Safer Bathing Options for Seniors

by Bruce Montgomery Ph.D. April 03, 2017

Safer Bathing Options for Seniors

 

Mobility issues can strike any one at any time. Chronic problems such as arthritis and joint pain can challenge our backs and legs to bend. Acute problems such as broken bones or surgery can also limit our mobility.

Getting in and out of a sunken slippery tub can be challenging and dangerous. Remember that one out of three seniors fall each year. Many of those falls occur in the bathroom.

Here are some bathing options that you might consider depending on your physical condition and your finances.

Modify your bathroom

  • Walk-in tubs – Buying and installing a quality walk-in tub can cost $5,000 or more. It is however a wonderful bathing device if you can afford it. The advantages of a walk-in tub is the low wall to step over and a comfortable chair-height seat. Make sure the tub has ADA approved handles. If not, then install grab bars (see below). The disadvantage is that the bather must close the door and allow the tub to fill while sitting bare and perhaps getting chilled. The bather also must wait for the tub to drain completely before being able to open the door and get out of the tub.
  • Shorter sides– You can lower the height of the existing bathtub wall by having it cut down by a professional. Even a few inches lower can help improve the bather’s safety as he or she gets in and out of the tub. However, the lower side means a lower depth and less water for a bath.
  • Tub cut out – You can also hire a professional to remove a section of the tub wall to lower the high step required to get in and out of a tub. Your step ends up from a low of four inches to a high of ten inches. The cut edges are either capped or filled. Basically, you are converting your tub to a shower.
  • Showers – Showers can get you as clean or cleaner than a bath. You can convert a bathroom to a curb-less shower that eliminates stepping over a curb which is of course ideal for wheelchairs. For a curbed shower, minimum curb height is two inches although six or seven inches is more common. Equipping a shower with properly installed grab bars and a sturdy shower seat are essential to safety in the shower. Also, purchase a handheld shower head that will allow you to move the shower spray to all parts of your body.
  • Non-slip flooring – We have discussed flooring options in houses and recommend a non-slip material for the tub and shower floors and for the bathroom. I would even consider a low pile carpet such as carpet squares. If you go with carpet, be sure that you have a good ceiling fan that you leave on during and after showering to dry the carpet as much as possible to prevent mildew. Another suggestion is to dry your body as much as possible inside the shower or tub the eliminate dripping water onto the floor. This is a good idea every time that you bathe.
  • Grab bars – Install grab bars in all bathrooms. They will help you steady yourself as you enter and exit the bath and shower. Grab bars are an essential bathroom safety component. Remember to add reinforcement to the walls if possible to improve installation security.

Get mobility devices

  • Transfer benches – If you have trouble getting in and out of the bathtub, consider buying a transfer bench with a sliding seat that allows you to sit outside the tub and then slide inside the tub. Safety in Place also offers bath lifts with a remote control that moves a seat on a chair up and down in the tub.
  • Transport chair – An aluminum transport chair is like a wheel chair that is designed for getting wet in a curb-less shower.

Get home care

Ultimately, if your mobility is such that you are unable to lift one or both legs or have upper body or back mobility issues, then you might want to consider contracting with a local homecare service. We provide links to homecare services in our Get Informed section. You will still want to consider modifying your bathroom and purchasing mobility devices as part of your care.

Regardless of your mobility and health circumstances, we suggest keeping your bathroom door unlocked. It is prudent to allow for quick access to the bathroom in case of an emergency.

Summary

Discuss your needs with your health care provider or an occupational therapist to determine the best way to be safe in the bathroom. Professionals can recommend short term solutions for temporary mobility issues and other solutions for mobility issues that may affect you for a longer period.

We welcome ideas and suggestions that you have used to improve your bathing safety.

 




Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.
Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.

Author

Dr. Bruce Montgomery is a licensed building contractor in Michigan and Florida. He is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist as designated by the National Association of Home Builders. He has also achieved an Executive Certificate in Home Modification from the University of Southern California. He has a wide ranging educational background, including a Master of Science degree in Entomology, with a Master of Science degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in educational administration.