How to Make Bathtubs Safer for the Elderly: Ultimate Guide

Occupational Therapist
Updated:

Safe access to the bathtub should be a priority when caring for our elderly folks. So keep reading as we explore some of the most effective ways on how to make bathtubs safer for the elderly.

Bathtubs Safer for the Elderly
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Naturally, bathrooms are one of the most frequently visited rooms in the home. Elderly adults may have to access the bathtub for regular hygienic purposes.

Whether it’s by lifestyle choice or because ripping out the tub and replacing it with an accessible walk-in shower is not a financially feasible option, the bathtub is a hurdle that many elderly folks must face regularly.

In this article, we offer elderly adults and their loved ones a few tips on how to access the bathtub safely and to keep their independence in bathing tasks intact. Making the bathtub easier and safer to use is a major contributor to making a bathroom safe for seniors and the elderly overall.

Getting Into The Bathtub Safely

Not feeling like they can get into the bathtub safely is one of the major reasons that seniors and the elderly give when they stop bathing.

What kind of tub do you have?

Take the time to look at your tub. Is it one of those bear-claw tubs with high walls? Is it a new, ADA-compliant tub with low edges?

Learning the features of your tub will allow you to make better decisions about how you physically transfer into the tub and what modifications you are willing to make to your routine. 

Can you transfer yourself into a tub safely?

Do you have the physical and cognitive capacity to safely transfer into your tub without falling or causing bodily injury? Can you get into the tub with minimal trouble, or do you experience some struggles that you could alleviate with a few changes?

Many elderly folks are dedicated to their bathtub routine, don’t want to change it much, and can still take baths with a few modifications. 

Can we modify the tub on the cheap?

Here is a list of common bathtub adaptive equipment that may be useful for making transfers into the tub a little easier for elderly individuals:

Bathtub Grab Bar Safety Rail

Highly durable grab bar safety rails grip onto the tub’s edge so that users can balance themselves when transferring in and out of the tub, to and from a lying down position.

This potentially prevents slips and falls by having an ergonomically-friendly grip on something besides a slick surface. 

Bathtub Bench

If you are thinking of sitting in the tub rather than lying down to avoid the physical endurance it takes to get back up, a bathtub transfer bench is perfect for that transition. The bench is typically height-adjustable and drapes over the tub’s edge so you can slide in using a sturdy handlebar. 

Tub Grab Bars

Aside from the grab rails that grip onto the tub edge, elderly folks can have grab bars inserted just about anywhere along the tub to assist with the balance to transfer into the tub.

Consult a rehabilitation specialist for the correct measurements and the ideal placement for your new grab bars

Non-Slip Mats

Non-slip mats can be placed inside AND outside the tub to prevent your bare feet from sliding out from under you while you transfer into the tub.

This is great for when your feet are wet and dry. Non-slip mats are generally cheap and easy to move around and remove for cleaning purposes. 

Is there wiggle room for help from others?

If you are an elderly person living with family or who has hired assistance for activities of daily living (ADLs), consider having help available for your transfers into the tub, especially when using new equipment for the first time.

If you’re embarrassed about doing the real thing with someone watching, try a dry run with your clothes on several times until you feel comfortable doing the transfers yourself.

bathtubs safer for the elderly procedures
Observe your bathtub hygiene habits first before applying safety modifications in your bathtub routine.

Safer Bathing Procedures

What is your current bath routine?

Closely examine your bathtub hygiene habits. Do you prefer to wash yourself standing, sitting, or lying down? Where are all of your hygiene products located? Do you need to bend at the hips to retrieve your bath items or wash the lower portions of your body?

Is someone in the house or available by phone or alarm if something goes wrong? These are all things you probably should consider before you start improving your bathtub routine with any safety modifications.

What are you willing to change?

What portions of your routine are you willing to change? Have you experienced any health changes requiring you to change your bathtub routine?

For example, some elderly folks may have to adapt to sitting on a bath bench to complete their bath tasks because of a cardiac or respiratory condition preventing them from lying in the tub.

Once you’ve accepted that something or many things need to change to keep you safe and independent, then it’s time to introduce some new equipment. 

Adaptive equipment that may help keep you safe

Here are some equipment ideas that may improve your ability to complete your bathtub hygiene procedures safely:

Wall Dispensers

Insert or suction sturdy shampoo, conditioner, and soap dispensers to your tub or shower wall.

This prevents hygiene products from dropping to the bottom of the tub and you spending time searching for them without glasses, bending over for them in standing, and grabbing for them while potentially slipping and falling.

