It is a fact of life that the older you get the more important personal care becomes. And, since much of that care happens in a bathroom, it is only logical that the home remodeling part of your aging in place plan should include the bathroom. Of course, safety is the most important thing to keep in mind when considering a bathroom remodel. Statistically, more accidents occur in the bathroom than in any other place in the home. By planning your bathrooms properly you can reduce the chance of slips or falls and create an area that is easy to use for people of all abilities.
At least one full bathroom should be located on the main level of the home (along with the bedroom, kitchen, common areas and laundry room). If there is not a bathroom on the main floor of the home, you may wish to consider remodeling to add an additional bathroom or install a chair lift or elevator for easy access to other levels. If you also use another bathroom, you should consider making the changes below (or similar) to them as well..
Space to Move
If you are remodeling your bathroom, keep in mind that space will be a greater issue as you age. As you transition from mid-life to senior to elderly, planning for the use of canes, wheelchairs, walkers or similar assistive devices is a good idea. The ideal situation would be to have plenty of clear space to accommodate someone in a wheelchair around the toilet, bathtub or shower stalls and areas around cabinets and closets.
Having the toilet at the proper height can make an incredible difference in the comfort and safety of your bathroom. Two of the most common options for achieving this are replacing the toilet with one that is the proper height or buying a seat extender. The latter is the most economical way and can be purchased at a local home health care store. If you are remodeling the bathroom and wish to replace the existing toilet, please keep in mind the right toilet needs to be selected for the people who will be using it and the height should be properly adjusted. Also, depending on a person’s height and abilities, a handicap accessible toilet could create more issues than the toilet being too short.
Other items you may wish to keep in mind:
- Consider installing a toilet paper holder that is designed for one-handed changing
- Ensure the toilet paper holder can be reached from a sitting position
- A toilet/bidet combination could significantly improve hygiene. So, if you are replacing the toilet, you may wish to consider that as an alternative.
Grab Bars in Bathrooms
Installing grab bars can dramatically and economically increase safety in the bathroom. (They also can be helpful in bedrooms, hallways or any other place where standing or walking assistance is needed.) At the toilet, grab bars can help with sitting and standing. In the tub or shower, they can help a person to stand (or stay standing) and safely get in and out of the shower. Consider several installed on the interior and exterior of the shower (or tub).
Typically, when people think of grab bars, they typically think of something that looks like it belongs in a hospital (cold and metal). Today, you can find grab bars in a variety of styles and colors to match your decor and taste.
Other items you may wish to keep in mind:
- If you are thinking about remodeling your bathroom, you might want to go ahead and install bracing in walls around tub, shower, shower seat and toilet even if you do not plan on installing grab bars now. This will get the walls prepared to support the grab bars when you are ready and keep you from additional remodeling later.
- Typically, grab bars need to support 250 – 300 pounds.
- For best results, grab bars should should have a texture to them for easy gripping.
Bathtubs and Showers
Most homes in America have bathtubs that are not accessible. This presents a very big safety issue for people who wish to age in place. For a standard tub there are several things you can do to make it safer for an elderly person. Installing grab bars, shower seats and applying an anti-slip coating to the tub floor are three reasonably priced options. Bathtubs also can be modified to create a safer way to enter the tub, which may be more inexpensive than replacing the tub. There are also a wide variety of walk-in tubs on the market that can replace your existing tub.
For showers, the most accessible option is a roll-in shower. This is a shower stall that has an curb-less entrance and the door (or opening) is a minimum of 36 inches wide. This would allow access for a wheelchair at some point and gives those who walk into the shower plenty of room to maneuver.
Adjustable Shower Heads
An adjustable shower head (which moves to suit the height and position most comfortable for a user) is a great way to add accessibility to a bathroom. Combining it with a hand-held shower head creates an even more functional experience. Using these two in conjunction with a shower seat will make it much easier to bathe, while providing an increased level of safety.