NewsUSA reported that nearly 80% of all instances of seniors taking a tumble occur in the bathroom. A WHO study found that even in senior care centers, the maximum number of falls happen in the bathroom. So, what turns the smallest room of the house into the biggest hazard?
An article in the NYTimes explains it best with the statement, “Bathrooms have unforgiving surfaces”. The floor itself and the carpets, which have a tendency to get wet and slippery, are enough to pose a significant risk.
But to add to the problem, the bathroom is one room devoid of sturdy furniture, which means there is nothing to grasp onto. Plus, there simply isn’t enough room to try and break the fall. And if that is not enough, all those porcelain edges and metal fixtures, greatly increase the risk of serious injuries.
Is it any wonder then that those who fall in the bathroom have a 30% risk of suffering from a head injury?
Bathroom falls in senior often result in debilitating hip fractures as well as traumatic brain injuries. So, this is one area of the home that calls for special risk factor management, and in this article, you will learn exactly what your options are.
But first, let’s do an area-wise assessment of the hazards lurking in your bathroom.
The danger zones in the bathroom for older adults!
According to the CDC, every year 200,000 Americans are wheeled into the ER after taking a tumble in the bathroom. So, the fall risk presented by this area is not age-specific. However, which area of the bathroom poses the greatest risk does depend on the age of a person. Here are some additional stats:
- For senior below the age of 80, the area around the tub and the shower is the most dangerous
- For those above the age of 81, the area around the toilet poses the greatest risk.
- Nearly 30% of all falls occur after or while bathing and another 20% result from slipping.
- Less than 10% of falls are attributed to fainting.
- Only about 8% of all falls occur in the other areas of the bathroom (not near the toilet, bathtub, shower or sink).
- Women have a higher risk of falling down in the bathroom than men (about 65% fall risk for women and nearly 35% for men).
Why And How Do Seniors End Up Falling Down In The Bathroom?
I have already told you where these falls occur in the bathroom. So, let’s take this one step further and discuss when, why and how these mishaps happen.
- Those around the bathing area happen mostly when seniors are trying to get in and out of the bath and lose their footing on the floor. Because the floor in the shower/tub is understandably wet and possibly slippery, reaching for objects like soap/sponge or even the towel can cause an older adult to slip.
- Another reason is the sheer amount of time a person needs to spend on his/her feet when taking a shower. Add to this the soapy suds around and it is easy to see how the muscle fatigue in the legs coupled with the excess slipperiness created by the soap can spell trouble.
- Last but not least are the shower curtains and doors. When these work as they should, they indeed improve safety in the area by preventing water from spilling onto the floor around the shower area. However, doors that move unexpectedly can cause a person to lose his balance while getting into or out of the shower.
- Falls around the toilet are, in the majority of instances, attributed to the height of the commode, which can be too low. Seniors, who have problems in the knee joint or general muscle weakness or even trembling and edema in the extremities, find it hard to sit down and get up from the toilet seat. This struggle can cause them to lose their balance and fall down.
- Another factor that leads to falls around the commode is the lack of support in the area. Except for the flimsy toilet paper stand, there really is nothing in the area to grab on to for support.
- As far as the other areas of the bathroom go, the big problem there will always be slippery floors. This can create a slipping hazard. Unfortunately, the towel racks and the sink tops in the area may not be sturdy enough to offer support in case of loss of balance.
So, now that you know about the factors that can cause your elderly parents to take a tumble in the bathroom, let’s discuss what you can do to tackle these risk, one area at a time and make the bathroom area safe again.
Bathroom Safety Tips For Older Adults: Make The Area Around The Shower Safer!
1. A little bit of support can go a long way
For seniors, who suffer from poor balance and compromised lower body strength and agility, few other contraptions offers as much help as the humble grab bars.
In fact, in the bath area, the installation of these bars can lower the risk of falls by more than 50%. A few things that you need to remember when installing them in the bathroom are:
- Grab bars should be installed in areas that seniors tend to hold on to when trying to get in and out of the shower area.
