Updated June 26, 2021 – The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that approximately 234,000 people over the age of 15 report to emergency departments yearly due to bathroom-related injuries. A good portion of those injuries occur in showers and bathtubs.
A safe shower for seniors includes – an organizer to decrease clutter, non-slip floors and mats, grab bars, a hand held shower head, a shower chair or bench and user friendly faucet levers. Walk in showers and portable showers are recommended.
Following these recommendations will give you and your senior loved one a greater chance of avoiding any injury in the shower.
Generally, for an older adult, the bathroom can be the most dangerous place in their home. Most bathrooms in older homes are small and filled with hard surfaces.
The tasks that are normally performed in the bathroom require cognitive skills, visual perceptual skills, good balance and mobility.
Unfortunately, as we all grow older – these skills tend to diminish and as a result – the tasks that are taken for granted during so much of our lives become more difficult and dangerous.
But – there are ways that you can improve bathroom safety for your elderly parents or senior loved ones.
Shower Safety Tips For The Elderly
Showers don’t have to be a scary place for seniors. Some may require some construction and remodeling while others will just need a few tweaks to make them safer.
The important thing to remember is to make them as safe as possible.
As an occupational therapist I used to perform home assessments regularly. The physical therapist and I would go to the patients’ home with them to see if they had any mobility issues and other problems throughout their home – including the bathroom.
Here are a few tips on shower safety features that I used to give my patients when I performed their home assessment.
- Remove the clutter in the shower.
- If possible, use a barrier free walk in shower.
- Make the shower floor as non-slip as possible.
- Replace rugs with non slip mats.
- Add grab bars in several spots in the shower.
- Replace the towel bars with grab bars.
- If the shower is inside a standard tub, use a transfer shower bench.
- If it’s just a shower use a shower seat.
- Replace the traditional shower head with a hand held one.
- Replace round faucets with levers.
- If the shower has a shower curtain, replace it with a tempered or reinforced glass door.
- For wheelchair bound seniors, a portable shower is a wonderful option.
- Use some type of medical alert system while in the bathroom.
Some of the recommendations require home modifications, such as walk in showers and installing grab bars. All of these can give you an accessible bathroom for the elderly people in your life or for yourself as you age in place in your home.
1. Remove The Shower Clutter
An elderly person having to sort through several bottles, sponges, etc. to find what they need in the shower can, at some point, cause them to move in such a way that they could fall.
If your shower has multiple shampoo bottles, conditioners, sponges soaps and other products – clean it up.
Keep only what is needed in the shower space and keep these items in a place that is easily reachable.
Personally, I love the Deluxe Shampoo and Soap Dispenser that I found on Amazon. My mom loved having that in her shower. It made all the difference in the world for her. You can check it and other great shower stall products on our Products Page for Shower Stalls.
2. Barrier Free Walk in Showers
Most of the showers in the condo units my patients lived in had a 2 or 3 inch threshold. Normally this works well but if you are using a walker, a wheelchair or have trouble lifting your legs, getting over that seemingly small “hump” can be daunting.
Barrier free shower stalls are a good idea for anyone aging in place.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recommends that the minimum size of a walk in shower by 36 inches by 36 inches.
So the recommendation is, if possible, to remodel the shower as a walk in shower. If you don’t already have a handyman who can do this kind of work I can recommend going to your local hardware store (i.e. Home Depot or Lowes) and asking for help there.
The shower design of these walk in models eliminate any threshold making it much more senior friendly and safe.
When my mother moved into her home she had the shower in her master bathroom re-constructed as a walk in. In addition – she had the shower faucets installed by the shower entrance so that she could turn the water on before she entered the shower.
This gave her water flow time to get to the warmer temperature that she needed without her having to sit under the cold water flow waiting for it to heat up.
3. Non Slip Shower Floors
Most of us remember the shower and bathtub stickies our parents used to keep us kids from slipping in the bathtub.
These days, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes and frankly, they’ve grown up to accommodate any bathtub or shower.
They are a good, inexpensive solution to helping to eliminate slippery surfaces in the shower and/or bathtub. You can see a variety of them here.
There are also other solutions available such as…
- Non slip floor tiles
- Non slip coatings that you “paint” on your floor – check out some that we recommend.
4. Non Slip Rugs and 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-slip mats is very important.
The varieties today are endless and you can purchase them most anywhere. Here’s the one that I purchased for my mother.
5. Grab Bars For Showers
A second recommendation that would require some construction (although very minor) is the installation of one or more grab bars drilled into the shower wall. (Read why I generally do not recommend grab bars with suction cups).
(If you are going to install these – please first read my article on Where To Put Grab Bars In The Bathroom – might as well have them installed elsewhere as needed.
