In a perfect world, every adult would be granted an ADA-compliant, large-scale bathroom with all of the safety perks by the time they retire.
Unfortunately, many seniors are limited financially by what they can do with their bathrooms regarding modifications and safety.
This article will discuss the common concerns with small bathrooms, the pros of seniors having a small bathroom, and how to safely move around a small bathroom. It is important to make even small bathrooms safer for seniors and the elderly.
Common Concerns Seniors and the Elderly Have for Small Bathrooms
Let’s see if this story sounds familiar to some folks:
Alice is a 59-year-old woman who lives alone in a mobile home. She recently had hip surgery and is returning home with a walker and limited mobility. She also has chronic respiratory failure due to her tobacco use and must wear oxygen 24/7. Her main concern about returning home is using her small bathroom. She is not sure her new walker will fit in the confined space, and she threw out her shower chair because it didn’t fit in the stall.
Cons of Small Bathrooms
Like Alice, many seniors and their loved ones have safety concerns about using small bathrooms, including:
- Fitting walkers or wheelchairs
- Fitting adaptive equipment: shower chairs, bath benches, alert systems
- Wall space for grab bars
- Door space (swinging open and taking up room)
- Not ideal for someone who is overweight or morbidly obese
- Difficult to work around when coming home after surgery or for recovery after a medical episode
Pros of Small Bathrooms
Although there are some downsides to having a small bathroom, there are some positives that we should note too:
- Small space means easier furniture crawling techniques. This means seniors can grab onto stationery counters and walls easier.
- Less hard floor surface to slip and fall onto, easier to cover with one non-slip mat.
- Small bathrooms are perfect for people with limited stamina for walking.
Although small bathrooms may present some inconveniences, they may actually suit certain individuals’ needs quite well.
How to Safely Use a Small Bathroom
Now, let’s talk about how to use a small bathroom safely, considering that things may not necessarily be up to code or be lined up perfectly like a facility bathroom.
Take Off the Door
If you have a small bathroom, and the door opens inwards like most bathroom doors, consider taking off the door and replacing it with something else that takes up less space.
This could be a sliding door or a curtain on a rod. That way, you can make that corner with your wheelchair or walker without simultaneously hitting the door and the toilet.
Talk with Your Therapist
If you are returning home from the hospital or nursing facility, talk to your physical and occupational therapists about your bathroom layout.
If they are training you to use your walker in the bathroom, which doesn’t fit, then your training is useless. Work on training for furniture walking using the countertops and walls instead.
Install Grab Bars Where Possible
If that walker isn’t going to fit, you’ll need more than a doorknob or towel rack to grab. Hire a professional and install grab bars on your bathroom walls.
If your bathroom does have room for a walker, but not enough room for a turning radius, train to walk backward in your walker without losing your balance.
Like any bathroom of any size, ensure your small bathroom has sufficient lighting to prevent loss of balance or falls.
A small bathroom means less room for a personal aide or loved one to help you with transfers or mobility.
So, feel ready to complete all of the following on your own with the suitable equipment options in place: transfers to the shower, to the toilet, to the wheelchair, to the rollator if needed, and to the doorway to get your walker if required.
If this isn’t possible, it may be time to look into other complex bathroom alternatives, such as using a friend’s place, renting a portable toilet, using a commode, renting a portable shower, etc.
Equipment Options for a Small Bathroom
Each small bathroom is different, and everyone’s ADL needs and health status vary tremendously.
Not every senior or elderly individual has to run out to their local medical equipment store and purchase all the same bathroom supplies to make their experience safer.
However, here are a few equipment ideas to get the wheels turning:
If your shower stall is large enough, consider placing a shower chair on the floor if you have limited stamina or mobility for prolonged standing.
Bathtub transfer benches can straddle over tub ledges for folks who need to sit for baths in a tub-shower combination or a traditional tub.
Of course, there’s not always room, and the bench can bump into other things like the toilet or the counter, so measure your space before purchase.
You can never have too many bathroom grab bars as you age. Consult with a professional about installing grab bars in small bathrooms: on the walls, outside the bathroom, inside the shower stall, inside tubs, etc. This is essential for folks who can’t fit walkers in their bathrooms.
Due to limited stamina, elderly folks with limited mobility opt for bedside commodes for toileting tasks. However, some individuals use bedside commodes because they can’t access their small bathrooms with wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen tanks, other medical equipment, etc.
If you are returning from the hospital and can’t access your small bathroom safely, consider temporarily renting a portable shower that can be set up outside the bathroom.
Raised Toilet Seats
Raised toilet seats are excellent for individuals fresh out of knee or hip surgery. Additionally, raised toilet seats often come with armrests that add an extra support feature in the bathroom.
Summary and Final Recommendations
Small bathrooms can be challenging to navigate, especially for seniors with health issues or limited stamina, endurance, and mobility.
Research adaptive ways to safely design the bathroom to work for seniors and the elderly people you love. Consult with a rehabilitative specialist about transfer training and using the bathroom in alternative ways.