Creating Safe Bathrooms for Seniors: The Ultimate Guide

Occupational Therapist
Updated:

A safe and secure bathroom environment is necessary for our senior loved ones. Here is our ultimate guide to bathroom safety for seniors and the elderly.

Safe Bathrooms for Seniors
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If you are getting a little older, or if you are a loved one of a senior who is new to this subject of bathroom safety, then this is an excellent read for you.

With every passing year, our bodies feel a little frailer, and our balance becomes more questionable as we pass over slick, hard surfaces.

We will take you through the bathroom, step by step, feature by feature, and bring your attention to common concerns and ways to make feasible modifications so that seniors can experience bathroom routines much safer and independently.

Toileting

When referring to anything “ADA-compliant,” we are talking about any item following the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Since this law was enacted, all residential households need to meet a certain standard of measurement for accessibility. For instance, an ADA-compliant toilet needs to be 17 – 19” high.

If the toilet is not an accessible height for a senior, they risk getting stuck on the toilet, or they may attempt to get off and fall to the floor instead.

Caregivers can either replace the toilet with one of a better height or use a raised toilet seat that you can clip onto the existing seat. Seniors should also have access to stationery supports, including grab bars or counters to assist them in standing after toileting tasks are complete.

Seniors should not feel forced to use toilet paper holders or towel racks as supports to make toilet transfers. 

Check out our guide to toileting safety for seniors for more information.

Bathtubs

For seniors who wish to continue bathing in a tub, some safety features should be in place to make transfers safer and prevent falls. Equipment ideas may include:

  • Professionally installed grab bars inside and outside of the tub
  • Tub ledge handrails for ease of transfer
  • Non-slip mats placed inside and outside of the tub
  • Soap dispensers that can be suctioned or screwed into the tub walls at your desired height
  • Place bath towels within reach so you can adequately dry them before transferring them out of the tub
  • Fall alert systems are installed at the proper height in the event of a medical emergency or a fall
  • Bath benches could be used for seniors with limited mobility who still have decent core strength. Drape the bath bench over the tub and combine it with a removable showerhead to have better control over water flow. 

We have an entire guide to making bathtubs safer for seniors and the elderly if you want to read more about this important topic.

safe bathrooms for seniors showers
Showers could be a safer option for seniors compared to tubs.

Showers

In many ways, showers are safer than tubs because thresholds are much smaller, so seniors don’t have to worry about lifting their legs or tripping over any hard ledges. Here are a few ways that seniors can make their showers a little safer.

Shower Chairs 

Shower chairs come in many make and models: stools, chairs with back supports, adjustable height features, suction-cupped feet, armrests, bariatric seating, etc. Select a shower chair based on your individual needs and weight capacity.

Removable Shower Head 

Removable handheld shower heads give you more control over water flow from a seated position.

Properly Installed Grab Bars 

Install bathroom grab bars inside and outside the shower for transfers and any standing opportunities in the shower. 

Non-Slip Mats 

Place non-slip mats inside and outside the shower to prevent unnecessary slips and falls. 

Soap Dispensers 

Having soap dispensers suctioned to the shower walls saves the trouble of retrieving bottles that have dropped to the floor.

Long-Handled Sponges or Brushes

Use long-handled bath brushes to wash your feet and legs to prevent the need for bending at the hips and losing your balance.

Fall Alert Systems

Install a fall alert system if you experience a medical episode or fall while in the shower.

Read our ultimate guide to creating safe showers for seniors and the elderly for more details.

Flooring

The flooring for the bathroom should be smooth and free of lips, bumps, thresholds, throw rugs, and clutter. For seniors who are remodeling, non-slip tiles and vinyl flooring are excellent for minimizing slips and falls.

Seniors should avoid flooring with overly wild colors or shapes that can mess with their depth perception and increase symptoms of vertigo. 

Sink/Vanities

Sinks and vanities should be readily accessible, free of clutter, with no plug-ins or wires near actively running water. All handicap measurements should be within the ADA-compliant scope: countertop no more than 34 inches high, faucet within 48-inch reach.

Since many sinks and vanities are located in older homes, apartments, or mobile homes, ADA measurements are not necessarily an option, so the next best thing is adaptation.

Equipment could include an elongated or removable faucet head for better reach, an accessible soap dispenser, and adapters for hard-to-reach or unsafe outlets.

safe bathrooms for seniors personal care
Take a look at our list of personal care adaptive equipment ideas that you might find useful and suitable for your elderly loved ones.

Personal Care

Personal care activities within the bathroom (excluding showering and toileting) could include toothbrushing, medication management, haircare, and dressing.

Of course, some seniors may choose to perform some of these tasks outside the bathroom if they lack space or have a different care routine they’d rather maintain.

Personal care items should be kept stored away unless in use to avoid clutter. Here are a few personal care adaptive equipment ideas for seniors with limited physical and/or cognitive function:

  • Wide-handled toothbrushes or electric toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste dispensers
  • Ergonomically-friendly razors
  • Button hooks
  • Dressing sticks and reacher grabbers
  • Handheld flexible mirrors
  • Long-handled universal personal care item holders (for nail clippers, razors, hair brushes, etc.)

We have lots of guides to helpful bathroom accessories for seniors and the elderly for you to read also.

Lighting

As seniors age, their vision loses flexibility, and being able to navigate in a poorly lit room becomes problematic and dangerous. Make sure the bathroom is equipped with sufficient lighting, especially for those unexpected night-time bathroom visits.

Seniors could incorporate the use of nightlights that are perpetually on throughout the night or movement-censored to ensure extra lighting.

Storage

Keeping the bathroom and the floor clutter-free is essential to prevent falls, spills, fires, and other hazardous situations. Many bathrooms are already equipped with vanities with cupboards, drawers for towels, and personal care items.

For other bathrooms, seniors may need to get a little creative. Consider placing shelving at reachable heights if you have the wall space. Prioritize and minimize your items by only keeping the essentials in the bathroom while storing all other things outside the bathroom.

Summary and Final Recommendations

The bathroom doesn’t have to be a scary place, but in reality, some seniors are a little nervous about venturing into a hard-floored, slippery room without the proper set-up.

Go through your bathroom layout piece by piece, category by category, and assess your comfort levels in your own bathroom. research and consider needed bathroom safety products or consult a rehabilitation specialist if you need assistance with measurements or some equipment ideas.

Remember that your bathroom may change and evolve as you age and your health changes. 

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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