According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in four Americans over the age of 65 experience slips and falls each year. Most of these accidents happen at home, often resulting in debilitating injuries. Since diminished stability, strength and mobility are naturally occurring byproducts of aging, a higher degree of safety around the house is necessary to ensure the well-being of seniors.
This is particularly true when it comes to the bathroom where the danger fromfalls is significantly higher than any other room in the home. In a study six years ago, the CDC found that approximately 200,000 Americans are treated annually for bathroom-related emergencies. The agency also concludes that most accidents could be prevented if proper precautions were taken and safety equipment were installed.
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I planned to fall.” I doubt it. In fact, you’re more likely to hear that a fall is something that “happens other people.” Right? What’s important to consider is that it takes just one fall in the bathroom to brake a hip, fracture an arm, or worse, cause devastating head trauma. After the emergency visit to the hospital comes weeks of physical therapy and rehabilitation, and more often than not, managing lingering chronic pain.But the bathroom shouldn’t be feared. The key to keeping yourself or a loved one out of the hospital due to a fall incident is to prevent one from happening in the first place.
Water, slick surfaces and hard fixtures like commodes, vanity counter tops and bathtubs can be a more daunting gauntlet to navigate than the agility courses seen on “American Gladiator.”Diminished strength in the legs can make lowering to and rising from the toilet not only burdensome, but dangerous.And getting in and out of the bathtub should be an opportunity to relax, not a prompt for anxiety or fear.
It’s important to come to the realization that some things we take for granted have a way of becoming a little more challenging as we age. Let’s face it, when Thomas Crapper invented the first flushing toilet—No, I’m not making that up—he should have made it taller. As we age, we lose strength in our legs, and balance becomes more of an issue. Not to pin a design flaw completely on Mr. Crapper, but seniors often need additional assistance whenit comes to sitting on and getting up from the toilet—which is inherently too short. Bathtubs? Even the fittest of us have experienced a precarious moment or two getting into and out of the bathtubor shower.
Outside of a complete remodel, what’s one to do to make an existing bathroom more safe and user-friendly? Here are several cost-effective and easy to implement bathroom safety improvements every home with a senior resident should consider:
1- Bedside Commodes: A bedside or portable commode can make life easier for seniorswho struggle with making it to the bathroom from their bed. They can be an especially proactive safety measure at night because a bedside commode eliminates the need to find one’s way to the bathroom. Usually positioned near the bed, bedside commodes are height adjustable, have seats, lids and an easy to clean removable pale. Most models come standard with padded arm rests that are elevated to aid in lowering onto and rising off of the commode. And with the pale removed, they can double as a raised commode frame that can be easily positioned over an existing commode in the bathroom when not in use bedside.
2- Toilet Frames: Toilet frames help compensate for the shortcomings of most commode heights. They come in different types: standalone safety rails that attach without the need for additional hardware; adjustable height frames with padded armrests that are easily positioned over the existing commode; and standard safety frames that position around the existing commode. The main function of a toilet frame is the arm feature that provides a raised, safe and secure anchor for users to use when lowering themselves onto, or pushing themselves off of the commode. And you will find that most types are height adjustable so that they can be customized to accommodate just about any user.
3- Raised Toilet Seats: Raised toilet seats are also easily attachable to existing commodes without any need for special tools or hardware. Their purpose is to raise the height of the commode seat to a more accommodating level, which reduces the distance and effort needed to lower onto or raise from the toilet. A raised seat can increase toilet heights anywhere from 3 to 6 inches, which can make a tremendous difference for anyone with decreased leg strength. Some models come with raised, padded arm rests for additional assistance, while some are hinged to function with the existingtoilet seat and lid.
4- Shower Chairs & Bath Benches: These bath and shower safety products are perfect forseniors who might have difficulty with balance. By providingthe user witha convenient and safe seated option, they can make bathing or showering a much safer activity. Usually very light, water-proof and easily transportable, a good shower chair will have legs with rubber padding on their ends to provide ample traction. Models are generally available with or without a seat back. And some come with raised arms to assist with balance and with lowering and raising one’s self from the seat.
A bath bench takes the assistance one step further by assisting with transfers into and out of the bathtub.The primary surface area of a bath bench is positioned within the tub, as the remaining portion stretches outside of the tub to allow for safely navigating over the raised edge of most bathtubs. Easily portable and safely secured to the bathtub surface with suction cup legs, the user sits on the outside portion of the bench, and then slides across the seat to thesection within the tub. Most models come standard with a safety rail handle and seat back.
5- Powered Bath Lifters: Hey! Your bathtub called. It wants your alone time back. Nothing is more deflating for a senior who enjoys their bath time than the moment they start becoming anxious or down right scared of getting into the tub. A relaxing bath is meant to be enjoyed and kept private for as long as a person is able to do so independently. Well, a battery powered bath lift is the perfectly affordable solution. Bath lifts feature a seat and seat back—some models reclinable—on which the user comfortably rests and lowers themselves into their warm soak with the help of a handheld, water-proof and floatable controller. Once they’re done with their relaxing alone time, they simply push the Up button to gently lift them back out of the water. Today’s models even have a built-in safety mechanism that will not allow you to lower into the tub if it senses that the battery does not have enough power to raise the user back up.
6- Grab Bars & Safety Rails: A grab bar or safety rail is another way to ensure that your loved one has balance assistance within reach when they need it most. These can be installed near a tub or within it, as well as near a toilet seat. Grab bars provide support as a person lowers or rises from a sitting position, offers something sturdy to hold onto when stepping over the side of the bathtub,and in case of a sudden loss in balance, they are a trusty brace for quickly regaining balance to avert a disastrous fall.
There are many models of grab bar and safety rail types available, ranging from permanent installations that can be affixed to walls and extremely reliable suction models to safety handles that clamp to the edge of the bathtub.
7- Handheld Showers: Fall prevention may also be achieved by having a handheld shower instead of using the standard overhead one. By switching to a handheld shower with an On/Off valve, you will eliminate the need for the user to stand orstrain by reaching for wall-mounted shower valve. Even those with simpler designs and functionality would greatly help your loved one by reducing the need for unnecessary motion. A further plus is that they actually help the usermore precisely direct shower sprayonto sections of the body where it’s needed.
8- Non-slip Mats: Seemingly obvious, it often slips the minds—pun intended—of many caregivers. While many bathtubs come with standard surface traction, anti-slip mats are simple yet essential accessories that can added additional safety. While inspecting bathtub and shower surfaces,be sure that the surfaces outside the tub are not prone to collecting water or becoming slippery. Non-slip mats were invented exactly for that purpose: they provide traction to bathroom floors even when they get wet. There are several types according to features and materials, from rubber mats to ones with drainage holes. When purchasing these, double-check to make sure that they’re not the type that slide when wet.
More than 90% of seniors prefer to age in the home. Knowing that majorbathroom accidents canbe prevented, it’s now just a matter of taking the right amount of diligence, and shopping for a few simple items to help your loved one retain the independence they desire.