Why Think About Bathroom Accessibility?
You love your home and want to remain living in it for the rest of your life. You're just not sure if it is as accessible as you may need one day. Or perhaps, you are looking to build your dream house. Although you don't have accessibility needs now, you want to make sure that your new house will be able to meet your needs no matter what the future holds.
If either of those scenarios describe you, it's time to make sure that your new or existing home has the appropriate features to allow you to Age In Place. One of the most important rooms of the house to make accessible and safe is the bathroom.
Unfortunately, the bathroom is the most frequent location for injuries sustained in the home. According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during 2014 approximately 27,000 older adults died from injuries related to falls, while an additional 2.8 million were treated in hospital emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. Since one of the most common places for a fall in the home is the bathroom, let's explore how we can lower that number.
To prevent injuries in your own home and ensure that your home can continue to meet your needs as you age, you must evaluate how accessible your bathroom currently is. Once you have an idea of the features to change or add, you can start making a plan to transform your bathroom. If you are building a new home, it is important to make the bathroom accessible right from the beginning.
One Floor Living
One of the first, and simplest things to consider is do you have a full bathroom on the main living level? At the very least, is there a bathroom on the floor in which you sleep? If not, do you have space to add one on or convert existing living space into an accessible bathroom? Having a bathroom on the same level as your main living space is incredibly important for being able to make your home safe and accessible as you age.
Many of those previously mention statistics were the result of stair related scenarios - so naturally if you remove the stair component, you remove some of the potential danger. Most people are stubborn and assume stairs are not an issue until they are in a wheelchair. However, imagine how many times per week you get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom - usually in a half-asleep state of mind while walking in complete darkness. Aging In Place is all about preparing for a future that mitigates worst case scenarios - so start to think about one floor living as your first major goal.
The doorway is the entry point to your bathroom. If you need a walker or a wheelchair in the future, is your doorway sufficiently wide enough to allow safe and easy passage? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standard for doorways is 32 inches minimum with the door opened 90 degrees. You may want to consider widening the doorway before you need it. Doors should also open out rather than into the bathroom to avoid being blocked in case of a fall.
In some cases a Pocket Door might be the best option to increase width and increase usable space. This type of door is great to increase accessibility, but is more labor intensive to install than a regular door, so consult an expert to see if it's worth the effort.
As people age, arthritis often becomes a concern. Consider replacing the standard door knob on your bathroom door with a lever style opener. This type of door lever makes it easy for tender hands to open doors pain-free.
Sink and Vanity
Is your sink at a height that would be accessible should you ever need a wheelchair? Does your vanity have appropriate storage solutions at a reachable level? If the answers to these questions are "No" you should determine what changes you need to make to ensure that your bathroom has the form and function to meet your needs. The ADA suggests a minimum sink height of 29 inches and a maximum height of 36 inches above the floor. Mirrors hanging above the sink should have a bottom edge no higher than 40 inches from the ground.
As the accessibility trend begins to grow, more furniture companies are targeting the market by creating attractive vanities that are still accessible. Most come with an angled storage component for wheelchair access, shallower sink bowls, and the ability to wall-mount the vanity at any height that you see fit.
Lever style fixtures to turn on the water are easier on hands than knobs. Hang towel bars from a height that is easy to reach if sitting down. Medicine cabinets above the sink may become hard to reach from a wheelchair, so consider adding storage drawers at a lower height.
The toilet is the site of a majority of bathroom falls. The low profile of a standard toilet makes going from a sitting, to a standing position more difficult as you age. The toilet height should be 17-19 inches from the finished floor including the seat - often called the "Comfort Height" as it's more in line with the level of a chair. Fortunately, you have many options for replacing your current toilet for one that is stylish as well as safe.
Sturdy grab bars also make falls in this part of the house less likely. The ADA notes that grab bars on the toilet side walls should be 42 inches long and located a maximum of 12 inches from the rear wall. As with any grab bar installation, walking through the scenario before installing the grab bar will help figure out where your hands naturally grab onto.
Take a look at your current shower and/or bathtub. Do you have sturdy grab bars to steady you as you enter and exit? Do they have a tub wall or a small ledge that may trip you as you attempt to step over it? Is the space adequate to stand, sit, or use a shower chair? Think about what functions are the most important to you and then imagine a worst case accessibility scenario - this will help identify what needs to change.
Whether you prefer showers or are a die-hard bath fan, you can get your dream shower or tub that prioritizes safety without sacrificing any style. You can have a luxurious tiled shower area without any barriers that you can simply roll in to, or a pre-fabricated shower stall with a small 2.5 inch rubber water barrier. You'll want to make sure that whichever option you choose, that it has a safe non-slip floor and plenty of room to sit down if needed. Tubs aren't always the safest choice as you age, but if you simply must have a tub and are able to replace your current model, consider a walk-in soaking tub with a door for easier access.
Seek Professional Opinions
With a little foresight and planning there is no reason that you can't continue to enjoy your bathroom safely for years to come. Whether you have completed our In-Home Assessment Checklist, or are simply researching for the fun of it, it's a good idea to get a professional opinion that looks at both safety options, as well as the building options. You can Contact Us or schedule a Free In-Home Assessment by clicking the button below.