Updated: May 29
Before you grab the bubble bath and have a good soak, make sure you take a few precautionary measures to prevent an accident from happening to you or a loved one.
Each year thousands of people of all ages visit the emergency room due to bathroom-related slips and falls. The accidents that occur while bathing are often overlooked, but remind us the importance of recognizing bathroom safety.
January is National Bath Safety Month. This gives seniors an opportunity to learn more about what we can do to take precautions in a frequently visited room.
One of the biggest safety risks is the risk of falling. And it turns out, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in your house.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 370 people of all ages have shower- or tub-related accidents every day.
In addition, according to a study by the University of Michigan, 1 out of every 3 adults over age 60 have trouble getting in and out of the bathtub.
So what can you to celebrate National Bath Safety Month in the life of your loved one? You can help them make their home safer.
Here are a few simple, inexpensive ideas.
SAY GOODBYE TO THE BATH.
There are many advantages and comforts a bath can offer you that a shower just can’t. But baths also offer a set of challenges that are difficult for most seniors.
In fact, many senior communities do not have bathtubs because the risk of falling is so high.
Each person has to combat slippery services mixed with warm water mixed with soaps and shampoos (which add more slippery-ness to the already slippery surface).
It may be time to switch to a shower. Yes, baths are relaxing. But they are also dangerous. Some people elect to modify their bathroom to only have a shower, making it easier for people with mobility issues to just step inside.
It is fairly inexpensive to buy a shower chair, and people report feeling even more clean and relaxed without the fall risk that a bathtub brings. These shower chairs can also make a big difference for people who have balance challenges.
Showers can also be modified rather inexpensively with a hand-held shower spray. These nozzles give the users more freedom to keep their hair dry, just as they could in the bath. This may be a huge adjustment for some, and they may not be willing to take that step. But just switching from bathing to showering could save you months of pain.
MONITOR THE WATER TEMPERATURE.
Everyone has their preference on water temperature.
But the older we get, the more we need to rethink this preference. The more our skin becomes sensitive. Beyond the obvious burn risk, hot water causes skin to dry out and crack, and thus makes us more susceptible to infection.
Keep in mind that a person’s perception of temperature is comparative. The temperature in the bathroom should first be at a comfortable range, and the person’s body should be adapted to it before testing bath water temperature.
Some people who are elderly may have two challenges when it comes to water temperature–impaired temperature perception and slower reaction time to feeling water that is too hot (or too cold). Water should generally be just a degree or two higher than one’s body temperature. Hot water takes blood away from the internal organs to the skin’s surface, causing cardiovascular risk. Cold water also carried risk to internal organs, as well as a risk for hypothermia–water even a degree or two cooler than body temperature is dangerous.
INSTALL ACCOMMODATING EQUIPMENT.
Install grab handles. Do not depend on the towel rack or the sliding glass door for the tub to steady yourself–those can come off with much less weight than the pull of the human body.
Many skilled nursing facilities have spa-style bathtubs with accommodations to assist those with mobility challenges. This helps to ensure the resident gets the best care possible.
Bathroom safety will also increase with a non-slip bath mat in the bathtub, as well as a non-slip bathmat to step on when exiting the tub. Explore the option of a fuzzy rug outside the bathroom, which will not only help avoid fall risks on a slippery floor, but will also give added padding. And, of course, clean up all spills on the bathroom floor, as these will also add to the fall risk.
Make sure all toiletries are within easy reach. With age often comes poor balance, and one simple reach can result in a painful fall.
It is also important to make sure there is a well-lit path to the bathroom. The last thing anyone needs is a broken hip from trying to navigate in the dark.
For those who have mobility challenges, but who wish to stay in their homes, it may be time to consider installing a spa-style tub with accommodations. These accommodations make it easier for caregivers to help people bathe, while also ensuring they are in a safe environment–which brings us to the next point.
STANDARD TOILETS NEED MODIFICATIONS.
Yes, toilets can bring a danger. Standard toilets’ heights are low, which are a strain on joints and muscles that are already compromised in seniors. Beyond pain, this adds a fall risk and the possibility of strained muscles. While replacing the toilet itself is certainly an option, consider simply using a raised toilet seat and installing a grab bar.
For nighttime, consider purchasing a bedside commode. These prevent nighttime walks to the bathroom. They are already made modified for seniors. They can prevent a nighttime fall, as well as a nighttime accident that may be embarrassing.
CONSIDER IN-HOME HELP OR AN ASSISTED LIVING ENVIRONMENT.
Of course, most people don’t want someone standing over them, supervising them as they bathe. But caregivers are experts at preserving dignity while also ensuring safety. Sometimes, it’s simply less embarrassing to have a professional help with bathroom matters than a family member. Have a talk with your loved one. All people should be able to decide how they want to preserve as much independence as possible. Let your loved one have privacy and dignity, but without compromising safety. It can be hard to admit that you need a little help, so approach the subject with respect.