As someone who has elderly parents, I get quite worried whenever either of them has to use the bathroom.
The floor of the bathroom is wet while bathing and after the bath. So there can be chances of slipping because of the wet floor. This can result in minor or even serious injuries. Similarly, since most of the bath fittings are made of ceramic or related material such as the bathtub and the toilet seat, they can pose a serious risk to the seniors. Hence in a home where you have seniors living, it is important to focus on elderly bathroom safety as well.
Statistics Related to Bathroom Injuries
As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 235,000 people over the age of 15 are forced to visit emergency rooms because of injuries suffered in the bathroom. Out of them, around 14% of them had to be hospitalized.
Injuries can occur either while bathing or while using the toilet. The percentage of injuries during bathing is double than those caused while using the toilet.
Statistics reveal that bathroom injuries are high among the elderly and peak up especially after the age of 85. While seniors till the age of 85 have most of their injuries near the tub or the shower area, those above 85 are more likely to get injured using the toilet.
Causes of Bathroom Injury among the Elderly
In old age, the body reflexes become slow. You do not react as swiftly and efficiently as you would have when you were young. Falls and related injuries can be avoided to some extent if your reflexes are really fast and of course if you’re lucky.
Let us now have a look at some of the causes of falls and injuries in the bathroom.
Falls due to the wet and slippery floor
Most of the bathrooms have flooring which is selected keeping the aestheticism of the bathroom in mind. The focus is on the looks rather than safety. As such these floorings are usually made of high-gloss ceramic and porcelain.
When such flooring gets wet, it becomes quite slippery. Even for young individuals, these wet tiles can be quite slippery. If you’re someone over 65, the risks increase substantially. One false step and the resulting fall can have disastrous consequences.
Slipping while climbing in and out of the bathtub
Bathtubs are primarily made of only a few materials – acrylic, enamel-coated steel and fiberglass. These materials are quite slippery when wet. Since the feet are bare, there are high chances of slipping while climbing in and out of the bathroom.
And the risks of slipping and falling increase especially if there is nothing to hold onto for support near the bathtub. The maximum number of injuries in the bathroom takes place while using the bathtub.
Injuries while using the toilet
Most of the bathrooms have an attached toilet in a separate section for more convenience. Especially for the elderly, it is more convenient to have the toilet inside the bathroom.
Now since the toilet usually faces the open section of the bathroom, there is no support available while sitting or getting up from the toilet seat. This can pose a risk as getting up from the toilet seat without any hand-support can make them lose their balance.
Another cause of worry is that if they use the toilet while bathing, the floor is wet. So while sitting or getting up from the seat, there are chances of slipping on the wet floor and injuring themselves.
Lack of seating arrangement for bathing
Not every elderly person wants to use the bathtub. Anyways getting in and out of the bathtub can be challenging for people above 80 years even if you have taken steps for safety. Even today, some of the elderly people will prefer bathing with the mug and the bucket.
If the bathroom doesn’t have a seating arrangement, it can be very difficult for the elderly to take out water from the bucket and also apply soap. Bending over and over again can result in back pain. Also standing for a long time can tire them and make them lose their balance and fall.
Faulty earthing and unsafe electrical wiring setup
As the walls and the floor of the bathroom are moist most of the time, there can be chances of getting a shock if the electrical appliances are not properly insulated and earthed or the wires are not concealed properly.
So these are some of the most common causes of mishaps happening to elderly people in the bathroom. In fact, not only for the elderly but even for people of other age groups, any of these reasons can be the cause of an injury in the bathroom.
Let us now take a look at how we can prevent these mishaps from happening by making some arrangements for bathroom safety.
Elderly Bathroom Safety Tips
Safety in the bathroom for elders, just like safety in any other part of the house, should be taken care of in a holistic manner. From making changes in the bathroom design if required to installing smart safety devices for elders, there is a lot that you can do.
