The bathroom may just be the most dangerous place within a home for the senior who is aging in place. The CDC reports that one in every three seniors will experience a fall in their golden years. The National Institute on Aging reports that 80% of those falls occur in the bathroom. The shower is the place where the senior is most vulnerable in the home, and extra precaution should be taken to protect an elderly loved one while he or she prepares for, bathes, and exits the shower. Here are some tips to make aging in place an even safer alternative to institutional care.
A comprehensive approach
To make showering and bathing safer, the entire bathroom should be given consideration. Here are the NIA’s recommended guidelines for ensuring elderly people can independently care for themselves in the bathroom with the smallest risk possible.
- Ideally, washable wall to wall carpet designed for bathrooms should be installed. If not possible, place non-skid adhesive strips in the bathtub/shower and on the floor around the tub, sink, and toilet until carpeting can be installed.
- Grab bars in contrasting colors from the walls can be easier to see and grab hold of while getting in and out of the shower, with a separate one for getting up and down from a shower seat. Grab bars should also be next to the toilet or a raised toilet seat with existing handrails used.
- Never leave a person with Alzheimer’s alone in the bathroom.
- Removing locks from bathroom doors can allow for quicker entrance if needed. This is especially helpful if the senior has Alzheimer’s disease.
Practical tips to a safer shower/bathtub
Ideally, a customized new shower unit can be purchased that already takes into account the extra needs a senior may face. The higher threshold of the bathtub/shower units are particularly challenging. Walk-in’s are a much safer alternative; however, if that is not in the budget, there are a few practical measures in addition to the ones listed above to take right now to keep the shower safe.
- Foam rubber covers for the faucet could make injuries less severe in the event a fall does occur.
- Plastic shower stools or tub seats are easy to utilize and easily found. They are an economical way to make bathing safer for an elderly person who may tire easily or have balance and mobility challenges. Make sure the seats have rubber non-slip bottoms. They also help in the event that assistance becomes necessary in the future as aging progresses.
- Detachable shower heads can be beneficial, especially when a shower stool or bench is used.
- If the tub is free standing, traditional grab bars will not work. There is a vertical bar that can be installed, extending from floor to ceiling. Just make sure non-slip measures are taken all around the vertical bar as well.
As we age, our skin thins, making us more susceptible to burns. The average person will receive second degree burns within just three seconds when the water is 140 degrees Fahrenheit and in only 17 seconds at 131 degrees. The best way to prevent burns from happening is to decrease the temperature setting on the hot water heater to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This will ensure that even if the water is set all the way to hot, it will not get warmer than 120 degrees, a temperature that would take 8 minutes to cause significant injury.
Whenever a person ages in place, adaptations will need to be made to their homes. Ensuring a safer bathroom will go a long way in reducing the risk of injury while bathing and allow aging in place to go on longer.
AntiScald Inc. Exposure Time to Receive a Severe Burn. Available at http://www.antiscald.com/prevention/general_info/table.php.
National Institute on Aging (NIA). Home Safety for People with Alzheimer’s Disease: Bathroom (2015). Available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/home-safety-people-alzheimers-disease/home-safety-room-room.
University of Missouri Extension. (2015). Bathroom Safety for Older People. Available at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/GH7060.