A remodeled bathroom to accommodate your needs, if aging in place is your plan, doesn’t have to look institutional. Such a bathroom has as its primary goal the elimination of fall hazards, and it also should make your life easier as your vision and ability to reach for things diminish.
Here are some ways you can “age-proof” your bathroom and, incidentally, make it more convenient to use for anyone.
Grab bars in strategic places — inside your shower and near its door, and next to the toilet — are critical for balance. You can buy grab bars disguised as towel racks, shower shelves, and even toilet paper holders. They come in different finishes to match and complement your bathroom hardware. You’re staying home as you get older, so your bathroom furnishings shouldn’t look like they belong in a hospital or nursing home. Walls where the grab bars are to be installed should be reinforced to take the weight.
In the Shower
Consider a roll-in shower with a collapsible rubber water dam or no threshold at all— just an appropriately sloped floor to help keep the water flowing toward the drain. The shower should have a seat that’s either built in or drops down, of the right height and size to make bathing while seated easy. Other ideas for the shower include water controls that are easy to adjust, an anti-scald mixing device, and a handheld shower extension that you can use while seated or that an aide can employ while standing outside the shower.
Walk-in tubs seem to be all the rage right now, and they have benefits over a regular tub, which can be hard to climb into and out of. But do some research before you invest. A slide-in tub, similar to a walk-in, might be a better choice, or a bath chair lift.
Toilet and Sink
When it comes to toilets, vanities, and sinks, think “comfort height.” Having a toilet that’s a little bit taller, say 17 to 19 inches from seat to floor, makes it easier to sit down and stand back up or to transfer from a wheelchair. If you’re remodeling your bathroom, consider installing one sink that’s low enough for someone in a wheelchair to use, with an open space below for the user’s legs and chair. A second sink can be put in even higher that usual for the person who has trouble bending over. Counter materials that have a contrasting color on the edge make it easier for vision-impaired people to see where the counter ends. The faucet controls at the sink should be single-handle lever style or touch-free with sensing technology.
Switches and Handles
Rocker light switches are easy for everyone to use and can be activated even with a bump from an elbow. Along that line, lever door handles make access easy, and D-shaped drawer and cabinet pulls are easier to grab than are knobs.
Doorways should have 32 inches of clear space, meaning the door should be 36 inches wide. The door should swing outward, so if someone were to fall against it inside, helpers still would be able to open it. The bathroom should have enough room for a wheelchair’s 60-inch turning radius, or a 36-by-36 or 30-by-48 space for a T-turn by a wheelchair.
Additional lighting, either natural or from strategically placed fixtures, always is a good thing. Include a light inside the shower.
Because the bathroom floor so often gets wet, choose a nonslip floor covering. Do some research; each choice, from rubber to linoleum to hardwood to cork, has its own pros and cons.