holding grab barMany adults take for granted their ability to get in and out of the shower or tub every day. Yet for seniors, the bathroom can be a potentially dangerous place, even if safety features have been installed to help with bathing.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every three seniors experiences at least one fall in their lifetime.

Looking at figures from the National Institute on Aging, 80 percent of all falls involving seniors occur in the bathroom, many while attempting to take a shower. Learn why bathing can be risky for seniors.

Hazards In the Bathroom

Physically, bathrooms have two main hazards: Slippery surfaces, from the tub or shower’s interior to the floor and sharp or protruding blunt objects.

Where bathing is concerned, getting in and out of the tub poses risks for seniors, even with grab bars installed. Showers contain additional hazards that can appear like support objects, including glass doors and towel bars. However, these objects are not designed to hold an adult’s body weight and can quickly collapse when grabbed or used for physical assistance.

According to a study from the American Geriatrics Society, specific issues with getting in and out of the bathtub or shower include:

  • Reduced movement for stepping in and out of the bath and accessing objects, including grab bars, tub seats and hand-held shower heads.
  • Positioning themselves in a tub seat or inside the tub to take a bath.
  • Using a bathmat for traction. This object can become an additional slip hazard that increases fall risk.
  • Poor lighting, which decreases visibility and increases fall risks.
  • No stability features, resulting in the use of a towel bar or shower door to stay steady.

Falling while getting in or out of the tub can lead to life-threatening consequences that decrease a senior’s quality of life, including hip, knee of wrist fractures and broken bones.

Another factor comes into play, further increasing the fall risks of bathing. Many seniors seek to live independently and therefore won’t ask for assistance or make modifications to the bathroom.

At this point, bathing patterns for older adults often take one of two paths. One, they continue to contend with the risks involved with getting in and out of the tub. Two, they stop bathing, which can result in skin issues or a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Beyond a bathroom’s design, other hazards pose a risk to seniors. As one significant aspect, hot water can result in second-degree burns due to thinning skin with decreased sensation. This can occur within seconds, leaving an injury that can take time to heal or result in other complications. Consider lowering the water heater thermostat between 110 and 120 degrees.

Improving Bathroom Safety for Seniors

In addition to installing grab bars, extra steps can be taken to make the bathroom safer:

  • Avoid having a bathmat or rug. Wall-to-wall washable carpet is preferred for the floor, as it offers some traction, and non-skid strips should line the tub.
  • Install grab bars in the right areas, colored to differentiate them from towel racks. If you plan to have a tub or shower chair, include a bar near the seat, so your loved one doesn’t have to reach. For a shower, longer vertical bars are preferred.
  • Consider adding rubber covers to faucets to reduce potential injuries if a fall happens.
  • To address dexterity issues, consider removing door locks for easy entry.
  • Any seat used in the shower or tub should have a non-slip base to stay in place as you get in and out of the shower or tub.
  • Have a detachable, easy-to-access shower head that doesn’t require reaching up too high.
  • If stepping over the side is too much, have a walk-in shower or tub installed.
  • All soaps and shampoo bottles should be kept within reach.
  • Outside of the tub, consider installing a raised toilet seat with grab bars for support. Just as with soap, the toilet paper should be within reach.
  • Family members who have Alzheimer’s disease should not be left to use the bathroom or shower alone. A caretaker should be ready to provide assistance.

There may come a point when your loved one needs assistance with bathing and other activities of daily living. West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center is here to provide long-term care services. To learn more about our services, contact us today.