A Few Simple Tips To Fall-Proof Your Bathroom

It’s no secret that the majority of all house-related falls happen in the bathroom. And, if you’re a senior, the likelihood of that room being the troublemaker rises to nearly 80%. We know that most slip and falls take place in and around the shower and tub areas. But the toilet is also a danger area, coming in a close second.

We think these statistics are inexcusable. Careful planning, smart design, and execution can minimize bathroom safety issues and lead to a substantial reduction in injuries. Moreover, most safety fixes are inexpensive and can be implemented with little or no disruption to your daily life. We want to do our part to make this a reality. Today, we are looking at showers and tubs and some simple measures that will make them safer places for seniors. In a later post, we’ll cover safety tips for the rest of the bathroom.

So, what do we think are the two most important steps you can take to upgrade tub and shower safety? It’s not even close: Grab bars and non-slip surfaces.

GRAB BARS

Let’s tackle grab bars first: Many experts say that installing grab bars is the most important safety improvement you should consider. Here’s why.

Grab bars serve two essential functions. First, they’re used as a balance and support tool when getting in and out of the bath or shower. But they also act as a lifeline to grab onto when that precious balance is lost, and it’s only a grab bar that stands between you and an injury-producing fall.

Location! location! location!  Where you place your grab bars makes a big difference. The key is a location where users don’t have to reach too far up or down.  In the shower, that usually means placing horizontal bars on a side wall about 34-36 inches above the floor. Vertical grab bars should be installed by the entrance close to the shower door jamb and also near the faucet handles.

In the bathtub, place one vertical entrance bar on the wall opposite the faucet and locate a second vertical bar on the faucet wall near the handles. A long horizontal bar( at least 30-32 inches) should be placed on the side wall. An angled grab bar can also be installed on the side wall to accommodate the different size range of users better. These are also particularly helpful to chair and bench users who transition between sitting and standing.

To better assess and plan grab bar locations, many experts recommend having each user enter the tub or shower to determine what works as a comfortable and easy reach distance.

Anchoring! anchoring! anchoring!  As important as location, it is also essential that grab bars be securely fastened to the wall. Make sure your grab bars are support rated for a person weighing at least 250 lbs. That’s a minimum. Best practices dictate attachment to a wall stud although some newer grab bar systems use different anchoring systems that may dispense with this requirement. What about suction attachments? They exist, but keep in mind the attachment will never be as secure as a permanently anchored bar. We do not recommend them AT ALL but have considered that they may be of use when traveling for single use applications.

Standard grab bars generally come in a 1 1/4 inch diameter size and should be installed close to the wall allowing no more than 1 ½ gap.

If you’re concerned about aesthetics, new grab bars designs make it simple to avoid an industrial or institutional look. Look for styles that blend form with function and can double as toilet, soap and towel holders or other applications.

NON-SLIP FLOORING

Our focus here is on both the tub and shower floor as well as the areas just outside these enclosures.  There’s a very easy and inexpensive cure: Place one non-slip rubber mat on the floor of the shower and tub and another on the floor when stepping out of the shower and bath. That’s it! Placing mats in both locations substantially reduces the likelihood of slipping on wet tiles, and the grippy surface also imparts a feeling of stability, which serves to improve balance. For seniors with poor depth perception, there’s an added bonus: These folks can have difficulty judging the location of bathtub surfaces; placing a mat on the floor provides a visual cue that helps eliminate this problem.

Don’t like the rubber mat idea, here’s an alternative.  Inexpensive non-slip adhesive strips can serve the same non-slip function, helping to provide a stable footing while also easing the depth perception problem.

Here are a few other bath and shower tips for your consideration:
A shower chair is a great way to provide stability and a resting place for seniors with balance or standing issues. Used in conjunction with a hand-held shower, it allows individuals to shower while in a safer seated position.

Having difficulty getting in and out of your tub? A bath transfer bench can be a real help. Instead of stepping in/out of the tub, the user sits on the bench and then slides over into the tub. Reversing the slide gets you back out.

One final suggestion: consider the installation of a bathtub insert, a curbless shower or walk-in bath; three bathroom upgrades we have discussed at length in earlier blog posts.

Of course, the tub and shower areas are not the whole safety story. In a future post, we will turn our attention to toilet issues as well as lighting, flooring, and accessibility ideas. We’ll be offering a host of common-sense solutions to enhance bathroom safety.  Meanwhile, if you have any questions or comments, please give us a call at 604-259-9774.

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