Unfortunately, falls are a serious and frequent occurrence for seniors. In fact, every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the ER for a fall, according to the National Council for Aging Care. Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Many of these accidents happen in the bathroom. Lack of supports, combined with slippery flooring, can result in a recipe for disaster. Bathroom falls are quite serious for any age group, with the CDC saying 200,00 Americans are treated in ERs annually for bathroom-related injuries.
Risks and Hazards
Fall-related injuries can range from minor cuts, scrapes and bruises to the more severe, like broken bones (hip fractures being the most common), head contusions, and spinal cord injury. Seniors with a history of falls are at a greater risk, especially when:
- Getting in and out of the tub or shower
- Sitting down and getting up from the toilet
- Walking and using towel bars and sink tops to steady balance
There are many hazards that can add to the risk of a senior falling in the bathroom, including:
- Insufficiently-secured towel racks that may fail when gripped for support
- Non-slip-resistant shower chairs
- Bathtubs that are difficult to get in and out of
- Sliding shower doors that may shift unexpectedly when entering and exiting
- Slippery bathtub and shower floor surfaces
- Slippery floor tiles
- Low toilets heights that make it harder to get up from
Given these hazards and risks, it becomes imperative to ensure your home or that of your loved one is as safe as it can be. Minimizing falls starts with prevention. Installing safety features in the bathroom is the main way to reduce the risk of falling. If you take care of an elderly parent or other loved one in your home or theirs, consider making these adjustments, additions or renovations to ensure their safety:
- Install grab bars. These are necessary to hold onto while climbing in and out of the shower or tub. Don’t assume towel bars will provide the proper support. They’re only good for holding towels, not the full weight of a person’s body. Install grab bars in easy-to-reach places near the shower and tub, toilet, sink, etc.
- Install a tension pole. An alternative to a grab bar is a tension pole, which runs from floor to ceiling. This also gives seniors extra support.
- Use a shower chair. A chair in the shower can offer stability for an elderly person who doesn’t have solid balance and who can’t stand for long periods of time. Make sure the chair you choose has rubber tips on the legs to prevent sliding. Install a hand-held shower head for even more convenience.
- Install a tub-attached grab bar. When seniors take a bath, they must step up and over the lip of the tub, which can present a balancing issue. Mount a grab bar on the tub rim for added balance support.
- Use a bath transfer bench. Such a bench will eliminate the need to step in and out of the tub. Instead, seniors lift their legs over the side of the tub. They sit down on the bench while outside the tub, then slide over safely.
- Add non-slip mats. Place a non-slip mat or decals on the shower floor and a non-slip rug on the floor outside the shower. This will provide more stability and reduce slipping. Never just place a towel on the floor to step onto, as this can be very slippery and cause a bad fall.
- Add non-slip adhesive strips. You can place these along sink edges and anywhere else the senior needs to grab for support.
- Install a raised toilet seat. Elders often find it difficult to lower themselves down to sit on a standard toilet, with even more difficulty when rising to a standing position. A raised toilet seat will be about three to four inches higher than a standard toilet and allow the senior to sit and stand with greater ease.
- Add grab bars on the side for extra support.
- Place toiletries within reach. Those with poor balance shouldn’t have to stretch or bend down to reach soap, shampoo, and other toiletries. Install a liquid soap dispenser on the bathtub or shower wall for convenience.
If your elder loved one has balance issues or a history of falls, it’s wise to assist them in the bathing and toileting process to ensure their safety, even with all these precautions in place.
Safety is our main priority, ensuring your loved one is always in the best hands possible.