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Designing Safe and Accessible Bathrooms for Seniors

When you don’t have any mobility issues, it’s easy to take a lot of things for granted. But when mobility becomes a struggle, as it does for many seniors, seemingly easy routines can suddenly become dangerous. And as the wettest room in the house, the bathroom is one area that can cause dangerous situations for seniors.

In fact, thousands of people (not only seniors) visit the emergency room each year because of falls in the bathroom. Bathroom conditions are simply ripe for accidents. When you have a senior who is losing mobility, you need to help prevent those accidents. Design a safe and accessible bathroom for the senior in your life with these tips.

Considerations for designing accessible bathrooms for seniors.
Photo courtesy of National Bath & Kitchen
Association

Accessible Bathrooms: Before You Begin

Before you plan an accessible bathroom, make a list of the complications that may be faced in a bathroom with the specific mobility issues encountered by the senior in your life. For example:

  • Is there medical equipment that needs to be maneuvered throughout the room?
  • Do you need space for a wheelchair?
  • Does the user need assistance with any activities?
  • Will the user’s condition remain the same, or deteriorate over time?
  • Where will the user need grab bars?
  • Does the user have any vision issues?

Answering these questions will help you make the right decisions in each of the following areas of the bathroom.

Shower/Tub

Remember that stepping over the edge, and lowering oneself down into a tub can be difficult for a senior with mobility issues. Even a small threshold in a shower can be a problem if a senior is in a wheelchair or uses a walker. Consider installing a walk-in bathtub, with a swinging door that allows the user to step inside and then fill up the tub with water.

Or consider a zero-threshold shower. Without a curb, these showers allow for a user to easily walk or wheel into a shower. A shower seat is also a good idea no matter the type of shower, and non-slip flooring is a must. There should also be a grab bar in the shower and/or tub.

During your remodel consider wide doorways, hard floors and accessible, yet attractive, bathrooms.

Bathroom Sink and Vanity

Remove the cabinet below the sink. This will allow for knee space if the user is in a wheelchair. You will, however, need to create another space for easily-accessible storage. Pull-out shelves are a good option if you have space.

The space below the sink in an accessible bathroom should have a 27-inch clearance for knees, and the sink should be no higher than 34 inches. Install a tilted mirror that will allow for a seated person to easily see themselves to get ready.

Movements like grabbing and turning can become difficult with old age, so install a single-handled faucet to remove that frustration. And don’t forget to lower the hot water temperature to prevent burns.

Toilet

The toilet in an accessible bathroom should be between 17 and 19 inches high so that transferring to a wheelchair or walker is easier and more comfortable. If you can’t replace the toilet, you can purchase a seat extender in a home health care store.

At least one grab bar should be installed near the toilet, but two grab bars on either side of the toilet is an even better set-up. Interestingly enough, you can now find grab bars that are stylish and don’t necessarily look like they belong in a hospital room.

Make sure the toilet paper roll can be easily reached, and consider a style that allows for one-handed use. A bidet is also a good option for many seniors.

Lighting

Shadows can be dangerous for a senior navigating a bathroom. Make sure the room has proper lighting, including natural light. Install lighting all throughout the bathroom, and include dimmers so that glares can be controlled. In addition, place the light switches lower than normal so they can easily be reached by someone in a wheelchair. You can even install motion detector lighting that will make the process simpler for the user.

Fortunately, aging in place is possible for many people with some thoughtful adjustments to the layout and use of the bathroom.

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6 Comments

  1. I am a 77 year old Disabled Vietnam Veteran. I live in a Mobile home and need a new Bathroom. My bathroom is no longer safe . I assume I need a walk in Bathtub, and I prefer a Hot Tub. I do not WANT a walk in, I think it is stupid to sit in dirty water as it drains out over YOUR otherwise CLEAN BODY. My bathtub is also part of a toilet. That I must have.
  2. Hello, thanks for sharing the amazing post. I agree that bathroom renovation is a tiny investment for the future comfort of our parents. I think our bathroom should be easily accessible by our seniors without any problem. I am also planning to upgrade my bathroom with walk in bathtub and shower as my grandpa is affected by arthritis and he finds difficulty in walking and standing in one place for a while. I think a installing walk in bathtub can be the best option to provide him comfort in the bathroom. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
  3. Extremely great hub on making homes age obtainable. Remolding bathroom is only a tiny investment for future comfort to our parents. Many thanks for sharing.
  4. There are some great pieces of advice and tips here , so thank you to whoever made this – I have already bookmarked this page! I’m actually on here because I’m currently helping my sister with her new bathroom. Very sadly my nephew was recently in an accident which has caused him to have reduced movability, luckily he’s slowly on the road to recovery at home but my sister wants to install a few assistance devices so she can help look after him as best she can. I know this article is aimed at the elderly but I figured the instillation and things were the same, so basically I was wondering if there was any specific bathroom alterations that needed to be made in order to accommodate this type of bath? I know for example that she is getting a special assisted bath with a seat with adjustable height, is there any special tiling or flooring that is needed for this? I know she’s getting the bath from a company called Abacus. I don’t know if that helps with providing any more information at all? Will my sister need to plan anything differently to accommodate the bath or will it just be a case of simply installing it? I’d be ever so grateful if anyone could provide some insight here, it would be such a big help to us both! Thank you everyone!
  5. My grandma is moving in with my husband and I, and so I want to make sure that my house has all the right equipment to help keep her safe. Because of this, I really appreciate your tips about the shower. Since we all would be sharing bathroom space, I think that it would be more practical to get a zero-threshold like you mention. However, how do you keep the water from flooding out into the rest of the bathroom and house?

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