- Opt for slip-resistant-grip bars instead of gloss finish bars that can get hard to hold on to.
- Choose bars with a color or finish that is in contrast with the hue on the walls for better visibility.
- Go for stud fixed bars, which are far more reliable than the suction cup bars. The later can give way if subjected to the kind of pulling force exerted in case of a fall.
2. Additional support structures for additional safety
Want to go the extra mile with those support structures? Then, consider the use of a tension pole and a tub attached grab bar.
- The tension pole is essentially a vertical structure with grab bars placed horizontally. The assembly is fixed right outside the tub or the shower stall such that it is in the center of the space and hence can be grabbed for support while getting in and out of the shower.
- The tub installed bar is a portable structure that is attached to the center of sides of the bathtub and can be held on to when stepping over the high sides of the tub.
Because, these bars are within arm’s reach as a person is getting out of the shower, they offer support when it is needed the most.
3. Greater comfort and support with a shower bench
A shower chair/bench is designed to make bath time both easier and safer. We seldom give thought to the energy and strength required to stand in the shower for 10 to 15 minutes while we wash ourselves.
But as weakness sets in with age, this time and the physical capacity needed to get through it, do turn into issues. This is where a shower bench/chair and a shower transfer bench can come in handy.
- The shower chair is essentially a small stool of sorts that allows seniors to sit in the bathtub or the shower stall while they bathe. Choose a chair that has anti-slip legs and preferably armrests as well for greater support. You will also get a variety of choices when it comes to height and width, so pick one that works for the height and weight of the senior who will use it. It’s also possible to find chairs that have an adjustable height feature. A lot of manufacturers are offering shower chairs with suction cups that help to keep them in place and offer greater stability when using them. If you have a dedicated bathroom for your elderly parents, this is a feature worth paying a bit extra for.
- The transfer bench elevates the safety quotient further by allowing an elderly person to get into the shower without actually climbing over the high sides of the tub. The way it works is that an older adult simply sits in the chair outside the tub and then slides over the rails into the bathtub, where he/she can take a shower using a handheld showerhead. Most benches can support up to 250 lbs. of weight but I would still recommend that you carefully go through the height, weight and width specifications of the product before buying one. There are options available that support greater weight and width requirements. You may have to spend a bit more for these, but do not compromise on safety by buying something that does not fit the physical requirements of the senior who will be using the bench or the size of the bath area/tub in your home.
Furthermore, I would strongly recommend that you opt for a transfer bench if you have a bathtub or if your elderly parent needs the services of a caregiver. A shower chair works well if you have a bath stall or a walk-in tub.
4. Everything within reach
I have already mentioned handheld showerheads, which can make it easier for adults to direct the water jet to any part of the body without actually moving about on their feet. And less moving about in the shower area equates to a lower risk of falls.
So, this sure will be a sensible addition to the bath area. Moreover, consider installing corner shelves that put bath items in close reach. This, again, helps to limit movement, while in the shower space.
For seniors with significant joint and muscle issues, you may want to consider a change in the bathroom décor. Despite the use of a tension pole and tub installed grab bars, it can be hard for a senior with knee problems to step in and out of the tub.
Because folding the legs at the knee joint and lifting the leg up is a problem for such older adults, even with the use of support devices, they can trip as they get their leg stuck on the high sides of the tub.
A walk-in tub or shower stall can easily remedy the problem for such seniors. It can set you back by a few hundred dollars, but it’s a worthy addition if you consider the improvement in safety that it offers. Plus, these walk-in tubs come with a range of features such as:
- Safety doors.
- Adjustable bubble jets.
- Handrails on the sides.
- Built-in shower bench.
- And more.
Dealing With The Risk Of Slippery Surfaces In The Bathroom
1. Tackling the wet tile problem
Most falls due to slipping occur when seniors are getting out of the tub/shower stall. Water drips from the body and falls on the tiles and even matte finish, non-slip tiles can get slippery with water on them. So to handle this problem:
- Use non-slip mats right outside the shower stall/bathtub, the sink and the toilet.