Use a safe non-slip bathroom flooring
Many bathrooms have flooring made of aesthetically pleasing tiles which might be good to look at but are quite slippery when wet. Though newly constructed and renovated homes have non-slippery floorings such as granite or other similar stone, many existing bathrooms still have flooring made of glazed and slippery tiles.
As mentioned above, they can be a cause for fall and hence should be worked upon. You need flooring that not only looks good but is also much safer and durable.
As I have mentioned earlier, one of the best options for bathroom flooring is to use vinyl sheets over the traditional porcelain or ceramic tiles. In fact, they can be used over any sort of tile or existing flooring.
Vinyl sheets not only have a high floor slip resistance, but they also come in various patterns and designs. You can select any of these designs and with the help of skilled help, use it for the flooring. So if you thought making your bathroom slip-proof will take away the sheen and shine of your bathroom, you’re in for a surprise.
Use grab bars and rails at multiple places in the bathroom
The slippery nature of the flooring makes the bathroom one of the most common places of mishaps at home. One way of preventing these mishaps from taking place, install grab bars at specific places where they are required. For example, the bathtub area, the toilet area, and the shower area.
1.The first place where you should install grab bars in the area around the bathtub. Now personally I would not advise the elderly to take a bath in the bathtub because of higher risks of mishaps happening. However, if they still want to use it, make sure to install grab bars just above the tub on the walls. This will make it easier for them to take the support of the grab bars and get up instead of using the towel holders which are not built to withstand body weight.
Grab bars can also be attached to the bathtub which will make it easier for the seniors to climb out of the bathtub safely. You see most of the accidents in the bathroom take place while going in and climbing out of the bathtub. If a support structure consisting of bars is attached to the bathtub, it will make it easier for them to go in and climb out of the bathtub.
2. The next place you want to use grab bars will be on the walls around the toilet. Sitting on the toilet seat and getting up can be a challenge for the elderly. For stability and to keep the balance, install grab bars on the walls around the toilet seat.
However, you need to make sure that these bars are installed at a low height. They should be well within the reach of the person so that they can use them to pull themselves up.
Grab bars can also be placed by the sides of the toilet seat in the form of a frame. This can make it much easier to get up from the seat rather than trying to reach for the wall or the grab bar on the wall.
3. If you have a fixed shower head in the bathroom, you should place grab bars at the walls near the shower. The grab bars can offer support while bathing in the shower whether you’re standing and showering or you’re seated and want to get up after you finish showering.
To sum up, for the safety and support of the elderly, you need to install grab bars at specific places in the bathroom where they have a higher risk of slipping and falling.
Have a raised toilet seat in place
It is common knowledge that with old age, the bones and joints become weak and it is not easy to bend down and sit on the toilet seat with ease all the time. In some regions around the world, most toilets do not have a seat and people still have to squat.
For a fit person, this might not seem like a big deal. But for the elderly, it can seem like a daunting task to use the toilet, especially if they have to visit again and again.
Luckily, there’s a solution for this – Raised toilet seats. These seats are fixed on a frame and can stand independently on 4 legs. They can be fitted on the toilet pot and the height can be adjusted to suit the requirements of the seniors.
A raised toilet seat has a sufficient gap at the front and back for personal hygiene. It can be raised up to 5-6 inches and thus reduces the need to bend down more than what is comfortable. It has padded handles which make it easy to sit and get up from the seat as and when required. For extra safety, it can come with locks that ensure that the seat does not move when someone’s seated on it.
Use a hand-shower instead of a fixed shower head
You know what’s the best thing about a hand-shower? You can use it to shower even while seated and it makes cleaning so much easier. This is why using a handheld shower is a much better option for elderly people.
A hand-held shower can give them the flexibility to have a bath while being seated. There is no need to stand all the time while showering. The hand-shower helps in cleaning more efficiently and without getting tired from standing all the time.
Using non-slip mats to prevent falls in the bathroom
There are two ways you can use mats to prevent falls. While one method helps prevent a fall in the bathroom, the other way offers protection from a fall outside the bathroom when you step out of it. Let’s see how.
