It's the dream of many homeowners to live in their home throughout retirement. Unfortunately, this is only possible if the home is safe and senior-friendly.
The bathroom is the most dangerous room of the house. Every year, over 235,000 people over age 15 visit the emergency room after an accident in the bathroom. Of those, nearly 15% are hospitalized. Bathroom hazards like slippery floors, poor lighting and low toilets can be a barrier to safe, independent living.
Anyone hoping to age in place should take action to make their bathroom safe and senior-friendly. If you're a homeowner with age in place goals, the following nine features could mean the difference between a safe bathroom experience and an accident.
1. Curbless Shower
Stepping into the shower can be dangerous for anyone with leg weakness, poor balance or poor eyesight. Curbless showers remove the danger from getting into and out of the shower.
The most important part of designing a curbless shower is in the waterproofing beneath the floor, and the gentle slop toward the drain that prevents the water from spreading around the bathroom. Hire a contractor who has installed curbless showers in the past, to ensure the installation is performed properly.
2. Grab Bars
Grab bars give seniors a surface on which to steady themselves when they're standing in the shower or standing up from the toilet. Seniors hoping to age in place should install grab bars in the shower, above the bathtub and near the toilet. Work with your contractor to ensure that the grab bars you install will hold your weight and will be strong enough even if you should gain weight, or if someone who weighs more than you should decide to use the grab bars.
[Read More from GDB in the Herald-Tribune: Aging in the Right Place: Are you doing everything you can to make sure your kitchen is safe?]
3. Non-Slip Floors
About 81% of the injuries in the bathroom are falls. Wet, slippery floors are especially hazardous because they contribute to falls in the bathroom.
You can help prevent these injuries by installing non-slip floors. Non-slip vinyl and rubber flooring are becoming increasingly popular flooring options for seniors. Talk to your contractor to identify a suitable flooring material for your bathroom. Textured stone is also a suitable option for many people.
4. Tall Toilet
Getting up off the toilet is difficult for people who have weak leg muscles and poor coordination. Some choose to solve this problem by replacing the old toilet seat with a taller, higher toilet seat. Others choose to install a taller toilet altogether. Both have advantages and disadvantages. A taller toilet seat may be less expensive than a replacement toilet, but a replacement toilet is often more aesthetically pleasing. Talk with your contractor to identify the best solution for your bathroom.
5. Extra Lighting
The bathroom may be a small space, but the shower, toilet and sink are all separate zones. If the light in the room is inadequate, these zones can become dark and shadowy, making accidents easier and more likely. Adequate lighting is especially important for seniors and the elderly, who rely on clear visibility to avoid trips and falls.
Bathroom lights vary by location in the bathroom. Recessed lighting is common over the toilet and shower, but pendant lighting and wall lighting is more common in areas around the vanity and medicine cabinet. It's helpful to have these lights on separate light switches, for easier control. Work with a licensed contractor to ensure the lights in your bathroom are installed safely and to code.
6. Extra-Large Medicine Cabinet, Adequate Storage
Seniors tend to have a lot of medicine, vitamins and supplements to keep organized. As they get older, maneuvering a small medicine cabinet can become more difficult, as their joints become stiff and fingers become less nimble. Installing an extra-large or extra-deep medicine cabinet can be helpful for a senior who wants to keep their medicine hidden away, yet still accessible.
In addition to the extra-large medicine cabinet, some seniors choose to install extra, more easily accessible storage. Cabinets that are low to the ground are easier for many seniors to access, especially for seniors in wheel chairs. As you're designing your senior-safe bathroom, plan with your contractor to devise storage solutions that are accessible and adequate for your needs.
7. Built-In Shower Stool
Standing in the shower can become tiring for someone who is not used to standing for long stretches. While a portable shower stool can be useful in a pinch, these stools are movable and thus may not be the most secure type of stool to be used in the bathroom.
Built-in shower stools are secure and immobile. They will not slip out of the way if pushed in the shower, and cannot fall over if knocked. A built-in shower stool can give you a place to sit while bathing, or can be used as a wide and functional shelf. Your contractor can help you decide which corner of your shower is best for the installation of a permanent shower stool.
8. Hand-Held Shower Head
Hand-held shower heads make it easy for seniors and elderly to take control of their bathing procedures. For someone who has mobility problems, or for someone who uses a wheelchair, a hand-held shower head combined with a shower stool makes it possible to shower and become adequately clean. If you have mobility issues, consider including both of these features in your bathroom remodel budget.
9. Lower, Wheelchair Accessible Sink
Wheel chairs tend to sit low to the ground. Reaching into a sink to brush teeth or wash hands can be difficult for someone who is wheelchair bound. For people in this situation, a wheelchair-accessible sink is best. Plan with your contractor to install a wheelchair friendly sink, or a custom sink that fits your bathroom and is low enough that you can reach the faucet.
Wheelchair accessible sinks are usually wall mounted, without a vanity. This makes rolling up to the sink easier. Hire a licensed contractor to ensure that your wall-mounted sink is installed properly.
Contact Gilbert Design Build
Age-in-place features could save you from an accident in your home while helping you maintain independence into old age. Over the last two decades, Gilbert Design Build has helped hundreds of homeowners install age-in-place features in homes throughout the Sarasota and Bradenton areas. We'll work with you and your budget to help you make your bathroom safer. For a free consultation, contact us today.