More and more couples and singles are choosing to spend their golden years in their homes. These updates can help make sure the bathroom is a safe zone for seniors.
Current bathroom design trends show people favoring more of a spa-like ambience. But no matter how attractive and relaxing, the bathroom has the potential to be unsafe. In fact, nearly a quarter million people over the age of 14 visit emergency rooms each year because of injuries sustained in the bathroom, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. And the potential for injuries increases with age. With more people wanting to remain in their homes as they age, it’s important to make the bathroom a safe — as well as a beautiful — space. Here are some areas that might need attention when creating a safe bathroom for senior citizens.
“Smaller tiles are less slippery than large tiles,” says Richard Duncan, executive director of the Universal Design Institute. “Polished stone isn’t good; you want something with texture.” Unglazed ceramic mosaic tile is a good option. But make sure any flooring choice has what’s known as a high slip-resistance coefficient.
Bathroom grab bars conjure up institutional images for many people. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Many manufacturers are making attractive handholds on products such as toilet paper holders and towel bars that can be grabbed during a fall.
You should certainly have some in the shower and tub, which are, by their nature, slick surfaces.
Reduce a tripping hazard by installing a zero-threshold shower, suggests Jeanne Anthony, Livable Communities project advisor at AARP in Washington, D.C. Popular in Europe, this kind of shower, which doesn’t feature any threshold to step over to enter, is making steady inroads in U.S. bathroom design. Featuring an open space that’s on the same level as the floor, they’re also great for anyone who has to wash a young child or a pet, or for someone using a wheelchair. And if you’ve already got the backing in the wall, why not install a teak pull-down shower seat?
Think about water temperature as well. You don’t want the water to come out hotter than 120º, Anthony says. Modulate temperature at the hot water heater source or purchase an anti-scald device or thermostatic shower valve. You can also install a surge control if you have problems with hot or cold water blasts in the shower when a toilet is flushed, for example.
There are additional low-cost ways to remodel your bathroom and increase safety for seniors, such as improving the lighting in a dark hallway leading to the bathroom.
As Duncan says, “With a better designed bathroom, you can be independent longer. And if you ever do need a caregiver, the space will be safe for both of you.”
For more aging in place ideas, check out The AARP Home Fit Guide.