Bathroom safety is something every household should be concerned about, but it's especially critical for older adults. The CDC estimates that 1 in 4 adults 65 or older will fall each year in the US, and the bathroom is one of the most dangerous rooms in the house when it comes to slips and falls.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make your bathroom a safer place. Whether you're a caretaker or simply want to reduce the risk of injury for you and your family, this guide will help you safeguard your bathroom.
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Bath and Shower Safety
It's easy to lose your balance getting into or out of a bathtub or shower, and if you have balance or mobility issues the slippery surface and the awkward step can be an accident waiting to happen. Because of the hazards and frequent accidents, there's a wide range of products you can use to make your bathtub or shower safer.
Installing grab bars is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to reduce slips and falls in your bathroom. They can be installed next to the bathtub or shower to help provide balance when entering and exiting, they can also be next to a toilet to help with sitting or standing.
Without grab bars, it's not uncommon for people to use a towel bar to help them maintain balance. But unlike grab bars, a towel bar is not designed to hold weight and could easily pull away from the wall and cause an even worse injury.
Although grab bars can be placed anywhere, it's always a good idea to make sure they meet the ADA Compliance criteria. This will not only ensure they're positioned to maximize the safety benefit, but it could also be important when it comes to the resale of your home.
If you're looking for a less "permanent" solution, you can purchase grab bars with suction cups that don't require drilling into your bathroom wall. These type of grab bars are especially handy since you can take them with you when you travel.
Bathtub Safety Rails
Another excellent option for tub users is to purchase bathtub safety rails. These safety rails clamp onto the side of your bathtub and allow the user a secure handle to grab onto as they step into and out of the bathtub.
When you purchase the safety rail you'll want to measure the side of your tub to make sure it'll fit the width of your tub wall. Also, if you have a fiberglass tub you'll need to find a safety rail that is safe to use on fiberglass. According to Moen, this bathtub safety rail will work with fiberglass tubs.
Shower chairs sit inside your shower and provide the user with a place to sit while they bathe. These chairs are an excellent option for those with balance issues or individuals recovering from surgery or injuries. Many users tire easily and having a place to sit makes for a safer and more pleasant experience.
You can find shower chairs with backrests, arms, and even a swivel seat to help getting into and out of the shower. Most are made with a plastic seat and aluminum legs, but you can even find some teak shower benches that offer fewer balance features, but provide a classy look to your shower.
A transfer bench straddles the side of the bathtub and allows the user to sit down and lift their legs over the side in order to get into the tub. They are excellent for those who struggle with balance or weakness and find grab bars simply don't provide enough security.
Depending upon your needs, you can find transfer benches with padding to make them more comfortable, a sliding seat which eliminates the need to "scoot" and even a swivel seat to make it easier to use. These transfer benches are designed to provide maximum safety for the user.
Hand-Held Shower Head
Hand-held shower heads are a must have when using a shower seat or transfer bench. They allow the user the ability to sit and direct the water themselves. Many even have a switch which turns the water on and off eliminating the need to reach the faucet.
This hand-held shower head comes with adapters that can attach to your bathtub faucet making it simple and inexpensive to add to your bathroom.
When purchasing a hand-held shower head, double check that the hose will comfortably reach to the shower chair or transfer bench.
Another option, although a bit more expensive, is to convert a bathtub into a walk-in shower. There are kits available if you enjoy DIY projects, or you can hire a professional to do the work for you.
Doing a tub to shower conversion provides you with plenty of options to create exactly what you need. If the shower will be used for someone in a wheel chair you can design it so you can roll the chair inside.
Or a less expensive option is to keep your existing bathtub and use a step-through conversion kit. Basically you cut a section out of the tub wall and replace it with a lower finished section. The user will still need to step over the edge, but it'll be much easier and safer.
Walk-in Bath Tub
If you're looking for a product that's designed with safety in mind, then a walk-in tub may be for you. Walk-in tubs have a door that swings open and a built-in seat. They have safety rails, and a low-threshold entry and exit.
Once seated inside, the water is turned on and the tub fills. Walk-in tubs are a popular option for those who struggle with mobility and balance issues.
Although you can install it yourself, it's best to hire a professional.
Lowering or rising from the toilet is a common way people can fall or lose their balance. Whether the challenge is from a lack of balance or the low height of the toilet itself, there's a number of products to help make using the toilet safer.
Raised Toilet Seat
A raised toilet seat sits onto your toilet and increases the height of the seat which makes lowering and rising from the toilet easier.
