Many Americans are helping their parents cope with aging issues, most often decreasing vision, balance and flexibility. If you’re one of them – or an older American yourself – here are some ways to improve bathrooms for aging people, to reduce the chances of an accident orcurring.
Replace a standard toilet with a comfort-height version. Comfort-height toilets are several inches higher and will be easier to use. If a resident uses a wheelchair, it’s best to find a seat that’s close to the same height. Manufacturers’ specifications typically are available on their web sites.
Add grab bars in the shower, tub and toilet areas. Double rows in the tub and shower areas are ideal, as they assist the standing and seated bather. A hand-grip at the entrance to the tub space will be especially helpful to an adult or child climbing in and out. The good news is that grab bars and hand grips now are available in many of the same fashion finishes as faucets and other bath accessories.
Replace knob-style faucets with lever-handled faucets. These are much easier to grip by someone with arthritis, Parkinson’s or just diminished strength.
Replace a wall-mounted shower head with one on a slide bar. This enables someone in a wheelchair or standing to shower comfortably, (as long as the previous bather remembered to slide down the shower head!). The ideal scenario is to add the slide bar shower head and keep the standing one, but this requires much more remodeling work. Slide bar shower heads are convenient for all members of the family, as they enable bathers of different heights to shower more efficiently, and they make cleaning the tub/shower area easier, as well.
Replace a pre-code shower valve with a non-scald version. Scalding is one of the most serious bath injuries and can be avoided by one of the pressure and temperature-balanced shower valves available today. You’ll render the flush toilet/scorch bather syndrome obsolete, so everyone wins.
Add a bench to the shower stall. This is helpful for the elderly user who needs to sit while showering, and works best with the slide bar shower head system. It’s also great for those who shave their legs in the shower.
Increase the bathroom’s lighting. One of the symptoms of old age is decreased vision. Installing brighter lights, and adding lighting, where possible, in the bathroom is a small compensation for that limitation.
Increase color contrasts. Another way to offset decreasing vision is to increase color contrasts in the room, especially around the vanity counter top area. You can do this by putting a new light-colored countertop on a dark vanity, or a dark-colored top on a light vanity. Offset the wall color with this new countertop, as well, so that an older user can clearly delineate where one starts and ends.
Remove sharp edges on countertops. When changing out a countertop, be sure the replacement has rounded corners.
Check that the vent fan is working properly to help avoid mold. Mold is hazardous to your health, especially to the most vulnerable among us, and is often caused by excessive moisture. Your vent fan should ideally vent outside the home, not into an attic. The new vent fans that turn on and off automatically when they sense moisture in the room are ideal, especially for memory-challenged seniors, but generally need to be planned into new construction or a large-scale remodel. An automatic fan/light combo can be a more moderate vent plan.
Replace smooth, slick flooring with a textured tile. Polished marble is beautiful, but hazardous when wet, especially for older folks with balance issues. Replace it with a textured tile that offers more traction. Or add a floor traction treatment to your existing smooth flooring to make it rougher. Products like SureStep will meet this need.
Remove steps in front of tubs. These are most common in master baths, and are high-risk slip hazards, especially for older users. I strongly recommend remodeling to remove them. One out of three Americans older than 65 will suffer a fall. Improve your risk factor by eliminating a potential problem spot.