A bathroom is a dangerous place for anyone due to slippery conditions and hard surfaces, but this risk is even greater for seniors. Whether upgrading your shower or helping aging parents be safer while bathing, it's essential to take proactive steps to maximize senior shower safety.
Older adults are more vulnerable to slips, trips, and falls in the shower area due to age-related changes, reduced mobility, and vision impairments. Let's take a look at elements of a safer shower for seniors.
Better design is one of the most effective ways to make showers safer for seniors. While planning for bathroom renovations or new construction, consider these options to optimize your space.
The most accessible, though likely the most expensive option, is a roll-in shower, a type of walk-in shower that eliminates the need to step over a lip to enter and exit the bathing area. Roll-in showers provide a flat and level entry that allows someone using a wheelchair or walker to enter without difficulty.
The shower floor slopes gently toward the drain to prevent water from getting on the bathroom floor outside the shower. Special drains, such as linear or trench drains, facilitate water management.
Low Threshold Walk-In Shower
The next shower design, which is less accessible, but can work for some situations, is a low threshold walk-in shower. It has a small step to get in and out of the bathing area and is a very common design for a traditional shower stall.
This type of shower requires a smaller step than a bathtub but does not facilitate the same level of wheelchair accessibility as a roll-in shower.
A tub with a modified design is another way to improve bathing safety for senior showers. A tub cut-out removes part of the bathtub wall, reducing the step height to access the shower.
While a step is still required, it is considerably lower than the full tub wall height. This type of modification, where part of the tub wall is literally cut out, can usually be completed in a few hours.
When planning a safe and accessible shower for seniors, it is crucial to ensure the flooring is slip-resistant. Many non-slip materials are available for shower floors, including textured finishes and tiles, non-skid paint, and various anti-slip strips. Only some methods will work for some shower designs or types of shower floors and should be chosen carefully based on individual needs.
Additionally, non-slip shower mats are another alternative for making shower flooring safer. They often have suction cups that stick to the shower floor, providing a slip-resistant surface.
Of course, regular cleaning to keep the shower floor or mat free from product residue, soap scum, dirt, and grime is also essential to reduce slip hazards.
When it comes to senior safety in the shower, lighting is an often overlooked factor. If there is poor lighting above the shower, replacing low-light bulbs with brighter ones can significantly improve visibility and safety as long as the bulbs do not create excessive glare.
If there is no light fixture directly above the shower, consider installing a remote-controlled LED light.
Adequate general bathroom lighting is also important to help illuminate the shower area and maximize bath safety. Even replacing a darker-color or opaque shower curtain with a clear one allows more light in the bathing area from other fixtures in the bathroom.
Shower Heads and Controls
When designing an accessible shower, it's critically important to consider the placement of the shower head and controls so that they're comfortable and easy to reach if someone is sitting while showering. Usually, the best way to achieve this is by installing an adjustable shower head on a sliding bar.
Hand-Held Shower Head
Hand-held shower heads are an excellent way to improve accessibility and safe bathing. Reducing the need to move around in the shower gives fewer opportunities for slips and falls.
A hand-held shower head provides the flexibility to hold or mount the shower wand depending on preference or needs. A longer, flexible hose improves adjustability and reduces unnecessary stretching and movement while bathing.
Slide Bar Shower Head
A shower head on a slide bar provides flexibility in height adjustment, and some models feature multiple shower heads for a more luxurious bathing experience. Additionally, many slide bars function discreetly as grab bars for added stability.
Shower Head Options
Ergonomically designed handles often come with an on/off switch, making it easier to operate shower functions than traditional wall-mounted controls. These are also useful for those with arthritis who find it difficult to twist or grip wall controls.
Additionally, some hand-held shower heads feature gentler spray head patterns that help those with sensitive skin adjust water pressure according to their needs.
Shower Control Safety Tips
Hot and cold markings on shower controls must also be clear and visible to avoid any confusion or accidental burns from scalding water. Additionally, reducing the thermostat on water heaters can help reduce the risk of injury or accidents due to high water temperatures.
Grab Bars and Safety Handles
Grab bars, also known as shower handles or safety rails, are the first bathroom safety features most people consider. When installed correctly and positioned in suitable locations, grab bars and shower safety handles provide stability and support for anyone of any age but are essential for seniors at higher risk of falls while bathing.
Installing a grab bar near the entrance of a shower is an important safety measure for seniors. Having a sturdy bar to hold onto while entering and exiting the shower can help prevent falls by providing more stability and support. Other locations, such as the back wall of the shower, is a common place where a grab rail is handy.
Grab bars are easy to install, inexpensive, and provide peace of mind for senior bathroom safety. They are widely available and come in various sizes, styles, and finishes to fit every need and design style in the shower and throughout the bathroom.
For seniors with difficulty standing or balancing, a shower chair or a tub transfer bench can provide much-needed support and improve overall safety. Shower seats come in various styles and sizes and are chosen based on the user's specific needs.
Shower seats can be permanently mounted to the shower wall, providing a more secure bathing seat. There are fold-down models available that can be flipped up to create additional space when not in use. Here’s an example of a stylish teak wood shower bench.
Freestanding shower seats can be placed in the shower or bathtub when needed and later removed when not in use. Depending on needs and preference, there are many types of chairs with extra features like armrests, backrests, padded seats, and swivel functions.
There's nothing worse than getting in the shower and realizing you've forgotten one or more bathing items. But having too many things in the shower can be a recipe for an accident.
Remove any unnecessary items to reduce clutter in an already limited shower space. Ensure all essential items, such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, and bathing accessories, are within easy reach.
This may seem obvious, but if seniors are seated to shower, there are fewer locations they can easily reach without having to reach up or bend over too far. A shower caddy that hangs from a traditional shower head would be inaccessible to someone seated in a shower chair.
Shelves niched into the shower wall that are within reach could be added during a remodel. But other accessories such as suction cup bottle holders, hooks, and shelves could provide storage for shower supplies if no shelf is present or it's out of reach.
Some grab bars have dual purposes, such as a soap dish, shelf, or towel holder. When installing safety handles, it may be beneficial to consider options allowing easy access to these essential supplies.
Final Thoughts and Next Steps for Senior Shower Safety
Even basic daily tasks can become more challenging as we age, including taking a shower. Since the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the home with slippery surfaces, hard materials, soap, and water, it's a recipe for serious injury.
Whether you're a senior looking to improve your shower safety or a caregiver or relative helping a loved one, these design strategies, product ideas, and tips can help promote independence and prevent accidents.