Grab bars can be used to a great effect to prevent falls in the area in and around the bathtub. However, for extra safety, it is a good idea to place a non-slippery mat on the floor just outside the bathtub and also inside the bathtub. So when the elderly step in or out of the bathtub, they can place their feet on the rug and can feel confident to let go of the grab bar.
These mats can also be placed in other high-risk areas of the bathroom like in front of the wash-basin and toilet.
Similarly, because the feet are wet, when the elderly step out of the bathroom to go into their bedroom, there is a possibility of them slipping and falling. To prevent this, place a non-slippery rug made of water-absorbent material just outside the door of the bathroom.
Place a chair or a stool in the bathroom for seating
I am not generalizing, but in most cases, elderly people take much longer to bathe as compared to the average person. Their movements are slow, and they often have poor balance while standing on their feet. The long duration of the bath and the poor balance can make them unsteady and result in falls.
For their safety and to prevent exhaustion, it is advisable to place a bath chair or a stool in the bathroom for their comfort and safety.
They can apply soap seated on the chair comfortably and with the help of a hand-shower or a mug, wash it off with water. All this while, they are safely seated on the chair or stool. The risk associated with getting up from the seat is taken care of by the grab bars installed at different places in the bathroom.
Keep clutter outside and inside the bathroom to a minimum
You need to ensure that the bathroom is clutter-free and has minimal objects inside. Only keep the bare essentials inside the bathroom like the bathing materials, the bathing equipment, bathing supports and such. Placing only the essential objects inside the bathroom will help prevent any unwanted collisions or injuries.
Also, make sure you place these essential utilities well within the reach of the seniors. There is no point if they have to stretch and reach out a long way for their soap or towel, thus increasing the risk of slipping.
In the same way, avoid clutter outside on the path leading up to the bathroom. Most possibly, the bathroom will be attached to the bedroom of your elderly relative. Keep the bedroom clean and remove any obstacles on the path to the bathroom to avoid unwanted falls or accidents.
Install smart lights inside for easier illumination
Poor illumination is responsible for a large number of mishaps in the bathroom. Even though there might be sufficient lighting inside the bathroom, mishaps can occur because of the following reasons:
1. It is difficult to switch ON the light switch in the dark as the switch is inside the bathroom and cannot be reached from outside.
2. Low light bulbs are used in the bathroom which do not provide adequate illumination
To avoid the accidents taking place in the bathroom because of illumination issues, install smart lights inside the bathroom. These lights can be switched ON either by voice commands or through movement.
So when it is dark at night, it is not required to enter the bathroom to switch ON the light. You just give a voice command or enter the field of effect of the light and the sensor switches ON the light.
An alternative to using smart lights are LED night-lights fitted inside the bathroom. You can keep them ON all night as they consume negligent power. Whenever it is required to use the bathroom, one can just enter and switch ON the main light.
Replace the traditional bathtub with a walk-in bathtub
I have already discussed how you can make the area in and around your bathtub safe for your seniors. If your budget permits and the bathroom is used mainly by your elderly parents, for full-proof safety, it is better to replace the existing bathtub with a walk-in bathtub.
A walk-in bathtub has a water-tight door that can be opened while entering and exiting the tub. There’s no need to climb in or out of the bathtub to be able to use it. The very concept of walking in and out with ease makes this tub very safe.
However, they do not come cheap, with the cheapest one costing around $1500-$2000. So using a walk-in bathtub for your seniors can be considered as an optional investment apart from the more affordable precautions for bathtub safety.
Ensuring the safety of our elderly people is an important responsibility we all possess. At home, other than the bathroom, their safety must be ensured at all the places where there is a risk to their well-being.
It can be much easier to simply accommodate them in an old-age home. However, not everyone is comfortable with that. Some of them will definitely want to live in their own homes even in their old age.
Do you have any other tips for elderly bathroom safety? Do let us know in the comments if you have something to share!