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Safer Senior Living – The Bath

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I promised in my last posting to talk more specifically about what can be made safe for seniors who wish to age in place – room by room.  I am going to start with the room in the home where most accidents happen, the bath.  The bathroom for most elders represents the perfect storm of a confined space with potentially slippery surfaces.  Nearly one-third of seniors over age 65 fall each year, and the majority of these falls happen in the bathroom.  With basic planning and potentially some retrofitting, however, the bath can be made more safe and accommodating to an older person’s limited mobility and range of motion.  Let’s start with surfaces.

There may already be a rug near the shower or bath area, but make certain it has a sticky, non-slip back to minimize falls when an elder enters or leaves the tub.  If your older loved one uses a floor mat in the tub area when showering, make sure that the suction cups still offer good sticking poser.  You may consider adhesive decals that stick to the porcelain tub surface with soft gripping rubber top surfaces.  In the shower area itself, consider having a bath bench or chair with non-slip feet if your elder has difficulty standing for protracted periods or is at all unsteady on their feet.  If your elder loved one is challenged by lifting their feet over the tub edge to step in for a shower, it may be time to refit their bath with a stall shower with a low or minimal curb in place of a tub/shower combination. 

Having a non-slip, moisture-absorbent surface near the tub is a safety assist, but any other loose rugs should be replaced or eliminated.  Look for uneven floor surfaces or thresholds and consider eliminating them, beveling surfaces or highlighting them with paint or tape.  Loose cords from radios or hair dryers should be removed from walkways, and other floor level clutter like magazine racks should also be eliminated.  

Just as in hallways, consider installing grip bars at strategic points in and around the tub or shower as well as either side of the commode.  For seniors with difficulty getting up from chairs, consider also a raised seat for the commode as well as grip bars that flank the sides of the seat like arms on a chair.  There even are hydraulic assistive devices that can be installed on the toilet seat with a lift that can help ease the senior into a seated position and then boost them slowly back up as they rise from sitting.

Lighting is as important in the bath area as it is in the rest of the house.  If the present circuits allow, it may be as easy as upgrading to a higher wattage bulb in all the fixtures.  In old houses, however, it may be safer to refit with new fixtures that can offer more lighting.  And also as with other parts of the house, have a night light that automatically goes on when ambient lighting fades.

Finally, make sure that everything that your elder may need with any frequency while in the bathroom is within easy reach.  Remove actual glassware or ceramics from the bath and replace with plastic, especially cups that have gripping texture on the outside.  And while you are outfitting the bath, keep in mind bright colors and pleasant decoration.  Just because your bath is now safe does not require that it look institutional.  Next week, I will talk about what’s cooking in the kitchen.

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.

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