They come in a variety of different heights and designs. One of the more common ones sits under your current toilet seat and can be easily removed when other members use the toilet.
For those who need more assistance and are looking for a more permanent option, you can purchase models with arm rails. And others, like this one not only has arm rails, but even allows you to install a traditional toilet seat.
Toilet Safety Rail
As we mentioned above, many raised toilet seats come with toilet safety rails, but they aren't always necessary. Some homeowners choose to install grab rails onto the walls around the toilet and this is an excellent option, although more permanent.
Another alternative is to purchase a toilet safety rail that's installed with the toilet seat. The arms can be adjusted to your required height and they are easy to install and remove should you move or no longer require assistance.
There's a number of different designs available, so you just need to shop around and find the one that works best for your individual needs.
Other Bathroom Safety
There are a few other things to consider when it comes to bathroom safety. Some of these may seem obvious, but it's easy to overlook their importance.
Whether it's the middle of the night or the bathroom isn't well lit, proper lighting is essential to help avoid trips and falls.
Changing bulbs or even fixtures is one way to add more light to your bathroom, but for those middle of the night visits the sudden brightness could be just as disorientating as no light at all.
Some home owners use night lights that offer a less bright alternative, but still allow visibility. Another option is to use motion detection lighting that only come on when they sense movement.
There's plenty of motion detection lighting available, from actual light fixtures to lights that plug into an outlet. One unique option is to replace an existing bathroom light bulb with a motion detection bulb, it only works from dawn to dusk and when it senses you're in the room it'll turn on.
Non-Slip Rugs or Mats
A common tripping hazard in the bathroom (and anywhere in the house) is mats and rugs. Many are more focused on the decorative appeal than on safety. Still, rugs and mats in the bathroom serve an important purpose as it's easy to slip on a wet tile floor.
Always use rugs with a non-slip underside. These types of rugs are designed to stay in place and "grab" onto your floor. However, make sure the mat lies flat on the floor without any curled corners.
Adding a bath mat to your tub or shower is another way to help prevent slips. They're available in a number of different styles and sizes. This one fits the entire base of your bathtub and is held in place with suction cups.
Regulating Water Temperature
Everybody has their own preference when it comes to how warm the water should be during bathing, and for many it's a simple adjustment when it's out of range. But for seniors or those who are less mobile, changing the temperature isn't as easy.
If the water temperature is too low the blood vessels near the skin's surface will constrict and the amount of blood that flows to the skin, internal organs and heart will be reduced. This places added stress on your heart and could lead to serious issues.
However, if the water is too hot it can cause serious burns or scalding. In addition, the blood vessels near the skin's surface will dilate causing them to fill with blood. Just like cold water, when water is too hot there is stress placed on the heart and serious issues can occur.
Water Heater Temperature Setting
Most people only think about their water heater when the water is too cold, but it's also important that the water setting isn't too hot. One of several safety concerns when it comes to your water heater's temperature setting is the ability to be scalded or burned.
A 3rd-degree burn (involves all the layers of the skin) can occur in adults within 6-seconds when the water temperature is 140°F. For young children and the elderly, a 3rd-degree burn can take as little time as a single second!
The recommended water heater temperature setting is 120°F.
Although the maximum hot water heater temperature setting is 120°F, the ideal domestic hot water temperature for bathing or showering is somewhere around 98°F. To maintain this temperature in a bath or shower, you can install an anti-scald device.
An anti-scald device is a pressure-balancing valve which is built into a shower handle or faucet. It regulates the water pressure from the hot and cold water lines to help protect against extreme water temperature changes.
Another option is to install a thermostatic mixing valve on your water heater. These valves have a number of different advantages, one of which is the water leaving your water heater will be 120°F.
Medical Alert Buttons
Even with the best proactive plans in place to ensure your bathroom is safe, it's still possible to have a slip, fall, or other emergency that requires help.
Investing in a medical alert button is well worth the money. An emergency medical alert button is typically worn around the neck or the wrist like a watch and it can be easily reached in case of an emergency.
There's a variety of different types of medical alert buttons, some include automatic fall detection and voice activation which will actually alert a call center if the user wasn't able to push the button. Some link to a "base station" that plugs into the wall, or to a central monitoring location accessed via cellular connectivity.
Either way, a notification signal is sent to a response center where operators are always on hand to help the person in need decide whether they need assistance from a family member or emergency services.
Using a medical alert system can give peace of mind to both the user and their family, especially since they'll provide security throughout the home, not just in the bathroom.