Danger Zone: Bathrooms and the Elderly

The rooms in our homes may vary, with some high-end homes having media rooms, exercise rooms, and even wine cellars. One room all our homes have, though, is a bathroom. It is constantly in use, and we don’t think much about it. However, the ubiquitous bathroom is the scene for a great many home injuries. It is no surprise, really, with the combination of hard, slippery surfaces, glass mirrors and doors, and multiple sources of running water. Unfortunately, many bathroom injuries happen to the elderly, and they are the most likely to suffer serious consequences as a result. Therefore, bathroom safety is vital to maintaining health and independence later in life.

The World Population is Aging

The number of elderly people in the world is steadily growing. By 2020, there will be more people age 65 and over than children under age five for the first time. And, that trend will continue. In 1950, about 5% of the population was age 65 or older. By 2050, that number will grow to approximately 16%. People are living longer, and a great many elderly are living alone. And one of the greatest dangers they face are injuries sustained in the bathroom.

Bathroom Injuries are Common

Bathroom safety is a major issue for the elderly. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 2.8 million older Americans are treated each year in emergency rooms for falls, and 80% of these falls occur in the bathroom. These injuries resulted in 800,000 hospitalizations and 27,000 deaths. And, for those who survived, many were never the same, losing some, or all of their mobility, and independence. Overall, the most common injuries involve bathing and slipping, though as people age there is a big increase in injuries near the toilet. So, if an elderly loved one lives with you or alone, help them stay vibrant and independent by making the bathroom a safer place.

Ways to Increase Bathroom Safety

Here are several things you can do to improve bathroom safety for the elderly.

Rubber Floor Mat and Shower Seat. We are standing on a shiny, wet surface. We are using slippery soap and shampoo, and probably closing our eyes to keep them from stinging. What could go wrong? A rubber mat with suction cups on the bottom helps prevent slipping, and a seat makes it easier to wash without losing balance.

Metal Grab Bars. Put handles along shower walls and by the toilet to help elderly people with balance issues, or difficulty standing up or walking alone. Be careful, though. Avoid the suction type. These devices are easy to install, but over time, the suction loosens, and they can come off the wall causing a fall. Only use the type that are bolted into the wall, and have them installed by a professional who can make sure they are properly anchored.

Non-Skid Floor Mats. These should be everywhere a person with wet feet may walk in the bathroom. From the bathtub or shower to the vanity, for example. Also, try not to have too many different mats. The more small mats you have, the more likely it is that someone will trip on the edges. Consider long runners to provide a continuous walking surface from the shower to the sink.

Walk-in Bathtub. This is a more expensive proposition than the other items, however, if your loved one likes to soak in a tub, or gets therapeutic benefits from the Jacuzzi jets, it can be a valuable option in the bathroom.

Remove Bathroom Door Lock. If an injury occurs in the bathroom, you want to be able to get in as quickly as possible. Even with a basic spring-operated push-to-lock doorknob lock, you need to insert something like a hairpin to trip the lock, and that can take precious time when you are trying to help someone who is hurt.

Install a Combination Lock on the Front Door. This one is not particular to the bathroom. However, should something happen to your loved one, or should you suspect something is wrong, you want first responders to be able to quickly enter the home without having to break in the door. If your elderly loved one has a medical alert system, you can give the combination of the lock to the call center so they can share that information with first responders. Or, you can provide it yourself, if you find that you need to call 911 to send people to the home. A good local locksmith near you can help you choose the best lock for your needs and properly install it.

While this is not an exhaustive list, we hope it will get the conversation started and help you keep the people you love safe, healthy, and independent as long as possible!