Staying safely in their own home as they grow older is a major concern for many Americans. In a 2012 survey by AARP, 70 percent of surveyed members said they were “extremely or very concerned about aging in place.” Even if you maintain an active lifestyle and good health, growing older often requires you to manage changes in mobility, vision and accessibility.
The bathroom is both one of the most important and riskiest rooms in the house for people aging in place. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says falling in the bathroom can be particularly harmful for older people, and encourages homeowners to take steps to reduce the risk of falling in the bathroom. If you plan to live independently at home for as long as possible, making a few simple changes in the bathroom can help you do so more comfortably and safely.
Here are a handful of cost-effective changes that can help facilitate aging in place:
* Raise fixtures – Increasing the height of key fixtures such as the toilet and sink can provide greater comfort and ease of use for people with mobility challenges. Replacing a standard-height toilet with one 16 to 17 inches high is an easy, affordable task. While most standard toilets are 14 or 15 inches tall, the extra two to three inches of height can make a big difference for anyone with mobility issues. The Champion 4 Right Height toilet from American Standard provides a comfortable 16 1/2-inch ADA-compliant height, plus powerful, clog-free flushing performance.
* Replace older faucets – Conventional two-handle faucets can be difficult to manage for people with arthritis or decreased flexibility of the hands. Lever-style faucets are a good option for convenient ease of use. Single-handle styles are another easy to operate alternative. For single handle sink and shower faucets, be sure to ask for styles that have a hot limit safety stop to restrict how far the handle can be pushed toward the hot side. For the shower, a thermostatic mixing valve that allows the temperature to be preselected to avoid scalding is another critical feature.
* Secure your bathing environment – To minimize the risk of falls, install grab bars in showers, above tubs and around the toilet to help provide stability. Consider a walk-in tub or shower to enhance safety, or add a seat to shower enclosures. The American Standard Walk-in Bathtub offers accessible, and enjoyable, bathing with a built-in comfort seat and deep soaking dimensions. In the main part of the bathroom, remove area rugs that may pose a tripping hazard. Consider replacing slick surfaces like smooth ceramic tile with slip-resistant flooring that provides a gripping texture, such as textured vinyl or tile.
* Look at lighting – Vision changes are a reality of aging for most people. Bathroom lighting should provide ample illumination while minimizing glare and shadows that can hinder depth perception. Invest in both overhead lighting and task lighting in areas where you groom. Waterproof lighting over showers and bath tubs can enhance visibility and safety when climbing in or out of bathing areas. Natural light can also boost safety and mood. Consider installing a skylight (tubular skylights can bring natural light to lower level bathrooms) or replacing traditional window panes with options that provide privacy without blocking light, such as glass blocks or frosted glass.
Transforming your bathroom into a safe haven with stylish, accessible design solutions can help support changing needs as you age.