The bathroom can be one of the most dangerous rooms in the house for seniors or those with limited mobility. According to the National Institute on Aging, one third of seniors—those aged 65 or older—fall each year, and 80% of those falls occur in the bathroom.

And it’s no wonder—when you think about the bathroom in your home, the many dangers become quickly apparent. Porcelain tile floors, while practical for frequent exposure to water, are slippery and hard. Bathrooms are often small enough that toilets, counters, and bathtubs are close enough together to become dangerous during a fall. For those with mobility issues, stepping into or out of the tub or bending to the toilet can be especially dangerous.

If you or a loved one is 65 or older or mobility impaired, this guide to bathroom safety is for you. We’ll go through some bathroom safety tips for seniors that can help keep the bathroom safe and relaxing and that can address some common complaints, such as seniors needing help getting out of the bathtub or shower areas. 

And the good news is that it is possible to make improvements to improve safety in the bathroom for elderly residents without breaking the bank! Not all options are prohibitively expensive, and online resources can help you locate available grants, loans, and nonprofits

The Toilet: How To Make it Safer

One of the more dangerous areas in the bathroom is the toilet. Bending to lower oneself onto a toilet can be difficult for seniors or those with mobility issues, as can standing up again. Think about the area near the toilet in your bathroom—is there anything to grab onto in case of a fall? Is the floor tiled, and could it be slippery with water from the shower?

A raised toilet seat can help address these concerns. The toilet can be replaced or the existing toilet can be modified, but either way, the end result will raise the toilet seat by a few inches. While these toilet seats often include rails to grab for stability, it may also be a good idea to attach additional grab bars on the walls in case of a fall. Make sure these grab bars are securely attached (a professional like The Tub Pros can help!)—it doesn’t do any good for you or your loved one to grab a bar only to have it tear free from the wall.

A raised toilet seat can also be useful for those who use wheelchairs. Depending on the size of the bathroom and the needs of the individual, a different style of toilet—such as one that takes up less floor space—might be a practical investment as well.

The Tub and Shower: How To Make Them Safer

The bathtub can be one of the most dangerous areas in the bathroom. Stepping over the edge of the tub can result in falls, especially if the floor is slippery or when the inside of the tub is wet. Falling inside the bathtub can also be extremely dangerous—the surface is hard and it’s possible to drown in only a little bit of water. And if a person falls, help getting out of bathtub or shower areas can be hard to come by if grab bars aren’t readily available.

So how can you improve safety in this part of the bathroom for elderly people or those with mobility impairment? That, like many other bathroom changes, will depend on the specific needs of the individual, but there are some general tips that can improve safety.

First—something has to be done if a big step over the edge of the bathtub is necessary. Some people may wish to replace the bathtub completely with a walk-in shower—or a shower that a wheelchair can roll into—but the costs of demolition and remodel can be prohibitive. There are plenty of other good options, including the Safeway Step or Tub Door.

The Safeway Step significantly lowers the height of the step a person has to take to get into the bathtub. With this modification, a section of the existing tub is cut away to reduce the height of the step required to get into the tub. The finish is professional (visit our Accessibility Services page to see our great results) and the Safeway Step can be installed in two to four hours on fiberglass, acrylic, cast iron, or steel bathtubs. This modification is less expensive than removing an existing tub, but still improves safety in the bathroom. Make sure the tub has a textured bottom or non-slip strips so that the interior is safer.

For those who still want the functionality of the bathtub, the Tub Door is another good option. Like the Safeway Step, with this modification, a section is cut away from the bathtub to lower the step required to get in, but the step is fitted with a watertight door that allows the tub to fill completely.

There are other steps to take in and around this area. Install fixtures that can provide help getting out of bathtub or shower areas—this might include additional grab bars, which can be a lifesaver if someone slips or can prevent falls in the first place by offering a study surface to lean on while getting in or out.

Consider installing bathtub seats for the elderly—these sturdy, slip-resistant shower chairs can be freestanding, with suction cups for stability and adjustable legs, or can be installed in the shower. Either way, they can prevent over-exertion that might result in falls, or can help those who might be unsteady shower without help. A bathing chair for disabled people serves a similar purpose but may have additional adjustable features.

And remember—if you’re providing bathtub seats for the elderly or disabled people who are using the bathroom, think again about your storage situation. If all the shampoo and soap that you or your loved one needs is kept above eye level at the opposite end of the shower, the shower seat will be of limited use. Rethink where you keep toiletries to make them easily accessible.

Make sure you consider your own needs or those of your loved one when choosing between the available options. In short: no matter your budget, in a bathroom for elderly or disabled people, it’s a good idea to provide multiple grab bars. Seriously consider lowering the side of the tub, which can provide help getting out of bathtub areas that can be very hazardous. Bathtub seats for the elderly or a bathing chair for the disabled are also important parts of keeping the tub and shower safe.

The Sink  

The sink can be another hazard. For wheelchair users, a sink without space underneath it can be hard to use, or a standard sink can be too high. Reaching to an upper cabinet might put someone in danger of a fall as well. People with trouble bending might find a standard sink hard to use—a taller sink without important items stored underneath might be easier in this situation.

A sink update might make your bathroom safer. Even if that’s not possible for your budget or space, think about where you’re storing important objects and make them as accessible as possible—for someone who has difficulty bending over, you might not want to keep extra toilet paper at the back of a lower cabinet.

A Last Look Around

You’ve addressed the step into the bathtub and added grab bars, a textured floor, and possibly a shower chair or bench to provide help getting out of bathtub and shower areas. You’ve considered whether or not you need a raised toilet seat or if your sink needs a makeover.

Take a last look around the bathroom. Are any mats or rugs on the floor more tripping hazards than they are helpful for soaking up water? Is there a safer, non-slip rug you could use? What about the lighting—is the bathroom well-lit for nighttime trips? Are the lights so bright that the glare becomes a hazard?

You’ve looked at your storage in the shower—what about outside the shower? Are cabinets above or below the sink easy to reach? What about the temperature of your hot water heater—could the water get so hot that it could scald someone in the shower? You might want to keep an emergency alert button in the bathroom, if you use them, or install a landline telephone—or even get in the habit of keeping a cell phone accessible in case something happens and help is required.

In Conclusion

At The Tub Pros, our accessibility services can help to make your bathroom a safer place for you and your loved ones. (Visit our Facebook page for more of our pictures and information on our accessibility options!) If you’re ready to get started on your senior bathroom makeover, or even if you’re still in the process of considering handicap bathroom fixtures, give us a call at 901-871-8827 for a free estimate on your project.