What tips can you recommend for making a bathroom safer? My 78-year-old mother has mobility problems and fell getting out of the bathtub last month. I would like to modify her bathroom with some safety features that can help keep her safe.
More accidents and injuries happen in the bathroom than any other room in the house, this is a very important room to modify, especially for individuals with mobility or balance problems.
Depending on your mom's needs and budget, here are some simple tips and product recommendations that can help make her bathroom safer and easier to use.
Floor: To avoid slipping, a simple fix is to get non-skid bath rugs for the floors. If you want to put in a new floor, consider slip-resistant flooring or install wall-to-wall carpeting.
Lights: Good lighting is also very important. It is best to install the highest wattage bulbs allowed for your mom's bathroom fixtures and get a plug-in nightlight that automatically turns on when the room gets dark.
Bathtub/Shower: To make bathing safer, she may want to consider a rubber suction-grip mat or put down adhesive nonskid tape on the tub/shower floor. It is also a good idea to have grab bars installed in and around the tub/shower for support.
If your mom uses a shower curtain, install a screw or bolt-mounted curtain rod, versus a tension-mounted rod. If she loses her balance and grabs the shower curtain, the rod will not spring loose.
For easier access and safer bathing, consider getting your mom a shower or bathtub chair so she can bathe from a seated position. In addition, you should have a handheld, adjustable-height showerhead installed to make chair bathing easier.
If your mom has the budget for it, another good option is to install a curbless shower or a walk-in-bathtub. Curbless showers have no threshold to step over, and come with a built-in seat, grab bars, slip resistant floors and an adjustable handheld showerhead. While walk-in tubs have a door in front that provides a much lower threshold to step over than a standard tub. They also have a built-in seat, handrails and a slip resistant bottom. Some have therapeutic features like whirlpool water jets and/or bubble massage air jets.
Curb-less showers and walk-in-tubs run anywhere between $2,500 and $10,000 including installation.
Toilet: Most standard toilets are around 15 inches high and can be an issue as we age, especially for taller people with arthritis, back, hip or knee problems. If your mom has trouble getting on or off the toilet, a simple solution is to purchase a raised toilet seat that clamps to the toilet bowl, or purchase toilet safety rails that sit on each side of the seat for support. Alternatively, you can install a new ADA compliant "comfort height" toilet that is 16-to-19 inches high. It may also be worthwhile to have grab bars installed near the toilet for additional support.
Faucets: Consider replacing twist handles on the sink, bathtub or shower faucets with lever handle faucets or with a touch, motion or digital smart faucet. These are easier to operate, especially if your mom has hand arthritis or gripping problems. Also, note that it only takes 130-degree water to scald someone, so turn her hot water heater down to 120 degrees.
Doorway: If your mom needs a wider bathroom entrance to accommodate a walker or wheelchair, an inexpensive solution is to install swing clear offset hinges on the door. Offset hinges will expand the doorway an additional two inches.
Emergency assistance: As a safety precaution, you should also consider purchasing a voice-enabled medical alert system in her bathroom. This device would let her call for help by simple voice command, or by pushing a button or pulling a cord.
You can find all of these suggested products at medical supply stores, pharmacies, big-box stores, home improvement stores, hardware and plumbing supply stores, as well as online.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.