Non-Slip Mats

Once again, keep those non-slip mats in place in your tub for any standing or transferring that you may perform to get yourself washed.

Removable Shower Heads

Removable shower heads pair well with shower benches or chairs. That way, you can bring the water to you and rinse yourself however you see fit. 

Grab Bars

If you plan on doing ANY standing at all during your bathing routine, make sure you have at least one sturdy grab bar available to pull yourself up and for steadying purposes. 

Long-Handled Scrubbers

Never underestimate the power of a long-handled bath scrubber. These are great for elderly folks with lower back pain and for those who’ve recently had hip surgery or any procedure that prevents them from bending down. 

Fall Alarm

Consider installing a fall alert system in your bathroom, with either a pull cord or a voice activation system. If something goes wrong and there’s no one within earshot to help, you can alert help immediately.

Bathroom Racks

Shop around for tiny bathroom racks or shelves that you can install just outside your tub at arm’s reach. That way, you have somewhere to put your glasses, cell phone, or other useful items you can’t take with you into the tub. 

Getting Out of the Bathtub Safely

What is your stamina like after a bath?

Taking a hot bath or scrubbing yourself down at an older age is very taxing to the body. So it’s no surprise when older folks are exhausted by the time they’re down with their bathtub routines.

Assess your stamina and your current health status, especially if you’re someone who prefers to lay down in the tub. Once you’re done, it will take some work getting out, and you need to be ready. 

Do you want help getting out?

As you get older and your health changes, consider welcoming help from others when transferring out of the tub, especially from a lying down position.

Remember that one suggestion from earlier? Try a dry run several times if you’re a little shy. If you’re too exhausted for the transfer, even with physical help, it may be time to consider sitting up for bath time and making changes to conserve your energy. 

bathtubs safer for the elderly practices
Transfer benches are extremely helpful in the bathtub hygiene routines of our elderly loved ones.

Practices you could adopt to make your transfer safer

For your bathtub transfers, it’s all about reserving your energy for the essential things and sacrificing the practices you’re okay with parting with.

In many cases, aging adults will use transfer benches or shower chairs to conserve their energy for bathtub hygiene routines and practices they do after their bath (i.e., dressing, combing their hair, drying off, brushing their teeth, etc.). 

Another factor to consider is changing up your drying routine ever so slightly. Elderly adults may need to dry off specific parts of their body before exiting the tub rather than drying off outside of the tub.

This includes drying their hands to efficiently grab handle bars and drying their feet and legs to prevent slippage. 

Adaptive equipment that could make your transfer out of the tub safer and more efficient

Adaptive equipment for transferring out of the tub is quite similar to the section in which we discussed transferring out of the tub. It just may require considering other placement options.

  • Bathtub grab rail: Use that handy bathtub grab rail to pull yourself up from a lying down position. However, you may need to dry off before the transfer to make the process easier. 
  • Non-slip mats: Non-slip mats galore! Use them inside and outside the tub. 
  • Bathroom grab bars: You have grab bars in the tub. Ensure you have grab bars outside your tub, carefully inserted professionally into your walls. 

After Bathing

What is your routine like after your bath?

The priority should be that you are completely dry by the time you get out of the tub. If you haven’t achieved this, conduct the rest of your drying in a seated position outside the tub.

Afterward, you can pick and choose what’s next on your bathroom hygiene list based on your stamina.

Some bathroom activities may include:

  • Dressing
  • Combing and blowing-drying the hair
  • Shaving
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Using the toilet
  • Putting on makeup
  • Lotioning
  • Taking medication

Prioritize what activities take precedence for the day. Consider doing the majority of these tasks in sitting to conserve your energy and reduce your risk for falls. 

Summary and Final Recommendations

Elderly individuals can participate in bathtub routines as safely and independently as possible for many years.

Adopting new strategies and modifying the bathroom with adaptive equipment and durable medical supplies can make the bathroom safer and less risky for falls and injury.

Elderly individuals and their family members who are new to bathtub modifications, especially after surgery or sudden health changes, should consult with a professional.

Elderly folks who’ve chronically lost their capacity to transfer safely in and out of the tub independently due to physical or cognitive limitations may have to consider even more drastic changes to the bathroom environment (walk-in showers, wheelchairs, commodes, etc.).

If you have any questions or concerns, consult a primary physician, occupational therapist, or other rehabilitation specialists to help meet your bathtub routine needs and improve your quality of life.

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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