Ideally, you want to test the best place to install these grab bars by seeing where the easy to reach places are for the person using the shower.
Normally, a handyman can install these for you.
There are many varieties of safety grab bars on Amazon.com but the one that I purchased for my mother was the Vive Metal Grab Bar.
Here’s a video from Lowes on grab bar installations
6. Replace Towel Bars with Grab Bars
I have worked with several older adults who ended up in rehabilitation hospitals because they lost their balance in the bathroom and instinctively reached for the towel bar. The problem is that a standard towel bar cannot hold your weight.
So, my patients went down while holding the towel bar which came down with them!
One solution to this is to simply replace those flimsy bars with a good, strong grab bar!
7. Tub Transfer Benches and Shower Chairs
There are basically two types of shower seating recommended for seniors:
- Shower Seats – these can be as high end as built in to the shower, made of teak wood and are available in many different design styles. Of course, there are also the types of shower seats that you can find in medical equipment stores.
- Tub Transfer Benches – these types of benches are mostly used for seniors who have a shower inside the bathtub AND for seniors who may have a difficult time walking in to the shower. Transfer benches are much longer so that they can fit over the lip of the shower or bathtub and they are not as stylish and decorative as shower benches.
- Note: some shower seats and benches also include a toilet seat and some shower benches have a rotating disk to help the elderly person turn on the bench. Personally, I do not recommend these turning disks simply because it would be quite difficult for most seniors to get their legs up high enough to make the turn sufficient enough to be safe.
When choosing a shower seat or bench, just make sure to purchase one that has rubber tips on the legs to keep it from slipping.
8. Walk In Tubs With and Shower Combos
If your senior loved one enjoys baths and they are able to upgrade their traditional bathtub to a walk in tub then you’ll be pleased to know that these days there are shower / tub combos that can provide the “complete experience”.
There are a few factors to consider when deciding whether or not to install a walk in tub, whether it has a shower package or not.
The Pros Of Walk In Tubs Include:
- Low thresholds: The standard height of a walk-in tub threshold ranges from 3” to 7” high. That means that a senior doesn’t have to raise their foot too high to get into one like they do to for a traditional bathtub, which has a 14 inch rim.
- Grab bars: In general, walk-in tubs are ADA compliant so they have at least one built in grab bar inside the tub. This makes it safer for a bather who might be in danger of sliding off the seat of the tub. Grab bars allow more independence and reduce the chance of falling while transitioning into or out of the tub. Also, if the bather does slip off the seat, a grab bar can help them keep their head above water.
- Built in seats: Walk in tubs come with seats that are chair height. An elderly person doesn’t have worry about falling when trying to sit all the way down onto the floor of a traditional tub. They also won’t freeze while perching on a stool. Many walk in tubs have contoured seats with anti-slip texturing. This gives the user more room to move around when bathing and makes it easier for them to get up or down without falling.
- Read more in our article on the Safety of Walk In Tubs
The Cons Of Walk In Tubs Include:
- High walls: In a medical emergency (or if you were to get stuck), walk in tubs have high walls that make it much more difficult to get someone out of the tub. These high walls also mean the tub hold more water, which is a drowning hazard. We realize that people can also drown in a traditional tub, but bathers want to fill walk in tubs with more water so they can use the jets. If the tub doesn’t have a quick drain safety feature, it could take about 15 minutes to drain one.
- Potential for leaking: Walk in tubs can leak around the seals, causing water to puddle on the floor. This is a slip and fall hazard. Other owners have reported issues with the stoppers leaking, so the tub won’t hold water. Additionally, it can be tough to close and latch the doors on some models. An improperly-latched swing-out door could open while the tub is full, causing the bathroom to flood.
- Scalding: Bathers sit in the tub as it fills, so a mobility-impaired senior may get scalded if the water is too hot and they can’t adjust the temperature fast enough. If you are considering a walk in tub, make sure to look for one with anti-scald technology.
- Read more in our article on the Safety of Walk In Tubs
9. Hand-Held Shower Heads with Wall Mounts
My mother was very reluctant to invest in a hand-held shower head. When we offered to buy her one she refused vehemently.
But we bought her an adjustable hand-held shower wand anyway and she ended up loving it. In fact, that hand-held shower head, along with her shower chair gave her the independence she so coveted until the day she died.
The one we bought for her, and what I would recommend is the HotelSpa Handheld Shower Head Package. It has a separate wall mount which you can install on the wall within easy reach.
In addition it has a pause switch on the handle itself which my mother found so very easy to use (even with her arthritic hands).
