Best Bathroom Design For Seniors (An Occupational Therapist’s Advice)

Occupational Therapist
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Building your new bathroom should also be user-friendly for your elderly loved ones. Read on if you're looking for an occupational therapist’s advice on the best bathroom design for seniors.

Best Bathroom Design For Seniors
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Income Disclosure: Product recommendations are based on my personal experience working with seniors. I may earn a commission on items purchased from affiliate links in this guide. Learn More.

Congratulations! You are starting a creative, albeit overwhelming, journey in building your own home or, at the very least, a brand new bathroom.

That’s where our focus is today, the new bathroom and how seniors can benefit from a safe bathroom layout to the fullest for many years to come.

In this article, we’re going to discuss tips on how to set up a user-friendly bathroom from the get-go for seniors using the knowledge and background of an occupational therapist.

Tips on How to Set Up a User-Friendly Bathroom

Have a Chat with a Senior Loved One

If you are new to your senior years, you are most likely unfamiliar with what life has in store for you for the next 30+ years and how your physical and cognitive functions could change.

Go interview loved ones, friends, neighbors, and professionals. Talk to people who have only dreamed about bathrooms they wanted during their elderly years. Once you’ve collected several tips and wishlists, prioritize what you want for your bathroom. 

ADA-Friendly

If you are working with a builder or a contractor who is well-versed in ADA (Americans with Disabilities) regulations, you are already several steps ahead in the game.

Working with someone acquainted with ADA bathroom measurements will save you a lot of grief, time, and money in the future.

If you are a senior who requires bariatric measures, consider hiring someone who can work with those measurements and provide long-lasting bathroom accommodations.

Examples include providing bathroom fixtures that will support your body weight and any bariatric adaptive equipment (shower chairs, bath benches, raised toilet seats, grab bars, etc.). 

ADA-friendly measurements should allow sufficient room for canes, walkers, and wheelchairs (manual or power) through bathroom doorways (when the door is open and closed).

If you currently are or suspect that you will be living with a debilitating disorder that impacts your mobility, plan for a bathroom that’s large enough to fit a Hoyer lift or other lifting system that you can maneuver without colliding into walls or counter spaces.

RELATED: How to Make Small Bathrooms More Functional for Seniors and Elderly

Room Transitions

Consider where the bathroom is in proximity to the adjacent rooms in the house: the master bedroom, the living room, hallways, etc.

All mobility equipment (walkers, wheelchairs) should be able to make corners without scuffing the walls. All hallways and doorways should be well-lit, especially for occasional nighttime use, to prevent slips and falls. Some seniors opt for floor lighting or nightlights. 

Longevity

Plan for a bathroom layout you can comfortably use for the next 20+ years. Additionally, think about the following:

  • Start 20 years from now and work backward. What do you want available in your bathroom to increase your safety and independence when you are 80+ years old?
  • Your bathroom should have enough room to grow and change as you grow and change.
  • Think about all the people in your life who may use that bathroom regularly and how you expect their health and mobility to change as they age.

Invest in a new bathroom layout with some brave commitment. Utilize high-quality materials that won’t crack, break, wear, or develop mold. Hire someone who can potentially eliminate dangerous electrical or water-related hazards.

best bathroom design for seniors mobility changes
Get a big space if larger mobility equipment will be needed to accomplish bathroom tasks in the future.

Mobility Changes

Some seniors are fortunate enough to walk into the next life with little challenges to their mobility.

For others, age and health changes cause a progressive deterioration that looks a little like the following (1 being independent walking and 7 requiring full assistance):

  1. Walking independently
  2. Walking with occasional support from grab bars or furniture
  3. Cane
  4. Quad cane
  5. Walker or rollator
  6. Wheelchair (standard manual)
  7. Wheelchair with full-body support

Seniors may skip around 1 through 7 (i.e., surgery) or progress steadily through each mobility device.

Adults with a personal or family history of neurological or musculoskeletal disorders may have a better idea of what their bathroom should look like and what equipment they’ll use in 20 years.

For others, it’s a bit of a guessing game. If you have the space available and you can start fresh, go big and get the space now if you require larger mobility equipment to perform bathroom tasks in the future.

Consider installing a shower that’s flush with the floor and has plenty of open room for a shower wheelchair or 3-in-1 commode.

Create enough space so a wheelchair can fit around all sides of the toilet and tuck it under the vanity for easy access to the sink.

