When people describe risky activities, showering, bathing, or simply using the bathroom are not often at the top of the list. However, bathing can be one of the riskier daily activities as the bathroom can be the most dangerous room in the house.
For older adults or individuals with limited mobility, the bathroom can be a tricky place to maneuver. Bathrooms are often small with limited space. They may have narrow doorways that make them difficult to access and use with a mobility aid. Water can also make bathroom surfaces quite slippery. This increases the risk for falling. However, simply making a few changes can minimize most risks and injuries.
Below are some general tips for bathroom safety. Bathroom safety aids and equipment can help increase the safe function and use of the bathroom, shower, or tub by the person(s) in your care.
General bathroom safety tips
Here are some tips and advice for caregivers on how to make the bathroom safe for older adults.
- Towel bars, soap dishes, or toilet paper holders should not be used to hold onto or support weight. These bathroom fixtures are usually not installed into the studs of the wall. They could loosen or break resulting in a serious fall. Even towel bars that may seem to be secured into the wall should not be used for support as the bar that is used to hold the towel may break. There are plenty of bathroom aids and safety equipment on the market that can replace ordinary bathroom fixtures to make the bathroom safer.
- Shower doors should not be used to support an individual’s weight or to hold onto as the shower doors can slip off of the shower track.
- Install grab bars into the bathtub or shower walls. Grab bars should be installed into the studs of the wall and can be purchased from your local health care or home care store. It is important to have an assessment completed to determine the most functional location and position for the safety grab bars for the care recipient.
- If using a clamp-on tub rail, it’s important to know the construction of the bathtub (for example acrylic, fiberglass, ceramic, etc.) and check the manufacturer’s recommendations for the safe use of the tub rail and any recommended precautions.
- Ensure that the person in your care does not rush as rushing can lead to falls. This is especially true in the bathroom where there are slippery surfaces.
- Ensure that the water temperature is below 120°F (49°C) or use a bathtub thermometer to check the water temperature to prevent burns from water that is too hot. If necessary, have the hot water tank temperature turned down by a service person.
- Ensure that there is a clear path into the bathroom. If the care recipient uses a walker and the bathroom is too small or narrow for safe use of the walker, then an alternative plan for mobility and/or accessibility will need to be developed. Consult with an occupational therapist or physiotherapist to determine the safest alternatives for bathroom accessibility and/or mobility.
Safe toileting practices
- If the care recipient has difficulty sitting down or standing up from the toilet they may benefit from an assistive toilet device. To raise the height of the toilet, a raised toilet seat or other assistive toilet device can be used. To provide leverage and support when sitting and standing, a toilet safety frame or safety grab bar can be installed into the studs of the wall beside the toilet.
- A commode used over the toilet or a raised toilet seat with arms can both raise the height of the toilet and provide something to hold onto while sitting or standing. Some commodes are designed so that the back bar can be removed to ensure that all four feet of the commode touch the floor. The commode usually comes with a splashguard to use with the toilet.
- When raising the height of the toilet, it is important for the individual’s feet to remain flat on the floor to ensure safe transfers.
- Ensure the path to the bathroom is well lit at night. If getting to the bathroom at night is difficult for the person in your care, consider the use of a commode or urinal at the bedside. This can help minimize falls. Urinals are available for both men and women and some designs are spill proof.
- If the individual is having difficulty reaching the toilet paper, move the toilet paper holder closer or use a portable toilet paper holder.
Safe bathing practices
- If assistance or supervision is required for showering, ensure that someone is present when the person is showering.
- If the individual has difficulty standing to shower or tires easily while standing to shower, use a bath tub seat in the shower or bathtub. This bathroom assistive device provides a seat while bathing and minimizes the risk of falling.
- If the individual also has difficulty stepping in and out of the bathtub then a bathtub transfer bench can be used. This will allow the individual to sit and swing their legs into or out of the bathtub. It also provides a seat while bathing.
- Avoid the use of kitchen chairs, stools, folding chairs, or other items that are not designed for the bathtub as they may lead to a fall. Bathroom assistive devices for showering and bathing are specifically designed with suction cups and/or rubber feet making them safe to use in the shower or bathtub.
- Ensure that all of the items required for showering or bathing are located in a shower caddy or are easy to reach in order to minimize movement in the shower or bathtub. Use liquid pump soap or body wash to minimize dropping the soap. Lower the hooks in the bathroom as needed so that the person in your care can still reach their belongings and keep commonly used items on the bathroom counter.
- Install and use a hand held shower head to minimize movement of the individual in the shower. This will also make assisting with bathing easier for the caregiver.
- Ensure the shower stall or bathtub has a non-slip surface or use a rubber safety mat with a suction cup backing. Check the non-slip mat prior to each use to ensure that the mat is secure. If the suction cups on the mat are no longer holding, use of the mat should be discontinued and the mat should be replaced.
- Remove any scatter mats in the bathroom to minimize tripping.
Bathroom sink access
- If the person in your care needs to sit while using the sink, consider adapting the sink and counter to accommodate them. Other options include installing a pedestal sink or removing the cupboard doors to allow the care recipient to get closer to the sink.