More than one in three seniors over age 65 fall each year, and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) says 80 percent of these falls are in the bathroom. Due to the multitude of unforgiving and slippery surfaces, bathrooms are very hazardous for the home.
Seniors are vulnerable to falls for many reasons – eyesight and reflexes aren’t as razor-sharp as they used to be, not to mention the balance issues posed by diabetes, heart disease, thyroid conditions and various medications.
One of the most effective ways to preserve balance is to stay active with an exercise regimen. Ask your doctor about exercises designed to improve balance, stability and overall mobility, such as moderate yoga.
But other preventative measures include:
- Grab Bars: Place properly installed grab bars next to the shower and toilet to assist seniors with rising and sitting. There are even floor-to-ceiling tension poles available for those spaces where grab bars aren’t an option. Please note that towel racks and soap holders do not double as grab bars because they are not designed to hold a lot of weight. Unlike towel racks and other basic bathroom fixtures, a grab bar is made to be bolted into the studs in the wall and support someone’s weight.
- Raised Toilet Seat: This requires no installation! Just purchase one and align it over the existing toilet. The most basic models easily attach to your existing toilet and can raise the seating surface by up to 6”. More advanced models, like theToilevator Toilet Riser, can be installed to the base of your toilet, allowing you to retain its original look and feel.
- Safe, Non-Slip Surface: This can be accomplished by using a simple spray-on product in the tub, shower floor or tile floor. There are also special non-slip mats that can be placed on the bathtub or shower floor.
- Hand-held Shower Head: Replacing the typical high shower head with a hand held one allows for the senior to move the shower head to clean themselves rather than move themselves, lowering the risk of falls. Look for a hand shower with a slid-rail for easily adjustable shower head height. Some models feature adjustable spray settings, look for one with a pause setting so the user can easily pause the water flow as needed without completely shutting off the water.
- Shower Bench: Adding a shower bench allows the senior to sit while showering so they do not lose their balance and fall. It allows for a safer, less tiring bathing experience and requires no installation! All quality models are made from durable, waterproof materials and come with rubber tips to stop them from slipping.
- Improved lighting: Keeping an automatic, LED night light plugged into the wall in the bathroom at all times prevents running into objects by making it easier to see the light switch. According to LampsUSA, a bathroom should have at least 646 lumens of light to adequately cater for seniors roughly 60 years of age. For seniors over 80, this jumps to 968 lumens. Most standard home construction lighting has around 450 lumens around the sink, so you will probably require additional light fixtures or fixtures with greater output.
- Walk-in-Tub: A walk/wheel-in shower is ideal for anybody suffering from poor mobility. Stepping over a threshold and into a shower/tub adds an extra risk when bathing, and can be impossible to manage for people who rely on walking aids. Walk-in tubs minimize this threshold and also come equipped with extra features like hydro-jets to help relieve aching limbs or deep muscle pain.
- Remove Obstacles: Bathroom safety can be improved by removing items that are easily tripped over. Be consistent about putting things away, avoiding clutter and having one place where every item belongs.
- Adjust the Water Heater: Turn down the water heater temperature. Elderly people have thinner, more delicate skin and can take longer to notice hot temperatures. Because of this, they are often at risk of burns caused by hot water. Keep hot water temperatures to a maximum of 120F. For the shower, consider installing a thermostatic mixing valve which senses changes in the flow of the two water temperatures and adjusts accordingly to reduce drastic changes in water temperature when someone does something like start a load of laundry while the shower is running. (For more ideas and solutions to fluctuating shower water temperature contact your plumber to find a solution and take preventative measures.)
- Non-slip Bath Mats: Make a point to check the back of all rugs to ensure the slip resistant backing is still effective. If the rubber on the back is looking flaky, or balding in places it’s probably time for a new rug. Also, when selecting a rug choose one with a low pile to make it easier for walkers and slow feet to pass over and not get caught. You may want to consider covering the entire bathroom tile floor, if it is small, with a non-slip bath mat material.
- Towel Placement: Place towels within easy reach of the tub or shower; reaching or straining to find a towel while standing in a wet shower is an invitation to fall.
- Avoid pooling water: Keep the bathroom floor dry, making sure it has no water on it. A weighted shower curtain will help ensure that no water leaks onto the floor.
- Replace the bathroom door: Hang the door so that it opens outwards in case of a fall. Remove any door locks.
- In case of Emergency: Install a medical alert system or communication device.
Remaining in the home can provide seniors with a strong sense of comfort and confidence. By following the tips listed above, you can help make sure that your loved one stays safe as well as maintaining their sense of independence.
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