If you require bariatric accommodations, make sure your contractor is aware of your size in combination with the measurements for a bariatric chair and how you can comfortably move throughout all points of the bathroom. 

Health Status 

As your health changes, you may need to consider that additional equipment coming into your bathroom with you. This could include IV lines/poles, respiratory equipment, feeding tube equipment, orthopedic splints, etc.

No one likes to worry this far ahead into the future, but it’s beneficial if you are staying in your current home for a long time. Have a bathroom and doorways large enough to accommodate such equipment.

Research electrical outlets and generators that need to power that equipment at home. If not for you, consider doing this for a loved one or spouse whose health may also take a downturn in the future.

Shower Versus Tub

Walking into any senior living or assisted living facility, you’ll notice that every room is typically supplemented with a bathroom with an accessible shower stall.

Rarely do you see these facilities with tubs because tub ledges are restrictive and can increase the risk of falls. In terms of safety, walk-in showers with minimal to no threshold are the best bathing layouts.

Showers should be large enough to fit shower chairs, bath benches, or even shower wheelchairs if needed. 

If you are a senior that needs your soak time, bathtubs can still be safely used for many years. However, be ready to modify the tub with tub benches and grab rails if your mobility worsens.

If it’s financially reasonable for you, explore the option of installing an accessible walk-in tub and if it suits your safety and functional needs.

best bathroom design for seniors adaptive equipment
Consider installing some of these adaptive and durable medical equipment for your senior loved ones to have a safe bathroom experience.

Adaptive Equipment and Durable Medical Equipment

Building a new bathroom can be incredibly stressful, especially if you get caught up in the idea of how permanent some of the fixtures are.

Once certain objects are in, it’s difficult and financially challenging to make alterations. However, there are ways to make additional accommodations as you get older to make your bathroom experience safe.

Examples include:

  • Installing grab bars, near the toilet, outside the shower, and inside the shower
  • Placing removable shower chairs in the shower
  • Installing handheld shower heads
  • Clamping raised toilet seats onto lower seats
  • Draping a bath bench over a tub-shower combination
  • Inserting suctioned soap dispensers
  • Laying out non-slip mats inside and outside the shower
  • Installing a fall alert system that you can access from all points of the bathroom if you fall or have a medical emergency

RELATED: What Should You Do If You Fall In The Bathroom?

Bathroom Perks

Even though safety should be a top priority, you don’t have to make your bathroom look like a Cold War bomb shelter.

If you have the financial wiggle room, take the time to make your bathroom feel pretty, comfortable, and, more importantly, feel like you. Here are some excellent ways to do that:

  • Add heat lamps above the shower to prevent chills during drying.
  • Look into heated flooring to keep your feet warm.
  • Install a bathroom music sound system that sets the ambiance but doesn’t impede your ability to access help from others if needed.
  • Use scented products that won’t flare up allergies, induce nausea, or spur lightheadedness. If you want to use scented plug-ins, make sure they are FDA-approved and safe for regular, unattended use. 
  • Lighting should be efficient but not blaring to trigger headaches, migraines, or visual disturbances. Research dimmable lights to set the lights to your preferred setting. 
  • If you have the financial capacity, consider investing in powered shower jets for increased comfort.

Summary and Final Recommendations

With all of this in mind, here is what this Occupational Therapist has to say about the perfect bathroom for a senior:

  • Only use ADA-compliant measurements or bariatric-appropriate measurements if needed
  • Large shower stall with minimal to no threshold
  • Plenty of space between the shower, toilet, and vanity, and enough room to grow for wheelchair use if needed.
  • Easy transition through doorways and adjacent rooms
  • Sufficient lighting inside and outside the bathroom
  • Non-slip, non-complicated patterned flooring
  • Perks that fit your personality: shower jets, heated lamps, scents, music, dimmable lights, etc.

Consult with multiple occupational therapists, contractors, and equipment providers to get a well-rounded view of your future bathroom.

Talk to loved ones and other seniors about what they would like to see in a senior-friendly bathroom. Assess your financial situation and health status to determine what layout best fits your needs for many years to come.

Photo of author

Meredith Chandler, OTR/L

Meredith has worked as an occupational therapist for 9 years and as a content writer for 6 years. She primarily works with the geriatric population, focusing on their rehabilitative needs and instructing caregivers and family members for home care. Her specialties include ADL training, neurological re-education, functional mobility training, adaptive equipment education, and wheelchair assessment and mobility training. She is a painter, a musician, and a mother of 4 who loves spending time with her family,

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