2010-03-10 / Seniors

Creating A Senior-Friendly Bathroom

Dear Savvy Senior,

What tips or products can you recommend to make a bathroom more senior-friendly? My husband and I are looking to adapt our home for our elderly years and would like to start with the bathroom. What can you tell us?

Aging Gracefully

Dear Aging:

Because more accidents and injuries happen in the bathroom than in any other room in the house, this is a great place to start seniorizing. Here’s what you should know.

Small Changes

To avoid hygiene hardships as you get older, let’s start with some simple tips and a few lowcost add-ons that can make a big difference in making your bathroom safer and easier to maneuver.

Floor: To avoid slipping and tripping, get non-skid bath rugs for the floors or secure existing floor mats or rugs with double-sided rug tape.

Lights: The older we get, the more light we need, so install the highest wattage bulbs allowed for your fixtures and get a plug in nightlight that automatically turns on when the room gets dark.

Entrance: If the doorway into the bathroom is not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, you can easily widen your doorways by two inches with inexpensive offset door hinges.

Bath/shower: To make bathing safer, buy a non-slip rubber mat or put down self-stick strips on the tub/shower floor, and install grab bars for support. If you use the shower, it’s a good idea to put in a shower curtain rod that screws or bolts into the wall rather than a tension-mounted rod, so that if you lose your balance and grab the shower curtain, the rod won’t spring loose. Another safety precaution is to put in a water-resistant, wallmounted phone in or near the bath/shower in case of a fall.

Many seniors with mobility or balance problems need to shower sitting down. If this applies to you, install a hand-held, adjustable-height shower head and buy a portable bath/shower chair.

Toilet: Install grab bars next to the toilet if possible, or purchase a toilet seat riser. This adds two to four inches of height to the toilet seat, making it easier to sit and rise.

Faucets: Replace twist handles on the sink, bathtub or shower faucets with lever handles. They’re easier to turn, especially for seniors with arthritis or limited hand strength. Also, be aware that water heated to only 130 degrees can scald you, so turn your hot water heater down to 120 degrees or get anti-scald devices for your faucets.

Bathroom Products

If you’re thinking about remodeling, there are a variety of practical and stylish products on the market that can make your bathroom more agefriendly.

For bathing, prefabricated “curbless showers” and “walk-in bathtubs” are two popular options today. Curbless showers have no threshold to step over so access is a breeze and ideal for wheelchair users. These showers also typically come with a built-in seat, grab bars, an adjustable hand-held shower head and a slip resistant textured floor. If you like to take baths, a walk-in bathtub with a front door may be the way to go. You can find these products at sites like Accessible- Showers.com and Premier-Bathrooms.com.

If you’re interested in getting a new toilet, go with an ADA-compliant “comfort height” toilet that’s 17 inches high versus a standard toilet that’s only 15 inches high. Kohler (Kohler.com) and American Standard (AmericanStandard-us.com) make a nice variety.

If you’re putting in a new sink, install it at a level that reduces bending. If you need wheelchair access, wall-mounted or pedestal sinks or a sink built into a cabinet that’s open underneath will let you roll in nice and close. And if you get a new faucet, the single lever handle style is great for those with arthritis.

Savvy Tips: For more information on seniorfriendly modification tips, visit aarp.org/families/home_design/bath and Homemods.org. Also, for modification information, contact your nearby independent living center (ilru.org, 713-520-0232). Many of these nonprofit centers even offer free or low-cost home assessments. Your Area Agency on Aging (800- 677-1116) is also a good referral resource.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to “The NBC Today Show” and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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