With the rise of seniors opting to “age in place,” (that is, choosing to remain in their private homes vs. moving into a residential care facility) you may be asking yourself: How can I make home a safe place for Mom?
Care facilities are generally properly equipped and accessible for seniors and those with disabilities in order to meet ADA requirements. On the other hand, private homes may be inaccessible for seniors and may contain many hazards and fall risks in the environment.
According to the CDC, each year 2.5 million seniors are treated in the ER for injuries related to falls. The most common place in the home that these falls occur? The bathroom.
Several steps can be taken to modify the environment to prevent fall risks and to optimize performance when completing self care and mobility tasks in the bathroom.
Remove tripping hazards
Specifically throw rugs! They may look pretty and keep your feet warm in the winter time, but they are a huge fall risk. Of course, we all need a towel or mat to stand on when stepping out of the shower, but other than during shower or bath time, there should be nothing on the floor. Other tripping hazards include general clutter, placement of trash cans / scales / personal care supplies, electrical cords.
Check the lighting in the bathroom
As seniors age, their vision tends to decline, and of course they are more likely to trip over something if they can’t see where they're going or what's in the way. Check to make sure lighting is adequate, and check on the placement of switches. Use frosted bulbs or lamp shades to reduce glare. And most importantly, use a night light! This will help to avoid sudden changes in light and can be especially useful for those that get up to use the bathroom during the night.
Have grab bars installed
If you have any concerns about balance, grab bars are a must. Generally, it is best to have a bar to hold onto when stepping into the shower, as well as an additional bar inside of the shower to hold onto while standing during the shower. Additional grab bars across the length of the bathroom may be recommended if your loved one typically uses a walker or cane but does not take it into the bathroom with them due to the size or narrowness of the space (or let’s be honest, sometimes it is just stubbornness or old habits!).
Consider a shower chair or tub bench
Having a seat in the shower is a great way to conserve energy and curb balance concerns. We generally recommend shower chairs that have adjustable legs and arm rests, especially if your loved one is on the tall side or has a hard time getting up from a sitting position. Tub benches are a bit bigger and bulkier, but are great to use if Mom or Dad has a hard time stepping over the side of a tub.
Consider making adjustments to the toilet
This is very useful for seats that are simply too low, and for seniors that have a hard time getting from a sitting to standing position without using their arms to push up on something. Options include adding risers, toilet safety frames, 3 in 1 commodes, grab bars, and more.
If you have any concerns regarding what modifications or equipment options are most appropriate for your environment, check with a doctor to see if they can order a home health Occupational Therapy evaluation to assess further. We hope that if you make the proper adjustments to Mom or Dad’s environment you will reduce their risk of falls, boost their confidence, and allow them to continue to age safely in place!