One of the best and safest places for elderly parents to age is in their own home. To that end, it is essential for caregivers to think about how they can make bathrooms safer for their senior family members.
There are multiple contributing factors that make a bathroom so dangerous for older people. The most common one are balance issues.
The risk of falls is amplified when coupled with slippery hard surfaces like those found in bathrooms.
Here are some tips on how to make the bathroom safer for your elderly parents. The areas to focus on to increase safety in the bathroom are Organization / Decluttering, Appropriate adaptive equipment, Anti slip flooring and Emergency alert systems. By improving these areas, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of your parent(s) injuring themselves in their bathroom.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that the bathroom is one of the most dangerous rooms in the house for elderly adults.
It’s reports like this that make it very important for the elderly and caregivers to pay special attention to how to make bathrooms safer.
More often than not, it’s us, the children of elderly parents who are more concerned about bathroom safety than our parents.
After all, it’s not that our parents don’t understand the risks; they usually just haven’t been exposed to them.
For this reason, it’s important that we (as the adult children and/or caregivers) be as forceful as we can be when it comes to making the bathroom as safe as possible even if our parents argue against it.
But by all means, speak with your parents about their bathroom needs and what you are most concerned about.
You may be worried that making a bathroom safer will require very expensive renovations and equipment but rest assured, that is not necessarily true. Sometimes, just a few simple changes can be all that is needed.
It all depends on the level of ability and disability your parents are demonstrating.
Bathroom Safety Tips For Seniors
The bathroom is usually such a small room (compared to the rest of the house) that it’s hard to imagine that there are so many different spots where an injury could occur.
Most of these injuries are due to falling so I will certainly be addressing that with each of the tips that I will be giving you in this article.
The areas that I will be going over are…
- Organization / Decluttering
- Adaptive equipment
- Anti slip flooring
- Emergency alert systems
Read over these tips and choose the ones that best fit the needs of your parent(s).
Organization / Decluttering
The easiest and least expensive thing that you can do to improve safety in the bathroom is to clear it of any clutter and to organize it so that you reduce the chances of falls and injury.
My mother had a habit of keeping her toothbrush and toothpaste in the cabinet below her sink. There was nothing wrong with this generally.
But, as she grew older and began to lose her balance more often, the act of having to bend down to obtain these items and put them away twice a day became a safety issue.
So, I finally convinced her to remove most of them and buy some nice replacement items that could double as practical containers for the things she used every day.
Here are some tips on how to organize the bathroom for improved safety.
- Remove as much as possible from the floor. Anything that someone may trip over, bump into, or reduces the amount of floor space which would make it harder to use a cane or walker. This includes garbage cans, a scale, etc).
- Replace oversized items with smaller, less obtrusive ones. A large garbage container can be replaced with a smaller one. A large vase with silk flowers can be replaced with one that doesn’t take up as much space on the countertop.
- Clear out the medicine cabinet of any outdated items. Move items that are used infrequently to the lower cabinets under the sink.
- Keep personal care items used daily on the countertop or wall shelf but keep them in a container or shelf unit.
- If you need more storage space in the bathroom add a shelf above the doorway (but only do this IF you are certain that your parent won’t attempt getting to them).
- Ensure that all towel racks are secured to the wall and if they are cluttered with towels add a second towel rack if there is space to do so. (Better yet, replace a towel rack with a towel rail.)
- Use a tray organizer in the drawers.
- Use pull-out shelves or pull-out baskets in the cabinets.
- Install wall shelves by the sink to remove items from the countertop.
- Use a combination shampoo / conditioner to reduce the number of bottles in the shower.
- Keep shower items in a shower caddy OR use a wall-mounted dispenser.
- If the shower does not have drilled-in organizers such as soap holder, squeegee holder, etc. then do what I did – use products that have super strong suction cups.
Adaptive Bathroom Equipment For Older Adults
The kind of bathroom equipment that you would get for your aging parent of course depends on their physical disabilities.
Here is a list of the most common ones used today.
For problems manipulating items with hands:
Arthritis and other illnesses or injuries can affect someone’s ability to hold items or even turn knobs, etc. So, for these reasons, I would recommend:
- Faucet handles that are levers vs. round knobs.
- Door handles should also be converted to levers.
- Cabinet pulls are certainly better than round knobs as well.
For problems with standing or balance:
- A shower chair or tub transfer bench to make it easier to shower would be appropriate.
