Preventing accidents and injuries in the bathroom is important to the elderly. Using the bathroom and bathing or showering on their own is a treasured part of staying independent. To this end, there are several simple solutions to lessen the bathroom hazards older adults face on a daily basis.
Here’s how to improve bathroom safety – affordably and in a weekend:
- Install sensor lights and timers on lights/exhaust fan
- Add grab bars by toilets, the bathtub and in the shower
- Add an emergency remote
- Put down non-slip mats or shower floor tread grip tape strips
- Add a shower seat
- Install a handheld shower head
- Install a taller toilet/portable toilet
With a few trips to the home improvement store and several small adjustments, you can transform a dangerous bathroom into one that is safe and comfortable for seniors.
How Many Seniors Fall In The Bathroom Each Year?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics say that one in four seniors over the age of 65 will have at least one fall per year. Over half of those falls happen in the bathroom.
More than three million elderly people will be treated for injuries in the emergency room each year, with that number growing every year. As the human body ages, there are all sorts of reasons that accidents happen, but once a senior has a fall, they are twice as likely to have another one within a year.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. —National Council on Aging
One out of five falls result in a broken bone, fracture, sprain, or injury. Less than half of those fall victims will tell their doctor, even if they are experiencing pain.
Fall prevention is a serious topic for all older adults (and their caregivers).
Safety Hazards In The Bathroom
How do we improve safety in the bathroom for seniors? First, we need to understand what the dangers are, and then we use that knowledge to do our best to prevent accidents from happening.
According to the CDC, “The highest rates were for injuries that occurred in or around the tub or shower (65.8 per 100,000) and injuries that happened on or near the toilet (22.5 per 100,000).”
This makes sense:
- Slips occur when there is a slick surface beneath unsteady feet. A slip can happen to us at any age, but when unsteady feet are mixed with deteriorating eyesight or cognitive abilities, the risk drastically increases. If things like wet floors or slippery rugs are present, it makes a dangerous setting for the unsuspecting – or unsteady – older adult.
- The lack of steady surfaces to grab on to in the bathroom presents a problem if a senior loses their footing or balance.
- Tripping over unseen objects, especially when using a walker or a cane, is a major danger.
- Both the shower and toilet present the most serious hazard for the elderly. Getting in and out of the shower and standing up from or sitting down on the commode can be challenging for seniors. This is due as much to weak muscles and poor eyesight as it is to the height of the toilet or the slippery surface of the shower floor.
How Can I Make My Bathroom More Senior-Friendly?
Simple changes can help prevent accidents from happening in the bathroom:
- Plug in a sensor light in the bathroom to help illuminate the senior’s way in the dark. Bonus points for a sensor that turns off automatically after a few minutes.
- Switching the bathroom exhaust fan on to a timer can be quite helpful for a forgetful senior, as running an exhaust fan all night can be a fire hazard.
- Add sturdy grab bars by the toilet, the bathtub, and in the shower to give the senior something to steady themselves as they use the toilet or get in and out of the bathtub or shower. Read our article, Where To Put Grab Bars In A Bathroom (And How To Install Them), for more information.
- A wearable emergency remote or one placed in the bathroom can be a priceless investment. Seniors that wear an emergency remote are more likely to get help when they need it most. With the press of a button, an ambulance is sent directly to the home as soon as possible. Additionally, Life Alert offers a shower HELP button.
- Special non-slip mats that are flatter, smoother, and provide more traction are more suitable in a senior’s bathroom. Bathmats and even bathroom rugs on the floor can present tripping and falling hazards and should be removed and replaced with the non-slip mats (find them online). Also, using bathtub and shower grip tape strips or brushing the floor with a few coats of non-slip paint will make the shower floor far less slippery.
- Use a shower chair. Sometimes referred to as a bath chair or a shower seat, this is a seating option designed for the elderly and those with disabilities who cannot remain standing for the duration of their shower. These chairs may help to minimize the risk of shower-time slips and falls.
- Installing a hand held shower head is super helpful, as well. The main benefit of a hand held shower head is that it can be placed within easy reach of the person using it. In addition, they keep the water from spraying on the senior’s head, especially if they are using a shower chair.
- Install a taller toilet or a raised toilet seat with handles. Falls often happen in the bathroom when a senior is getting on or off of the toilet. Installing a taller toilet and grab bars near the toilet will make this everyday task easier.
- If this approach doesn’t work for you, or you need a temporary or simpler solution, a portable toilet with built-in rail bars may be a better idea.
- If you (or your senior loved one) is against the idea of adding a raised toilet seat to the existing commode – know that you CAN purchase one of the newer models of toilets which are about 3 inches taller than the standard ones we’ve all been accustomed to.
- Install a walk-in shower. Where do most bathroom falls occur? In the shower, because of slippery floors and having to step in / out over a raised threshold. Walk-in showers are the easiest for the elderly to get in and out of, as they eliminate this raised edge.
Are Bathmats Dangerous?
Bathmats are great for soaking up the water that runs off of you after stepping out of the shower, but there are a few downsides to them, which can potentially lead to seniors falling.
First of all, bathmats can bunch up and become a tripping and falling hazards for older adults. Secondly, if the mats are thin and/or soft, they may roll up at the corners or scrunch up in the middle. If the freshly showered senior isn’t paying attention or cannot see well, they are at risk of falling.
It’s best to use bathmats that are slip-resistant and made of materials thick enough that they don’t roll up or scrunch up. The varieties today are endless and you can purchase them most anywhere. Here’s the one that I purchased online for my mother.
How Do I Make My Shower Floor Non Slip?
There are a few suggestions on how you can make your shower floor safer for seniors. Soap and hair products used in the shower can make the floor of the shower extremely slippery and dangerous, especially for seniors who have trouble standing or with weak muscles and joints.
- Shower mats: When we think of slip proofing the shower floor, we may think of shower mats with suction cups on the bottom. But they can be a hazard as they allow water and soap to get underneath them and make the floor under the mat become slick. A safer option is a rubber non-skid mat with drainage holes, which especially good for shower floors that have textured surfaces. NOTE: you must put the mat down BEFORE running the water in a shower or tub – if you don’t, a thin layer of water will get underneath, causing the mat to become slippery.
- Clear, anti-slip tape strips are easy to install and offer an ultra-non-slip shower floor. The strips are adhesive on the backside and stick very well to a clean and dry shower floor.
- Slate, granite, or limestone floors are the best natural stone options for the inside of your shower floor or even the entire bathroom floor. Add on a layer of non-slip stone treatment, and you are left with the best senior slip-proof floor of them all.
Are Shower Doors Safe For Seniors?
Glass shower doors may not be the safest for elderly people. If a fall does occur, a glass door could be very dangerous. It may shatter and broken glass could seriously injure someone. Or worse – a patient told me the story of his mother-in-law. She was a sweet, elderly lady who slipped in her shower one day, crashed through the glass shower door, got cut severely, and ended up bleeding to death.
There have even been news reports of exploding glass doors in the shower. These doors are mandated to be made with tempered safety glass, but the glass can break if the door is installed incorrectly or if it comes out of the tracks when the door is slid open or closed.
If your shower doesn’t have a door, install a tension rod with a shower curtain instead. Make sure the curtain is long enough to reach the floor so that water does not leak out and make the floor slippery.
When it comes to ideas for how to improve bathroom safety, you’ll find that it doesn’t take much effort. You can make easy adjustments over a weekend or take a few evenings during the week to complete the steps in this article. It’s well worth the time and comparatively low cost to keep a senior loved one safe.