The US Census Bureau has predicted that by 2030 the number of adults over age 65 will outnumber the number of children for the first time in America’s history. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control predicts that seven of those older adults will die from falls every hour by 2030. The latter statistic is based upon an alarming 30 percent increase in deaths of older adults from falls from 2007 to 2016. In fact, falls are currently the leading cause of death in older Americans.
Most of these falls, however, are preventable. Experts recommend taking a variety of measures to help reduce the number of injuries and fatalities from falls, including getting regular eye exams and up-to-date prescription glasses, tossing out trip-inducing throw rugs, and swapping out high heels and slick-bottomed shoes for sturdy sneakers. But because most falls occur in the bathroom from bathing, slipping, and using the toilet, making three simple improvements to your home’s bathrooms could prevent you or someone you love from contributing to these terrible statistics.
Older adults are most susceptible to falls while bathing because most tubs require stepping high over a side wall to an often-slippery wet surface. Arthritis, lost muscle mass, and bone frailty can make this simple activity — which younger folks take for granted — a dreaded and deadly task for our elders. And once our loved ones are safely within the walls of the bathtub, they face extra slipping risks sitting and staying seated in shaky or unsecured in-tub shower chairs and reaching for shower heads, soaps, and shampoos.
Remedies and precautions for preventing bathing-related falls range from simple to significant, and your choice will be largely based upon your or your loved one’s current needs and perhaps your budget. However, considering the statistics, investments in bath-safety features could prove to be priceless.
To ensure a high level of bathroom safety for seniors, a walk-in tub is an excellent addition. Walk-in tubs stand about waist-high, but offer a wide swinging door with a very low threshold to eliminate the need to step over any dangerous obstacles. Thanks to a floor of skid-resistant material and multiple grab bars, the chances of falls while entering the tub are greatly decreased. The bather then sits on a high, built-in, slip-resistant seat to enjoy the bathing experience from a seated position. Because the bath controls and removable shower heads are within arm’s length, the risk of falls from reaching are reduced.
If a walk-in tub is not an option for you or your loved one, you could install bolt-in grab bars outside and inside the bath to make entering and exiting a little easier, and add a tub-length non-slip mat to the bottom of the tub to ensure a safe landing. Find a sturdy shower chair or bench with a slip-resistant seat that fits snugly in your tub, and invest in shelves for toiletries and a shower head attachment that are well within reach.
Slip-proof your bathroom
As bathing is not the only bathroom activity for seniors, be sure that you take into account other slippery surfaces, including the bathroom floor itself. Most bathrooms aren’t carpeted for practical reasons, so adding a large, low-profile skid-proof rug will add traction without creating a tripping hazard.
Installing extra bolt-in grab bars around the bathroom — wherever you or your loved one will need assistance in standing, sitting, or maneuvering — will also help with bathroom mobility. And making sure that necessities such as towels, extra toilet paper, and toiletries are on low, open shelves or otherwise within reach will help prevent accidents from overreaching.
Getting up and down to use a standard-height toilet can be an excruciating exercise for someone with limited mobility. While over-the-toilet, removable chairs can be an option for a household with non-seniors who want to keep their standard toilet, the best bet for seniors is “comfort height” potty that’s specially designed to make “going” easier for our elders. These chair-level toilets make it easier for seniors to sit down on and get up, and it doesn’t take up any more space than a normal version.