According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), 74 percent of remodelers surveyed in a recent study reported higher numbers of universal design home modifications—a significant increase from the 60 percent reported just over three years ago. Many homeowners, seniors in particular, are seeking remodeling improvements so they can age-in-place.
What’s at the top of the list for most requested home modification? Not surprisingly, bathroom upgrades are number one. 78% of homeowners want grab bars added to their showers as part of an upgrade to an existing home. 71% requested that higher toilets installed, while 60% desired an upgrade to curbless showers. When making the decision to age-in-place, many seniors and people who are living with disabilities focus on remodeling and renovating their bathrooms so that they can have safe and accessibly functional facilities in this important personal space of the home.
Many studies suggest that, in general, bathrooms pose the most threats to personal safety in the home. According to the National Safety Council, nearly 200,000 people are injured annually in their bathrooms, with the most common accidents occurring from slips, falls, and scalding with hot water. In fact, bathroom deaths exceed those due to handgun accidents, ladder and scaffolding falls, and ignition of clothing. A well-designed or renovated bathroom can make it safer for you or a loved one to get around. With years of statistics reporting long incident lists of bathroom accidents, it is no surprise that so many people emphasize upgrading these areas to remain living comfortably, safely, and independently.
Slips and falls are the most frequent types of bathtub accidents. This can be even more of a danger and problem for seniors who have decreased vision, balance, or flexibility. Bathub accidents usually occur while entering and leaving the tub, or while changing between sitting and standing positions. Here are a few bathroom modifications that can greatly increase home safety and decrease the incidents of accidents and injuries:
- All doors should be 32 inches with the most commonly used exterior doors at 36 inches to allow wheelchair access and prevent busted knuckles when using a walker or even just a laundry basket.
- Replace standard toilets with a comfort-height version. These types of toilets are several inches higher and are easier to use than your standard toilet.
- As an alternative to the higher toilets, you may also want to consider a product such as the Lift Seat 300 Independence. This is also beneficial for caregivers and spouses who may not be strong enough or have sufficient training to safely support someone who needs some assistance. The LiftSeat virtually eliminates the risk of toilet-related assistance injuries by delivering the support required during the sit-to-stand (STS) motion path. This support results in reliable home assistance and offers family members the peace of mind that comes from knowing your loved one is being helped by a safe, dignified toileting solution.
- Install grab bars in the shower, tub, and toilet areas. Concerned about style? Grab bars and hand grips are available in the same fashion finishes as faucets and other bath accessories.
- Swap out those knob-style faucets with lever-handled faucets. The lever-handles are much easier to grip by those people who are living with arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, or even diminished strength.
- Remove wall-mounted shower heads and in its place add the shower heads with slide bars.
- Get rid of any pre-code shower valves and replace them with non-scald versions. Scalding is one of the most serious bath injuries but these injuries can be avoided by using pressure and temperature-balanced shower valves.
- Add benches to shower stalls. This is especially helpful for people who need to sit while showering and works best with slide bar shower heads.
- Increase bathroom lighting and color contrasts. This can help to offset those people who have declining vision.
- Inspect those vent fans. Be sure they are working properly so you can avoid mold growth. Vent fans that will turn on and off automatically when they sense moisture in the room are ideal.
- Since slips and falls are a common household injury, replace that slick tiled floor with textured tiles, which provide more traction. Too costly? Try a floor treatment. They can often improve the traction on those smooth surfaces. Rugs can also help you avoid slips and falls.
- Do you have any steps in front of your tub? Commonly found in master bathrooms, these steps are high-risk slip hazards.
A Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) can help you design and remodel your bathroom to be even safer—as well as more accessible and beautiful than ever before. A CAPS specialist will conduct a thorough evaluation of your current lifestyle and home to identify what can make your home safer and more accessible.
Harry Burns, a Certified Aging-in-Place specialist, is founder of Home Evolutions LLC (http://www.homeevolutions.com/) which provides customized, high-quality building and remodeling services for people with disabilities and older adults wishing to maintain their independence. His company specializes in assessment, modification, design/build and maintenance services.
Read more: Aging in Place with a Safer Bathroom