Baby Boomers are confident, independent and self-reliant. It comes as no surprise that as this large generation gets older, “aging in place” becomes more common. By “aging in place”, we mean choosing to live in one’s own home versus relocating to a nursing home throughout the golden years. To do so, however, requires having a safe, senior-friendly bathroom.
Most homeowners prefer to stay in their homes as long as possible. But, homes weren’t designed or built to age with us past a certain extent, until recently. Despite the fact that 80% of falls in the home happen in the bathroom, many homeowners resist even small changes that would make their home safer because they feel their bathroom will no longer be aesthetically pleasing. Or, they mistakenly believe such a project is not worth the time, effort and expense.
Our expert designers can create a bathroom that’s senior-friendly, while still beautiful. But, what makes an easy access bathroom? How can you make it easier for yourself, your parents or grandparents? In this post, we’ll highlight certain bathroom elements our beloved seniors need.
Curbless showers are desirable in any bathroom renovation for seniors. This type of shower offers visual appeal and easy access. You can roll a wheelchair in and out of the shower freely, without a 4 to 6 inch tall shower curb in the way.
But, curbless showers don’t work for every bathroom. Having the right slope for this type of shower is critical. Without enough slope, water runs all over the bathroom floor. This creates a regular mess and a major slipping hazard. At the same time, the slope of the shower floor must be gradual enough to avoid another dangerous slipping hazard. At TriFection, we believe you need at least 20 square feet of available shower floor space before considering a curbless shower remodel.
Creating the ideal slope for a curbless shower likely requires more cutting into your foundation relative to a regular shower remodel. For this reason, make sure your contractor has real experience on such projects and proceeds carefully. Otherwise, they could cause serious damage to your foundation and saddle you with very expensive repairs.
Getting in and out of the bathtub will be tricky for anyone with mobility problems. Walk-in tubs, or bathtubs with watertight doors, are also an option for those wanting to age in place.
A walk-in tub allows the bather to step through the door into the tub, rather than stepping over the side of the tub. One of the benefits of a walk-in tub is water depth. Because we have to step over the side of a regular tub, an average bathtub is only 13 or 14 inches deep. Walk-in tubs provide up to four feet of water depth.
Although walk-in tubs are far safer for seniors than regular tubs, they pose a long list of potential negatives. It’s important to do plenty of product research before you choose a walk-in tub. On some models, the watertight seal on the door degrades over time.
The luxury add-on features are actually necessities for most senior adults.
For example, the tubs take as long as 15 minutes to fill and drain. This leaves a significant amount of time for an elderly person to become chilled or even develop hypothermia. Thus, a heated seat seems to be a necessity for most.
There isn’t an opportunity to adjust the water before exposing the body to it. Also, because you must sit in the tub as it fills, your body can become acclimatized to dangerous temperatures. Therefore, a tub with scald-prevention seems more like a necessity, doesn’t it?
A well-conceived plan can eliminate the need for a walk-in tub, though. A curbless shower with a comfortable bench, handheld showering unit and body sprays often meet the needs of aging adults.
Bathroom Slip and Fall Prevention for a Senior Friendly Bathroom
Seniors face a much greater risk of slips and falls that could break bones or cause head trauma. Taking certain preventative measures can mitigate this risk.
One of the most popular measures is the grab bar. These bars are mounted in the shower wall so a senior can hold for stability. They’re fairly easy and inexpensive to install. The added safety provides peace of mind that’s well worth the cost. Additionally, modern grab bars are stylish, with a variety of nice finishes to match other bathroom fixtures.
A comfortable bench seat is also essential for an easy access bathroom. With a handheld showering unit often nearby, the user can nearly replicate the bathing experience without sitting in dirty water.
These simple additions help prevent injury and allow homeowners to age with grace.
Senior-Friendly Bathroom Renovation: Doorways and Stairs
A room is useless to those who can’t get in. So, accessibility is key for aging adults. Doorways should be at least 36 inches wide to allow for wheelchair access.
Some opt for lever-style handles, as opposed to knobs for easier opening.
If possible, hang the bathroom door to open out instead of opening in. This gives more room in the bathroom inside the bathroom, making it easier to enter and exit. Also, if someone falls against the door, the door won’t be blocked.
You should also convert any step-ups or small stairs in the home to ramps. At TriFection, we’re trained in building and installing ramps at the correct height and rise for our aging clients.
Bathroom Counter Height for Aging in Place
The countertop height should be custom, based on the height of the user. If the countertops are too low, the user will have to stoop and strain his or her back. However, if the countertops are too high, they won’t be comfortable either. Optimal bathroom counter height usually ranges between 30 and 36 inches.
Another option is to lower the sink height to accommodate wheelchairs. Even if this feature is not a necessity now, it may prove very helpful in the future.
The cabinet design should feature plenty of drawers to provide easy access to contents. There should also be knee space below the countertops so that users can get ready without standing up. Other options, such as open shelving or glass-front cabinets may be easier to use. Since TriFection custom builds all of our cabinets, we can accommodate virtually any client need.
We offer more information on replacing bathroom cabinets here!
Senior-Friendly Bathroom Lighting
When planning a bathroom remodel for aging, make sure to provide plenty of lighting throughout the bathroom. Since the bath and shower are known to be the most accident-prone areas, they should be very well lit. LED recessed can lights directly above represent the best option. At the vanity area, wall-mounted light fixtures and recessed can lights from above provide light from two directions, eliminating shadows in the mirror. They’ll also enhance the visibility of labels on medications and bathroom items.
If possible, install the light switches by each entrance to halls and rooms. Try to make sure light fixtures with bulbs have at least two installed. That way, if one goes out, a backup is always available. But, we recommend long-life LED fixtures whenever possible.
Certified Aging in Place Specialist in Houston
If you decide to make these types of modifications to your home, choose a certified Aging in Place contractor with significant experience. TriFection earned the official Aging in Place designation through the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
For more information about full Aging in Place remodels, or simply bathroom renovations that provide greater comfort and safety, call TriFection at 281-548-2436. You can also fill out a short form on our website to get your project started.