10. Senior Friendly Lever Faucet Handles
For many seniors like my mother who have arthritic hands, using a round knob shower faucet can be difficult.
We helped her out by replacing that style with a lever faucet.
It was a very easy installation for our handyman and it made a big difference in my mother’s independence when it came to showering herself.
These lever faucets come in many different styles and it would be easy to find one that matches the decor of your bathroom. Read more about Lever Faucet Handles on our product recommendations page.
11. Curtains vs. Glass Shower Doors
The general consensus is that shower units with a glass door are safer for senior citizens than ones with a curtain. But, I say that it all depends on the size of the shower, the physical needs of the elderly person using the shower and of course, your budget.
Modern shower doors can also be made of laminated glass or laminated tempered glass. This safety glass product is formed by adhering two sheets of glass to a central sheet of transparent vinyl. The result is a panel that remains intact even if the glass gets broken. Laminated glass or laminated tempered glass is used when a homeowner has special safety concerns for a shower door.abcglassandmirror.com
Here are issues to consider when deciding between shower curtains or glass shower doors.
- If your shower is an older shower with glass doors, chances are that the glass is not tempered meaning that if you fell through that glass it will easily shatter. I would strongly recommend to replace that old door with a newer, frameless shower door with tempered glass.
- About frameless shower doors. The newer glass shower doors these days can be frameless. I personally have this type of door. These have no track which means that it’s much easier to clean, there’s no track to step over and there’s less chance of scraping your skin against the track and causing a skin tear.
- If you can take it to the next level I would recommend a paneled glass shower door with aluminum or steel frame – like this one. The metal frame built into the glass can make the door even safer by reinforcing it. Also, if the person in the shower has low or impaired vision – it may be much easier to see a paneled shower door than a clear glass one.
- Light is extremely important for older adults. Glass shower doors tend to allow more light into the shower stall than a curtain would.
- Curtains tend to blow in while taking a shower which means they can get in the way or even tangled in the shower chair or bench. This is not only annoying but can be a hazard. BUT – if you must have a shower curtain, at least get one that is weighted – like this one.
- Curtains can be pulled back much more than a glass door so if your shower has a small entryway then perhaps a weighted shower curtain would be the better option for you.
- If the elderly person in the shower requires someone to help them – depending on the size of the shower stall, it may be easier for an aide to help them if there is a curtain vs. a door.
12. Portable Showers
I know that most seniors aging in place and most caregivers do not use portable showers and would instead opt for sponge baths. But I have worked with several patients who had portable showers set up in their homes and it may be a luxury to some but being able to take a shower no matter what your physical condition is priceless to many of us.
When would you use a portable shower?
I would recommend this mostly for seniors living in a two story home. Whether your elderly parent lives in a 2 story or they are moving into your multi level home, most do not have a main level master (or guest) bedroom complete with what realtors call a 3 piece bathroom (sink, toilet and shower/tub).
If your elderly parent is unable to climb the stairs to get to a shower, and of course if you have the room, a portable shower is an option that you may consider.
Some of these showers are able to accommodate a wheelchair, whereas others have a walk in platform. Read about the different types of portable showers that are available today.
13. Use A Medical Alert System
All elderly people, in my opinion, should have some type of medical alert system with them at all times, but especially in the bathroom. The options could include…
- Alexa devices which can be activated by voice to call someone for help.
- Life Alert which offers a button that can be placed in the shower stall.
- The new CVS Medical Alert System called Symphony.
- Family 1st Medical Alert System
- And others that you can review here.
Shower Safety Aids For The Elderly
Along with grab bars, there are other products that you may want to consider when it comes to making the shower safer for your elderly parent(s).
We put together a Resource page filled with these products for you.
In general – you will always want to address the specific needs of the senior person using the shower.
- If the problem is falling (or fear of falling) – the best product is a shower chair or bench. Also, some method of making the floor as non-slip as possible is important.
- For poor vision – installing a bright ceiling light in the shower may help.
- For severe arthritis – replacing round knobs with levers are an option. Or, knob grippers might work.
- For poor mobility – long handled sponges, back scrubbers, shower stands and hand held shower heads with separate wall mounts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Medicare Pay For Walk In Showers?
Medicare does not consider walk in showers or bathtubs to be durable medical equipment. So, they do not pay for these items, nor do they pay for the installation of these items. But – some Medicare Advantage plans will extend their coverage to include bathroom safety equipment.
How much can it cost to replace a bathtub with a walk-in shower?
The cost of replacing a bathtub with a walk-in shower can range anywhere from $1000 to $9000. It depends on the size of the shower, the amount of construction and plumbing required to take out the tub and put in the shower stall and of course, the materials that are used.