- An old towel will not work because you would be surprised at how easily fabric slips off the hard floor. If you are using a regular mat or an old towel in the area, remove it.
- Opt for rubber mats, which help to keep the bathroom floor free of water. These come with tiny suction cups at the back, which hold them in place.
2. Eliminating slippery surfaces
Unfortunately, you can’t stop water from falling on the bathtub and shower stall floor. Of course, this is also a fall risk, but this is one factor that can be tackled quite easily and affordably.
Use bright-colored, non-slip adhesive strips to cover the floor of the shower area/ tub. These strips offer stable footing and a visual contrast that helps with a poor perception of depth.
3. Handling slips in other areas
Also consider the use of the non-slip adhesive strips on the edges of the sink and other surfaces that may be used for support in case of an emergency. The idea is to prevent the hands from slipping off the surface when it is grasped for support.
Bathroom Safety Tips For Seniors: Make The Area Around The Toilet Safer!
1. The height has to be right
Standard toilet seats are about 15 inches tall, which can be uncomfortable for anybody with knee issues. Now, you can either shift to the new comfort commodes that cover 17 to 19 inches from the floor to the toilet seat or go for a raised seat that would also add about 3-4 inches to the overall height of the porcelain.
The goal is to make it easier for the elderly to lower themselves on to the seat by reducing the distance they have to cover from the upright position to the seating position. It goes without saying that this also makes it easier and safer to go from the seated to the upright position.
2. Offer some much-needed support
Those with significantly compromised leg strength may need additional support in the form of hand bars on the wall right next to the toilet. These hand bars are designed to support the body weight and ease the stress on the leg muscles. Grab bars come in two designs: wall attached and toilet attached.
- Wall attached safety bars can be attached on one side and you can opt for a floor attached bar on the other.
- Toilet attached bars and the toilet safety frame look like armrests on both sides of the commode. These would be a better option for seniors above the age of 70 years and for those with significant disabilities.
12 General Safety Tips For The Bathroom
Here are some general tips for keeping the bathroom safe.
- Make sure that all toiletries are neatly stored on shelves that are within reach so that seniors don’t have to bend or stretch too much to get to them.
- Cabinets offer valuable storage space in the bathroom, however, you may have to change the handles on the cabinet doors to designs that are senior friendly.
- Older adults who suffer from arthritis can have a rough time handling regular faucets. So, change to faucets that are ADA compliant; usually, lever faucets are recommended for homes with seniors.
- Adjust the thermostat to prevent scalding due to water that is too hot.
- Keep the bathroom clean and free of soap scum and mildew, which can greatly increase slipperiness.
- Avoid clutter in the bathroom, this includes the floor and the area around the sink.
- Change the door swing of the bathroom door to open on the outside. This way, if your elderly parent does have a fall in the bathroom and cannot get up on his/her own, you will be able to open the door and get inside to offer help.
- Install a night light in the bathroom.
- Make sure that the way to the bathroom from the bed is well illuminated and free of clutter.
- Glossy tiles and paint in the bathroom when coupled with bright overhead lights can produce blinding glare. So, change to matte finishes and use color contrast to demarcate various areas of the bathroom.
- Put large labels on the faucet levers so that seniors can easily tell the difference between hot and cold water handles.
- With older adults in the house, you don’t need a lot of accessories in the bathroom but you do need ample of uncluttered, free space to allow unrestricted and unhindered movement.
I know these tips are simple, but you would be surprised at how significantly they can improve the safety of the bathroom for seniors. So, even if your elderly parent does not currently have any issues using the bathroom on his/her own, this would be a good time to start initiating the changes.
The sooner you start, the faster these changes will become a routine part of their lives and it will be that much easier for them to use these safety additions when they turn into a necessity.
Having said that, I have one more safety tip for you – Make sure that older adults always have a water-proof medical alert device with them or on their person when using the bathroom. And with that – here is wishing all you seniors fall free and safe living for years to come!