Safety Modifications for a Senior Friendly Bathroom

We've all heard that most accidents at home occur in the bathroom.

By Clare Absher RN, BSN  

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Elderly loved ones may be frail, weak from a recent illness, or suffer from a debilitating disease that causes impaired balance or vision. Therefore, their odds of having an accident at home, particularly in the bathroom, are greatly increased. Employ some tactical measures and install strategic safety equipment to reduce fall risks and create a safe zone for your loved ones. For those who have difficulty walking or balancing, they are likely to run into trouble using a standard height toilet or getting in and out of a customary shower / bathtub. Fear of falling and injury can cause justifiable anxiety for your loved ones. Adapt some of the following safety modifications to enhance your parent's independence, sense of security, and overall comfort. Your thoughtful efforts can result in preventing a serious accident that could be devastating to your folk's welfare.

5 Quick Tips for Prepping a Safe Bathroom

  1. Make sure lighting is good especially at night by installing a reliable nightlight.
  2. Remove floor rugs that tend to move around and are likely to slip.
  3. Mark hot and cold handles clearly and make sure temperature setting is not too hot to prevent scalding.
  4. Remove doors from track as can prevent easy entry to tub. Instead substitute plastic curtain if necessary to prevent water leakage.
  5. Install mirror on wall at appropriate height for user or add flexible mirror extenders that come out from wall at level where user can be seated.

Bathroom Safety Products to Consider

Bubble Bath Mat

Use rubber suction-grip bath mats, adhesive strips or anti-slip tub surface material to prevent slipping in tub. Keep them free of any soap scum build-up.

Install a floor-to-ceiling vertical rod with grab bars referred to as a security pole that is easy to place near the shower/tub or toilet for support getting up and down on toilet and in and out of shower.

Install grab bars on tub side or shower wall to help with getting in or out of the tub/shower and on wall for extra support around toilet area. Permanently installed ones as well as removable clamp-on models are available. Never allow use of toilet paper holders, towel racks or wall mounted sinks for supporting one's weight.

Purchase a bathtub or shower chair made of sturdy blow molded plastic or padded vinyl for added comfort if preferred for those with poor standing balance or general weakness. They are available with or without backs, height adjustments, and heavy-duty models to accommodate greater weight capacities and slip-resistant rubber feet or foldaway portable models.

Consider purchasing a portable bathtub bench for comfortable, safe seating that is less obtrusive or may be a better fit in your existing bathtub.

Purchase a bathtub transfer bench for those who have difficulty entering or exiting the tub. Transfer benches extend beyond the edge of the tub for those who have difficulty stepping over the tub wall safely. Models come in blow-molded plastic and padded also. Check weight capacity or additional 6-leg support to accommodate user. Place bench so that 2 of the legs are on outside of tub and other 2 within tub. The user then sits safely on outside of bench and slides to inside tub while remaining seated on bench. Place these seats facing the faucet end of the tub.

Add hand held shower sprays for the user's convenience to help control water flow when seated on bath chairs and transfer benches. They easily attach to your existing shower arm, or can be attached with a diverter valve and used in conjunction with the existing showerhead for other family members.

Purchase a raised toilet seat when the standard seat is too low to help those who have difficulty getting up and down from a regular toilet, bending or sitting such as following a hip operation. Look for those with safety features including brackets or locking clamps that stabilize the seat on the toilet rim. If one is prone to slide when standing up be sure to use clamp on style with locking brackets. Remember to help him or her sit on raised toilet seat safely by not allowing them to sit on front edge. Others have open access or a cut out section in the front to assist with personal hygiene efforts. Some have padded armrests for added security and comfort and offer additional help with sitting and standing.

Consider buying a toilet safety frame or rail with armrests attached to the back of the toilet for those having difficulty transferring to and from toilet but can manage standard toilet seat height. It attaches easily to the toilet and features both height and width adjustments. To use toilet safety frame exert force and weight downward when getting up and down.

Purchase an over toilet adjustable commode for those who need both grab bars and a higher toilet. Sometimes referred to as an "All-in-One Commode", it serves as a raised toilet seat and toilet safety frame (with bucket/pail removed), and a freestanding bedside commode (with bucket/pail attached). This portable commode offers a temporary or permanent solution for one that is confined to bed, unable to get into bathroom safely due to limited door entry size, or lacks speed needed to reach toilet timely.

Consider investing in a drop-arm model (with arms that drop out of the way on either side) for those who need help transferring from the bed, chair or wheelchair onto the toilet. Often, they are more convenient especially when more room is needed to maneuver safely.

Non Slip Socks

Buy a few pairs of non-slip socks as they are cheap, washable and often safer than slippers or bare feet. Encourage your loved ones to wear these socks when moving about in the bathroom, especially when floors are moist.

Clare Absher RN BSN

About the Author

Clare Absher is a Registered Nurse with 44 years of experience. Most of her experience is in home health serving as a caregiver, educator, patient advocate, and liaison between families and community resources. She has also worked in acute care, assisted living, and retirement settings. She is passionate about helping families care for their elderly loved ones at home.

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