How to Create a Senior-Friendly Bathroom
Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips or products can you recommend to make a bathroom more senior-friendly. My husband and I are looking to adapt our home for our elderly years and would like to start with the bathroom. What can you tell us?
Because more accidents and injuries happen in the bathroom than any other room in the house, this is a great place to start seniorizing. Here’s what you should know.
To avoid hygiene hardships as you get older, let’s start with some simple tips and a few low-cost add-ons that can make a big difference in making your bathroom safer and easier to maneuver.
• Floor: To avoid slipping and tripping, get non-skid bath rugs for the floors or secure existing floor mats or rugs with double-sided rug tape.
• Lights: The older we get the more light we need, so install the highest wattage bulbs allowed for your fixtures, and get a plug in nightlight that automatically turns on when the room gets dark.
• Entrance: If the doorway into the bathroom is not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, you can easily widen your doorways (two inches) with inexpensive offset door hinges.
• Bath/shower: To make bathing safer, buy a non-slip rubber mat or put down self-stick strips on the tub/shower floor, and install grab bars for support. If you use the shower, it’s a good idea to put in a shower curtain rod that screws or bolts into the wall (versus a tension-mounted rod), so that if you lose your balance and grab the shower curtain, the rod won’t spring loose. Another safety precaution is to put in a water-resistant, wall-mounted phone in or near the bath/shower in case of a fall. And many seniors with mobility or balance problems need to shower sitting down. If this applies to you, install a hand-held, adjustable-height shower head, and buy a portable bath/shower chair.
• Toilet: Install grab bars next to the toilet too if possible, or purchase a toilet seat riser. This adds two-to-four inches of height making it easier to sit and rise.
• Faucets: If you have twist handles on the sink, bathtub or shower faucets, replace them with lever handles. They’re easier to turn, especially for seniors with arthritis or limited hand strength. Also be aware that it takes only 130-degree water to scald you, so turn your hot water heater down to 120 degrees or get anti-scald devices for your faucets.
If you’re thinking about remodeling, there are a variety of practical and stylish products on the market that can make your bathroom more age-friendly.
For bathing, prefabricated “curbless showers” and “walk-in bathtubs” are two popular options today. Curbless showers have no threshold to step over so access is a breeze and ideal for wheelchair users. Theses showers also typically come with a built-in seat, grab bars, an adjustable hand-held shower head, and a slip resistant textured floor. Or, if you like to take baths, a walk-in bathtub with a front door may be the way to go. You can find these products at sites like Accessible-Showers.com and Premier-Bathrooms.com.
If you’re interested in getting a new toilet, go with an ADA compliant “comfort height” toilet that’s 17 inches high, versus a standard toilet that’s only 15 inches. Kohler (Kohler.com) and American Standard (AmericanStandard-us.com) make a nice variety.
And if you’re putting in a new sink, install it at a level that reduces bending. For wheelchair access wall-mounted or pedestal sinks, or a sink built into a cabinet that’s open underneath will let you roll in nice and close. And if you get a new faucet, the single lever handle style is great for those with arthritis.
Savvy Tips: For more information on senior-friendly modification tips visit aarp.org/families/home_design/bath and Homemods.org. Also contact your nearby independent living center (ilru.org, 713-520-0232). These are nonprofit centers that provide modification information, and many even offer free or low-cost home assessments. Your Area Agency on Aging (800-677-1116) is also a good referral resource.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.