Bathrooms are one of two main areas (along with kitchens) that receive the most attention when people shop for new homes, visit their friend’s home, and consider remodeling their own home. It’s what remodelers consistently report as the areas of the home they asked to work on and where most of their projects are completed.
Part of the reasons for remodeling bathrooms is because they are problematic. More serious injuries in the home occur in the bathroom than anywhere else. It makes sense. Bathroom floors often are wet and slippery. There are several hard surfaces in the bathroom – sink, toilet, floor, and tub or shower curb. If the bathroom is relatively small it is nearly impossible to fall when one slips or loses their balance and not hit something. Serious head injuries or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are an all-too-common result of such falls.
To improve bathroom safety in little, perhaps overlooked areas, there are four things that we as aging in place professionals can be for our clients. They won’t necessarily use any of these four suggestions every day, but when they do require them, the features will be there to accommodate them and hopefully prevent a slip, fall, or discomfort.
Starting with the outside of the tub or shower, whichever is the case, we need to have a small (12-15″ is sufficient but it can be bigger if the client desires it) vertical grab bar (or whatever name may sound better to our clients, such as safety assist or handrail) installed at a height of their outstretched arm and located near the entrance of their tub or shower. The premise is that all of us have an occasion now and then for a little extra support upon entering or exiting the bath or shower. It could poor vision, sinus condition, medication, illness such as a head cold or flu, surgery on our legs or feet, issues with our ankles or knees, a stiff back or hip, overworked muscles, or several other things that result in us not being able to place all of our weight on both feet or that leave us feeling a little light-headed, dizzy, or tired. This is not a case of if we will need to steady ourselves but when the next time is that this will happen.
Using a similar thought process, we should have something to use where we can rest once inside the shower or tub (when using it as a shower) to sit on for those times when it is desired or required. Because it may not be needed each time we use the shower or tub, it can of the fold-down style where it can be deployed when needed and stored nicely against the wall out of the way when it isn’t needed. We could go days without using it, or we use it each time we use the tub or shower for may of the same reasons that we would find the safety bar helpful when getting in or out of the tub or shower.
We may find that in sitting, we would like to use the personal handheld shower device. Two important features to consider about having a handheld shower, regardless of the style selected. It needs to have an on-off control (push button, toggle switch, or knob to twist) of the wand or the back of the shower head. This way the shower can be used as long as anyone desires and then turn it off temporarily when not needed during the bath or shower, It can be turned back on or off as many times as needed.
The shutoff control will keep the handheld shower from spraying water when it is put down, but rather than just letting it dangle from the water supply hose or placing it on the seat and hoping that it stays there, a rest or cradle (or more than one) needs to be installed on the wall near where a person is going to be sitting. This way they can hang the shower head in the keeper and then retrieve it to continue showering. This keeps from accidentally getting tangled in it also.
That last of the four recommended solutions for safe aging in place bathrooms that may not be as apparent as some of the others is to make sure that the slide bar that is installed near the shower head with a holder for the handheld shower is both low enough to allow easy retrieval and removal of the shower head from the holder and that the slide bar is strong enough to be used as a grab bar. It is going to be used as a grab bar regardless so we need to make sure that it is designed for this purpose to avoid any issues.
None of these suggestions is particularly difficult to design and implement, but they are quite important to the overall safety of the client in their bathroom.