As Canada’s population ages, people are putting more thought into making bathrooms safer and easier to use for seniors. It’s part of a movement called “ageing in place” that encourages the use of good design to help people remain in their homes as long as possible.
It turns out that there’s a lot you can do to make bathrooms better for seniors. Following these tips will help you or your loved ones stay independent and get more out of life. Make sure to hire a plumber when making bathroom renovations.
For many seniors with painful knees and hips, climbing a normal flight of stairs is almost like scaling Mt. Everest. Unless you can afford to move to a bungalow, one of the best ways to make a home more senior friendly is to make sure there’s a bathroom on the ground floor.
Adding a bathroom is a major renovation, to be sure. But without it, using the washroom 5 – 7 times a day (on average) becomes a time suck at best, and agony at worst.
Some seniors end up relying on mobility aids like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. These devices require a lot more clearance for getting around.
Think about the wheelchair-accessible stalls you’ve seen in public washrooms. They’re massive, and for good reason. They allow someone in a wheelchair enough room to completely turn around so they can get to the toilet, lift themselves onto it, and then off again.
Try this fun test to see if there’s enough room in your washroom: link arms with someone, and try to approach the toilet and turn around together. Odds are you’ll bump into the walls or the vanity in most bathrooms.
While this test isn’t a precise measurement, it will at least give you an idea of what someone with a walker or wheelchair has to contend with.
One more thing: with toilets there should also be enough room for grab rails. Grab rails are two supports, one on each side of the toilet. They allow someone to use their arm strength to help them get on and off the toilet.
Standing and sitting can be a huge chore for some seniors, and raising the height of the toilet will make life easier for those with stiff, painful joints.
There are two ways you can do this. Some toilets are taller by design, and you can also add a raised seat. When you’re shopping around, ask your plumber for a taller toilet, or even an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant toilet.
Having a bidet will help seniors maintain good hygiene. Some toilets even come with bidet tops that can be retrofitted onto existing toilets.
Bathrooms are one of the dangerous places in your home, and the consequences of slipping and falling are even more serious for seniors.
The usual culprits are tiles that become slippery when wet, or mats that can skate out from underfoot. Replacing dangerous tiles can be expensive, but it beats a broken hip.
Most homes have a bathtub-shower combination that are impossible for seniors to access. Climbing over the edge of the tub is often very dangerous for older folks.
Many walk-in showers aren’t much better, because they have a curb several inches high. For most people it’s a non-issue, but if you’re using a walker or wheelchair to get around it’s an impossible barrier.
The solution is what is called a “wet room”, in which the entire floor of the bathroom is waterproofed, not just the area under the shower. If the shower is walled off, the opening is extra wide so that someone can get in with their walker.
Once they’re in the shower area, a seat makes things so much easier. Even if they don’t need a mobility aid, many seniors can be unsteady on their feet if they’re standing for long periods. A seat allows them to rest safely while they get clean. Hand-held showers are also unbelievably handy.
Don’t forget that grab bars will still be needed in case of slips.
Walk-in bathtubs, while expensive, can not only help with staying clean, but can provide relief to aching muscles. They have a smaller footprint but taller height, so they’re a great option for small bathrooms. A door on the side allows easy access into the tub, but you have to enter the tub before filling it and wait until all the water drains away before you can leave.
Again, ensure there are grab bars around the tub in case of falls.
Eyesight is one of the many things that gets worse as we age, and blurry vision and/or difficulty seeing in low light levels are two potential results. Having more lights, brighter lights, and eliminating dark spaces in showers are all ways to combat this.
While this has nothing to do with plumbing, good lighting is important to help prevent falls. It also makes essential grooming tasks like flossing, shaving, and styling hair much easier.
Many seniors have trouble stooping or reaching, making anything on a high shelf or in the cabinets under the sink unobtainable. To help them, keep toiletries and cleaning supplies accessible at mid-level height.
Another really important thing is to ensure toilet paper is in easy reach. In some bathrooms, the toilet paper is on the wall opposite the toilet, or tucked in behind the toilet. For better accessibility, it should be slightly in front of the toilet and to the side.
While it’s tempting to think we’re all going to be the kind of seniors who run marathons and chop firewood into their ‘90s, unfortunately it doesn’t always work out like that.
For most of us, putting some thought and advance planning into making our bathrooms easy and safe to use is the smarter bet. DS Plumbing can help with all kinds of bathroom renovations. While we don’t do electrical work or tiling, we do make sure that any senior-friendly plumbing fixtures you need are installed correctly.
When DS Plumbing does your plumbing, you know that we do the job right- or we come back and fix it for free. You can learn more about all the ways we can help make your bathroom liveable for people of any age and ability.
If you have a custom bathroom renovation project in mind, ask us for a consultation. You can reach us by phone or you can book a consultation online.