More than one in three adults over the age of 65 fall each year, according to the National Institute on Aging, with 80 percent of these falls occurring in the bathroom. Here are some ways you can help make your bathroom safer and reduce your risk of falling.
Believe it or not, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in your house.
This may be hard to imagine for those of us who immediately think of the kitchen when considering potential safety hazards within the home. After all, there are things to spill, sharp knives to handle, and hot stoves to contend with. But, according to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 235,000 people visit emergency rooms each year due to injuries suffered while in the bathroom — and the severity of those injuries increases with age.
For those aging in place, this spells out a serious need to make our bathrooms as safe as possible. Part of fall-proofing our homes should mean fall-proofing our bathrooms.
“The shower can be a dangerous place in particular because its wet, our vision is often obscured by water, we might be frequently closing our eyes, and there’s not much to grab onto. So when a fall occurs, it can happen very quickly. All of a sudden, we’re disoriented and on a slippery shower floor,” said Richard Acree, certified aging in place specialist and owner of the consulting firm ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Inspections Nationwide.
This exact scenario recently happened to Acree’s neighbor, an otherwise healthy 84-year-old who fell in his shower, suffering a compound fracture in his arm while also hitting his head. These are serious injuries, but with deadly falls on the rise, it could have been a lot worse. And it can happen to any of us.
Luckily, there are a number of things we can do to make our bathrooms safer.
Chief among them is to install grab bars where needed. This falls into the category of what Acree calls “low-hanging fruit” among safety precautions for those aging in place — or, in other words, a relatively cheap and easy fix that can go a long way in increasing safety in the home. Most experts recommend them both inside and outside of the shower as well as by the toilet, but are quick to add that grab bars aren’t just for the bathrooms and can be used anywhere you feel unsteady.
But there are other steps, both big and small, that we can take to not only make us feel safer in our bathrooms but also to make our lives easier as we age.
Installing lever faucet handles on the sink is another example of “low-hanging fruit” that can go a long way toward making things easier for us in the long run, as can clearly marking the hot and cold settings. Faucets should be easy to turn on and off, according to Acree.
Making sure lighting is adequate, strategically placing non-slip mats or rugs in areas to prevent wet flooring, and keeping toiletries such as shampoo and soap within reach are all easy things you can do that can make a big difference.
Switching to a raised toilet seat is another big one. Most toilet seats, especially those built in older homes, are often low and close to the ground. But raising the toilet seat while also implementing safety bars can help reduce the amount of squatting, which can become difficult for older adults.
As far as that pesky shower is concerned, in addition to installing grab bars, you might want to look at a walk-in shower with a hinged door to eliminate or reduce the height of the curb, which often acts as a barrier and poses a fall risk for older adults. Or, alternatively, there are ramps that can be installed to help eliminate some of the problems that a shower curb presents.
A sturdy shower bench or chair is also a great way to increase your security while maintaining good hygiene. To complement this, investing in an easy-to-use handheld showerhead can help you shower while sitting down, which can be safer and help reduce the risk of falling.