideration and can add an additional layer of safety.
Taking steps to increase bathroom safety is essential for seniors who want to lead independent lives. Many of these changes are simple and affordable, which makes them easily accessible for seniors. And for seniors who have great difficulty getting into and out of the tub, caregiver assistance may be necessary in addition to the safety measures above.
8. Use a bath lift
If you enjoy having a bath but have trouble getting in and out of the tub then you should consider purchasing a bath lift. They reduce the chances of slipping in the tub and causing injury. To read more about bath lifts you can read more here.
Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.