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
- Bathroom renovations
- Anti slip flooring
- Emergency alert systems
Read over these tips and choose the ones that best fit the needs of your parent(s).
The one thing I would ask you to keep in mind is to consider not only their current physical and mental condition but their potential condition in the next few years (as much as you can possibly do this of course).
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.
She did this mostly because her countertop was filled with silk flowers and decorative knick-knacks. Okay, so these items were nice to look at but how nice would they be if you were looking at them from the floor after a fall and a possible broken hip?
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 like these that have super strong suction cups. I love them!
Adaptive Bathroom Equipment For The Elderly
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 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.
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.
Years ago, all we could recommend were grab bars on the side of the tub or placed around the area so they could lift themselves up from the tub.
But today – there’s an amazing product. The Drive Medical Bath Lift. 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.
Toilets For Older Adults
When it comes to modifying the bathroom for safety – most people change the toilet and it’s surroundings simply by adding a grab bar or two and possibly placing a raised toilet seat on the existing commode.
These, of course, can work but they don’t always achieve the objective of making the toilet as safe as possible for elderly people.
Affordable toilets that comply with universal design standards generally serve the demands of the elderly, who are considered a group of people with reduced mobility. Even if the elderly still have the ability to walk, it is important to consider wheelchair use and the possibility of a caregiver when sizing spaces.Archdaily.com
If it’s possible to make open the space around the toilet to accommodate a wheelchair, that would be the best scenario – but of course – I understand that funding may not be something everyone can do.
So here are some other ways that you can make the toilet as safe as possible for seniors without breaking the bank.
- 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.
- Adding a raised seat such as the Carex Toilet Seat Riser which raises height of the toilet by 3.5 inches. This is the one that I chose for my mother and it worked out wonderfully. They also have another model that raises the seat by 5 inches.
- There are elevated toilet seats with handles which can greatly benefit some seniors. One thing I would caution you on is that some elevated seats have a knob in the front of them which is used to lock the seat into place. My experience has been that some of my patients have cut or bruised themselves by accidentally hitting their leg on that knob so I would recommend avoiding these types of toilet seats. (Here is an example of what I’m talking about).
- The older models of 3 in 1 commodes are also still available such as this one model here by PCP.
As far as placing grab bars around the toilet – these days, there are multiple options available. You can view all of these products on our Toilet Safety Rails Products Page.
- If the toilet has a wall to one (or both) sides then installing a short grab bar onto the wall(s) should be sufficient. You can also install the more modern U-shaped bars. They come in flip-up versions and also standard solid ones.
- If the toilet has no wall close enough to it to install a grab bar then a toilet frame that attaches to the toilet is optimal. You can also place a bedside commode over the toilet as well.
- A bit more unconventional is the use of a Security Pole. This is a tension-mounted pole that is perfect for apartments and other rental properties.
You can check the official recommendations for grab bar installations around toilets by the ADA (American Disabilities Act) here. These are used in public spaces but it does give you an idea of what may be optimal. Again – test it out with your senior loved one.
You can read more about how to install grab bars and where to install them throughout the bathroom area here in our article Where To Put Grab Bars In A Bathroom.
Toilet Paper Holder
You may not know this but Moen makes a toilet paper holder that doubles as a grab rail! It’s an easy way to add something secure to help anyone get up or down from the toilet seat.
Faucet Levers For Seniors
For many older adults, the best types of faucet handles are levers vs. knob types.
They are much easier to manage (especially if you have arthritic hands) and you can control both hot and cold water with one hand which is especially useful if you have suffered a stroke or other situation where you are left being able to use only one hand.
For some bathrooms, it may be necessary to make renovations to accommodate seniors who have difficulty getting around.
There are many options available, we’ve already discussed installing safety rails and shower alterations.
But some of the other modifications that you can consider are:
- Widening the doorway of the bathroom door.
- Replacing round door knobs with door lever models.
- Replacing a shower curtain with a glass door covered with a protective coating like this one. You can read about Glass Doors vs. Shower Curtains here.
- Replace countertops with sharp edges with ones that have rounded edges.
- Changing the countertop with sink to a model that accommodates a wheelchair for easy access or if your senior loved one needs to be in a seated position.
- Moving electrical outlets to higher locations so seniors don’t have to bend down as far.
- Installing lighting switches that are easier to access, such as those that use voice activation or pressure sensitivity.
- Replace low toilet seats with the newer comfort height toilets.
- Add additional lighting in the room.
- Replacing the bathtub with a walk-in tub.
- Installing an automatic faucet, so seniors don’t need to worry about turning them on or off manually.
These types of changes require some minor and major reconstruction but in the long run, they can truly help to keep seniors safe and comfortable in their own homes.
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.
The varieties today are endless and you can purchase them almost anywhere. Here’s the one that I purchased for my mother from Amazon.
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. Here’s some information on how to keep bathroom rugs and mats from slipping.
Safer Shower and Bathtub Floors
There are so many wonderful products these days that you can put on your shower and/or bathtub floor to make them less slippery.
We don’t have to use the old sticky daisies anymore!
Check out the variety that is available on Amazon. Shower and Bathtub Floor Non-Slip Stickers.
Many seniors have a walk-in shower that has a raised threshold of about 2 or 3 inches high. This can be a dangerous area for seniors as they can easily trip and fall. There are several options to make this area safe.
The preferred option is to remove the threshold to create a zero threshold shower stall. This may involve hiring a contractor to do the job.
However, if this isn’t feasible due to budget or other constraints, there are shorter term solutions such as purchasing and installing grab bars around the perimeter of the shower stall.
Truthfully, walk-in tubs are not necessarily a safe option for seniors. The reason is that there is a raised threshold to enter the tub of about 6 inches.
So, if your senior loved one cannot raise their leg over 6 inches, then a walk-in tub will not do well, even if you do have grab bars to hold onto.
But, if you feel that this can be a good option for you or your senior parent, read more about walk-in tubs here.
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 like these. Don’t forget of course to label them and store away the original bottles. Or – use a pill organizer like this one 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Glass Shower Doors Safe?
Glass shower doors are normally made from tempered glass. This means that if they were to shatter, they would break apart into very small pieces, which is safer than large chunks of glass that could impale you. However, for seniors who have balance and endurance issues, glass shower doors can be more dangerous if they were to crash into them. For that matter, shower curtains can also be more dangerous because they would not break a fall. The safest option in a shower is a tile wall.
What Is A Safe Shower Water Temperature?
Generally speaking, older adults have thinner skin that is more sensitive to temperature (hot and cold). It’s very easy for them to get scalded by shower and bathtub water, so it’s recommended to turn the hot water heater temperature down to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit to be as safe as possible.