- If there is room in the bathroom, a vanity seat is at the counter.
- Grab bars throughout the bathroom but especially by the shower / tub, by the commode, and inside the shower.
- Walk-in tub if bathing (vs showering) is very important to your parent.
- Hand-held shower head placed within easy reach while sitting in the shower.
For problems standing up from a sitting position:
- A raised toilet seat can be installed on top of the existing toilet.
- You can also replace the toilet with a new higher one.
- 3 in 1 commode that can be placed over the toilet seat (and can also double as a shower chair).
- Grab bars or toilet safety rails by the commode if your parent has the upper body strength to pull themselves up.
- Convert the toilet paper holder to one that has a small grab bar on it.
For problems getting out of the bathtub:
If your elderly parent is accustomed to taking baths and wants to continue, you would be right to be worried about them getting in and out of the bathtub safely.
- Grab bars on the side of the tub or placed around the area so they could lift themselves up from the tub.
- There’s an amazing product, bathtub lifts. Now, I admit that I have not used this product, nor do I know anyone who has but the reviews of the product look very good and if I were an OT today I would certainly try it out and recommend it.
I would suggest that if you want to see it for yourself to contact a local medical supply store and ask them if they have one for you to see and demonstrate.
Anti Slip Flooring
Slippery floors can be a major safety hazard for seniors, so one of the best ways to make bathrooms safer is to install anti-slip flooring.
This can include tile, vinyl, or rubber flooring that has special anti-slip properties built into them.
Installing nonslip mats and/or grab bars in showers and bathtubs is also helpful
There are several options available:
- Anti-slip tape that adheres to the existing floor.
- Anti-slip coating that can be applied to the existing floor.
- Replacing the entire floor with nonslip floor tiles.
- Take a look at the products page we put together about anti-slip floor products by clicking here.
Other things you can do to make bathroom, tub, and shower floors safer are…
Non-Slip Bath Mats
Stepping out of the shower or bathtub also presents a problem, even if you have a walk-in shower. You’re wet and the floors in bathrooms are normally slippery.
So, using non-skid or non-slip mats is very important.
If Avoiding The Use Of Rugs / Mats Is Necessary
It’s important in all matters concerning safety for seniors to assess each individual case independently. In other words – use your common sense and add some caution to that.
If you or a senior loved one has balance problems – I would recommend removing all bathroom rugs and instead, using a shower chair or tub bench and placing non-slip slippers in a location that can be safely reached from that seating position.
Instead of stepping OUT of the shower or tub and then drying off – you could be sitting in the shower or tub, dry off (including your feet), and then simply reach over and put on your non-skid slippers and THEN step out of the shower.
Ideally – using a seat or bench than can sit just outside the shower would be ideal as long as there is room in the bathroom to do this.
But if using a bathroom rug or bath mat is important (cold floors!) then at the very least, make sure that these rugs / mats are as safe as possible.
Emergency Alert Systems
For the ultimate in bathroom safety, I would recommend including an emergency alert button / system.
There are several different tools that you can use.
- Personal medical alert products like the ones from LifeFone and other companies are the best choice but they are not often waterproof so taking them into the shower is not an option.
- If the home has an alarm system installed – you can contact your alarm company and ask them to install a unit in the bathroom but again this won’t help if falling in the shower is a possibility.
- But thankfully, Life Alert does have a shower HELP button. You can purchase several of these and place them throughout the bathroom.
- Another option is any of the smart watches that have multiple features and one of them is a fall detector that sends an SOS to a designated number if the wearer has fallen down.
General Bathroom Safety Tips For Seniors
Below are some general tips that can help to make the bathroom much safer for aging adults.
- Replace hard to open pill bottles with easy to open ones. Don’t forget of course to label them and store away the original bottles. Or – use a pill organizer to make it easier to remember and to take your medication.
- If the shower/tub has a glass enclosure – add stickers or decals to the glass, especially if your senior loved one has vision problems. But even if they do not, it’s a good precautionary thing to do to help make it much easier to see and identify the door.
- Older skin is more sensitive to heat and cold. And some medications can make the skin ultra sensitive as well. Consider reducing the temperature of the hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (or less) to help prevent any possibility of their skin being scalded.
- For sharp edged counter corners use a product like these Corner Guards found on Amazon.
These tips should give you and your senior loved one more peace of mind regarding their home safety.