If you are a senior over 65 or work with older adults, chances are you know someone who has broken their hip in a fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over 300,000 seniors fracture a hip every year, most of them from a fall in or around their own home.
One of the most fall-prone places in the home is the bathroom, and for good reason including slick tile surfaces, the opportunity for water to spill and sit on the floor, and the strength, balance, and agility required to get in and out of the bath/shower. Achieving maximum safety and comfort with minimal effort in the bathroom is possible with simple home upgrades including:
- Grab bars/rails – Reinforced bars with wider circumferences and grippy surfaces can be affixed to shower and bathroom walls to provide support for an elderly person while they are standing, sitting, or getting in or out of the shower. Typically made from hollowed aluminum or steel, grab bars are often easy to install and can provide that added layer of safety seniors, especially those with mobility issues, are looking for.
- Shower chair – A steady surface with which to sit on while showering most often comes in the form of a waterproof shower chair or stool. The best shower chairs for elderly people will feature suction cup feet that adhere to the shower floor to prevent slipping, as well as side rails for added stability when sitting and standing.
- Waterproof cushion – unfortunately many shower chairs and stools are made of a hard plastic or other tough material that make them sturdy but not super comfortable to sit on. Waterproof cushions which can sit on the bottom and back of the shower can provide extra padding to protect against painful pressure on the backbone and buttocks.
- Non-slip mats/tape – even with safety rails and a shower chair, the slick shower floor can itself be a fall hazard. Simple additions of non-slip mats with textured surfaces (often made of rubber) to the bottom of the shower floor can give seniors a grippier surface with which to successfully sit, stand, and transfer without slipping. Lower-cost alternatives to shower mats may include non-slip grip tape which can be measured, cut, and adhered to shower and bathroom floors.
- Transfer/bath lift chair – For older adults with significant mobility problems, climbing in and out of a shower tub is essentially impossible. Manual transfer chairs allow seniors to sit on a portion of the chair overhanging the tub and then get slid while sitting by a caregiver onto the side of the chair sitting in the tub. Bath lift chairs, on the other hand, are often mechanical devices that lift and lower a person in and out of a shower tub for their bath – they typically require more complex installation.
- Removable shower nozzle – when using helpful equipment like transfer benches and shower chairs, chances are bathing is going to be best achieved with a removable shower head or nozzle. Removable shower nozzles detach from the wall and have a long hose with which to move them successfully around the body for washing hair, bathing the body, and reaching from the head to the toe.
- Toiletry dispensers – maintaining your balance and holding a slippery shampoo bottle or trying to lather up a washcloth with a slick bar of soap all while shower steam makes it hard to see is a recipe for disaster. Toiletry dispensers which sit suspended on the wall in a shower caddy, for example, allow a senior to quickly pump out the item they need (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc) giving them a hands-free solution for bathing without having to pick up a bunch of different slippery items.
- Good lighting – consistent and bright bathroom lighting that minimizes glare on the bathroom mirror and allows easy access to light switches is a must for senior safety. An overhead bathroom exhaust fan will help to relieve the bathroom of some steam when a senior takes a shower or bath, however, it can be loud and inhibit the ability to hear well. Combined with impaired vision, and risk of falling increases.
The key to bathroom safety isn’t taking necessary measures after a fall has happened, but rather making helpful upgrades and taking safety precautions to prevent falls from happening in the first place. Larger scale modifications might also include replacing a bathtub shower with a walk-in shower that reduces the need for an elderly adult to have to lift their legs very high to climb into the shower.