Every day in the United States, baby boomers turn 65. As our population ages, we are realizing that even new houses are not always suitable for seniors to live in. Whether you’re thinking ahead to your own retirement or preparing to have an older relative to live with you, certain areas of your home may need to be remodeled to make sure that seniors can live there safely and comfortably. The bathroom is a prime example of a part of the house where remodeling may need to be done to make sure it’s safe. The National Council on Aging says that 250,000 Americans age 60 and over slip and fall in or around bathtubs annually. Falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among older adults, and 20 to 30% of those who fall suffer injuries that reduce their mobility and independence. So the bathroom is a good place to start when you’re making your house more senior-friendly.
Planning Your Senior Bathroom Remodel
The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) has some useful livability checklists that you can use to start planning your bathroom remodel. Your to-do list might include replacing rounded knobs on door handles and faucets with levers, which are easier to operate; making sure that the bath or shower has a non-slip surface; re-installing bathroom shelves and cabinets at a lower height so that they can be easily accessed by someone using a wheelchair; installing high-wattage lighting and illuminated switches that can be seen in dim light; checking to make sure that any exposed pipes are insulated; and setting hot water temperature at 120 degrees to avoid scalding.
Before you start installing fixtures suitable for seniors, you need to ensure that they can get into the bathroom with ease. Measure the width of the door to see if it can accommodate someone using a walker or wheelchair. A minimum clear opening of 32 inches wide is the standard set by the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act). If there is a raised threshold in the doorway, consider removing it so it doesn’t cause tripping. Is there enough clearance under the sink for someone using a wheelchair? Once you’ve included access in your planning, it’s time to think about the bathroom fixtures.
For an older person who has mobility issues, a shower or bathtub can difficult to negotiate. One simple solution is to put a bath seat or bench into the shower or tub, for people who feel more comfortable using these facilities sitting down. Installing an adjustable or hand-held showerhead will make it easier for a seated person to use the shower. Another option is to install a walk-in tub with built-in seating and a door that opens directly into the tub, allowing the user to step into the bathtub without lifting their feet. The user can then operate a hand-held showerhead or allow the bath to fill, bearing in mind that the user has to stay in the tub while the bath is filling and draining since the door must remain shut. If you decide that a shower would be safer and more useful to a person with limited mobility than your bathtub, you may decide to convert the old bathtub into a shower. The benefit of a tub-to-shower conversion is that you can include features such as safety rails, a non-slip floor surface, a bench, a hand-held showerhead and easy-to-open doors in the planning stage of your remodeling project.
When you’re planning your bathroom conversion, consider replacing your standard toilet with a comfort-height toilet, also referred to as a chair-height toilet. The comfort-height toilet is about 17 inches high which is about 2 inches taller than a standard unit. The extra height of the toilet makes it much easier to use for anyone who has arthritis or joint pain.
For a senior worried about falls, a grab bar installed in the tub or shower unit can be a very helpful feature that offers a sense of security. You might also decide that you should install grab bars beside the toilet. When installing grab bars it’s important to make sure that walls are reinforced, if necessary, to support a weight of 250 lbs. The grab bar should be mounted with a clearance of at least 4 inches from the wall and should be designed not to rotate once it’s been mounted.
If you need to remodel your bathroom for older members of the household, use our Services Directory to find top bath remodelers. And use our review system to evaluate the work of your contractor once the job has been completed.