When people mention risky activities, showering, bathing, or simply using the bathroom are not often at the top of the list.
For older adults, or individuals with limited mobility, the bathroom can be a tricky place to maneuver.
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 smaller with limited space to turn, and have narrow doorways that make it difficult to access the bathroom with a mobility aid.
When showering, the water can also make bathroom surfaces quite slippery, increasing the risk for falling. However, simply making a few bathroom safety changes can minimize most risks and injuries.
Below are some general tips for bathroom safety, plus bathroom safety aids and equipment to help increase the safe function and use of the bathroom, the shower, or the 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 seniors.
- 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 and could come loose when pulled, 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 be utilized to 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 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 to be installed 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 the older adult or senior in your care does not rush when showering as rushing can lead to falls, especially in the bathroom where there are slippery surfaces.
- Ensure 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 a clear path in the bathroom. If the care recipient uses a walker and the bathroom is too small or narrow for safe use of the walker, than an alternative plan for mobility and or accessibility will need to be developed. Consult with an occupational therapist or physiotherapist to determine the best method 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 installed into the studs of the wall beside the toilet can be used.
- A commode used over the toilet or a raised toilet seat with arms can raise both the height of the toilet and provide something to hold to sit or stand. If using a commode over the toilet, some are designed so the back bar can be removed to ensure all four feet of the commode touches the floor. The commode usually comes with a splashguard to use for the toilet.
- When raising the height of the toilet ensure the individual’s feet still touch the floor for 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 a urinal at the bedside that can help minimize falls. Urinals are available for 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 roll holder.
Safe bathing practices
- If assistance or supervision is required for showering, ensure someone is present when they are bathing.
- If the individual has difficulty standing to shower, or tires 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 for 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 the bathtub, and also provides a seat while bathing.
- Avoid the use of kitchen chairs, stools, folding chairs or other items 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 all items for showering are located in a shower caddy or are easy to reach to minimize movement in the shower or bathtub. Use liquid pump soap or body wash to minimize dropping the soap. Lower bathroom hooks used to hold items in the bathroom as needed, and keep commonly used items on the bathroom counter.
- Install and use a hand held shower to minimize movement of the individual in the shower and to increase ease of assisting for the caregiver.
- Ensure the shower stall, or bathtub, has a non-slip surface or use a rubber safety mat with suction cup backing.
- Remove any scatter mats in the bathroom to minimize tripping.
Bathroom sink access
- If the elderly person in your care needs to sit to access 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.
For more information on bathroom safety for seniors see our other Elizz articles on Safe Stylish Washrooms and how to prevent falls with our Seniors Home Safety Checklist.
At Elizz, we provide caregiver support for you and home care services for those who depend on you. Elizz is a Canadian company powered by Saint Elizabeth, a national not-for-profit health care organization that has been caring for Canadians since 1908.