Aging in Place: Bathroom Safety
Per the National Coalition on Aging, nine out of ten older adults want to ‘Age in Place.’ And more surprisingly, they want to remain in their homes despite physical and financial difficulties. With the explosion of older adults wanting to remain in their homes, the obvious question is how do we optimize the home environments to reduce injury potential and promote quality of life? Being informed and willing to make modifications are the first steps. There is a plethora of safety issues and changes for each room of a house. Because there is so much information, I thought it would be more digestible to address them, room by room in multiple posts. To get started, what room in a typical house is the most dangerous? If you said the bathroom, you are correct. Although there are many hazards in the kitchen, the bathroom wins the award for being the most hazardous. Bathrooms tend to be smaller spaces that include hard and smooth surfaces, soap and water. The combination of which is a perfect precursor for falls. The bathroom is also where we perform balancing maneuvers to get down and up from toilets, into and out of showers and tubs. It is because of this combination of bathroom features and fancy footwork that 80% of falls in adults older than 65 years occur in the bathroom. And as you can imagine, these falls often are not soft falls. Fortunately, there are several modifications that can be made to make the bathroom easier to navigate.
Lighting: Brighten up the bathroom. As we age, we need more light to effectively see and they help one orient themselves if and when they get dizzy when getting off the toilet.. Motion activated night lights are affordable. Other options include changing light bulbs to higher wattage
Flooring: Removed floor mats. Mats and rugs are major trip hazards that can cause one to loose their balance and subsequently fall.
Toilets: Did you know toilet height is one of the most important, and most overlooked, feature of a toilet? Sitting and standing is easier with and elevated toilets, thus reducing exertion. The ADA compliant toilets are 17-19” from floor to top of the toilet seat. This height allows for easier wheelchair to toilet (and vice versa) transfers (https://www.ada.gov/racheck.pdf) There are a variety of toilet and toilet seat options specific to individual needs. These include removable raised toilet seats and toilet seats with handles to more permanent options. Grab bars are another option. There are even toilet seats that light up when you sit on them.
Grab bars: Although grab bars are not the most attractive, they are well worth their appearance when it comes to safety. But, they should be solidly attached to a wall stud. It is not uncommon for individuals to use a towel rack as a handle. The small screws used to attach towel racks to walls are not designed to support weight. Any weight beyond a towel! Grab bars perform two essential functions. They allow one to maintain and retain their balance when getting on and off the toilet and in and out of tubs and showers. In some situations, they can also be used to help an individual get back up after a fall. There are different types of grab bars, vertical, horizontal, angled and even ceiling to floor ceilings all designed for specific purposes. I will write about these in a future post, but in the meantime, a physical therapist should be consulted to determine what is best for for the individual. Suction cup grab bars are popular, but they are not recommended.An excellent source is consumeraffairs.com/news/making-bathrooms-safe-for-seniors