Keeping Seniors Safe in the Bathroom
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for injuries resulting from a fall. It’s estimated that 80% of these falls happen in the bathroom. Fall-related injuries can range from minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises to more severe injuries, including broken bones, hip fractures, head contusions, spinal cord injury, and sometimes death.
It’s easy to understand why bathrooms are particularly hazardous for seniors. Bathrooms tend to have slippery surfaces and nothing to grasp in order to prevent falls.
As we age, reduced muscle strength and balance can make falls more common, and those with a history of falls have an even greater risk of falling again. In the bathroom, this can occur when stepping into and exiting the tub or shower; when reaching for a towel bar, sink top, or other objects for balance when walking; and when sitting down and getting up from the toilet.
Installing safety features in the bathroom can reduce the risk, and there are many options available.
For the shower and tub:
Install grab bars or a tension pole. Towel bars are great for holding towels but aren’t built to support much weight. Installing slip-resistant grab bars to help keep balance when entering and exiting the shower or tub can help. Seniors should choose bars that are color contrast from the wall for visibility, and ensure they are securely fixed to the studs of the wall for adequate support.
Using a shower chair. A shower chair can provide stability for balance and be a resting place for those who can’t stand for long periods of time. A good shower chair has rubber tips on the legs to prevent sliding. Also, installing a hand-held shower head allows those with balance issues to shower while seated.
Using a bath transfer bench. A bath transfer bench eliminates the problem of stepping in and out of the tub. Users can sit on the bench outside of the tub and then slide into the tub, eliminating the need to step over a bathtub wall.
For slippery surfaces:
Add non-slip mats. Having a non-slip rubber mat (or decals) on the floor of the shower or tub as well as a non-slip rug on the floor can help prevent slips. A non-slip rug should be placed in front of the toilet, by the sink, or where there is a risk of water making the floor slick.
Add non-slip adhesive strips. These can be placed on the top of sink edges to guard against hand slippage if these surfaces are used for balance support.
For the toilet:
Use a raised toilet seat. For seniors that have difficulty lowering themselves down to sit on a low toilet seat and rising to a standing position, a raised toilet seat adds 3-4 inches of height, which reduces squatting.
Install grab bars for standing and sitting. Grab bars can be installed to help with lowering and raising. Some raised toilet seats have built-in grab bars to provide extra assistance.
When it comes to bathroom safety and reducing the risk of falls, prevention is key! Consider working with a Durable Medical Supply company to outfit your bathroom with key safety features to mitigate the risk of injury from a fall!
When To Get Help
Waiting for a fall to happen is never the right time to get help and because bathrooms are inherently the most likely place for a bad fall, it’s good to act now. Adding a shower chair that doesn’t fit correctly and wobbles in the tub can exacerbate the situation and not improve it. This is where Occupational Therapy can help from a Medicare-approved Home Care Agency. Medicare Part B will cover this if the insured is homebound or if they cannot leave home after an “episode of care” related to an injury or covered illness. Ask the Occupational therapist to look over the installation and placement of any devices used to help with mobility and safety issues in the bathroom. Also, have them observe while they are being used to make sure it’s being used correctly and with the most effective method. Knowing the right way can make a huge difference in how easily and safely people can move. For more information on Medicare benefits related to Home Care click here. Always check with your provider to make sure benefit coverage has not changed.
Home modifications can help seniors stay in their homes much longer and more safely than trying to just “make do”. There is assistance available from various organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, to help with home modifications. You can also check here for more information on overall modifications and estimates on costs. Stay safe!
U.S. Census Bureau. “Mobility is the Most Common Disability Among Older Americans” Web. 2014.
WebMD. “Home Health Care Tips.” Web. 2017.
Mayo Clinic. “What it takes to be agile at any age” Web. 2018.
Reuters. “Exercise prevents elderly mobility problems, and the more the better.” Web. 2017.
American Home Shield