The bathroom can be one of the most dangerous rooms in your house due to the increased potential for falls caused by slippery conditions.
Ultimately, the dreaded grab bars may become a necessity. If you had planned for this need, your builder either installed them already or hopefully reinforced the walls at the tub, shower and toilet to accommodate them.
Be sure to hire a professional installer for grab bars. They need to be able to support the full body weight of an individual should they start to fall. The bars must be firmly installed into the framing if possible, but there are special anchors that make it possible to install them under other conditions. Beware of suction cup grab bars since they may provide a false sense of security. There is no guarantee that they will remain attached when you need them.
The entrance into a tub or a shower can become a trip hazard. So, in addition to grab bars, consideration should be made for easy access, such as low threshold showers or wet rooms that can eventually allow for easy transfer from a walker or a wheelchair. Some people may want to consider the pros and cons of a walk-in tub. A built-in or a portable seat can facilitate bathing and provide additional safety.
Bathtubs or showers need to have nonslip mats or strips. Showers should also have adjustable or hand-held showerheads. The hot water temperature should be set at a max of 120 degrees F to avoid scalds.
If your legs are not too short, you may want to consider a comfort-height toilet or a raised toilet seat. The taller seat allows for easier movement on and off the toilet. A grab bar can help provide additional leverage to compensate for weaker muscles.
Bathroom flooring should have a high coefficient of friction to minimize slipping. Many new tiles are now designed for wet surfaces. Of course, any rugs should be rubber-backed or secured with double-side tape or carpet mesh.
If your vanities are designed for wheelchair access, the pipes beneath the sinks should be insulated to avoid burns on legs. The sink, bathtub and shower faucets should be lever-style fixtures rather than knobs that are difficult to turn.
Check your lighting. It should be as bright as the fixtures allow without causing glare. Install long-lasting LED bulbs to reduce future replacement hazards using a ladder. You should have a night light or lighted switches to make navigation easier in the dark.
(Source: AARP HomeFit Guide at aarp.org/homefit.)
Ron Smith is a Maricopa resident and an aging-in-place advocate. He is also a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee and a member of the Maricopa Senior Coalition.
This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.