According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 200,000 Americans are treated in emergency departments for bathroom-related injuries annually. How a bathroom is designed may keep elders safe and avoid fall risk.
Falls frequently happen as elders assume four types of postures while interacting with their bathroom environment:
Design elements associated with these postures include the bath and shower, toilet, and walking obstructions, among others. Examples include:
- Getting in and out of the tub or shower and/or sitting down and getting up from the toilet, and pulling on poorly secured towel racks that fall when grabbing for balance support.
- Getting up from low toilets (that are difficult to get up from easily) and either pushing on the toilet seat or grabbing the sink for balance support.
- Sitting down on low-seated toilets and shower/bath seats and turning to look for some type of balance support. Turning activity like this is associated with the highest risk of falling in the bathroom.
- Walking, turning and grabbing onto towel bars, sink tops, walls or other objects for balance support.
Making Bathrooms Safe
Of all the available bathroom safety designs, installing grab bars is perhaps the easiest and most-effective way to reduce the risk of falling:
- Many elders use towel bars or shower/tub features to hold onto while climbing in and out of the shower/tub. Towel bars are good for holding towels but aren’t built to support weight. Instead, install grab bars in easy-to-reach places to help support balance when entering and exiting the shower or tub.
- If an elder uses a tub to bathe, they need to step over the tub’s high sides whenever they get in and out. During tub transfers, a grab bar securely mounted on the tub rim can supply balance support.
- Grab bars (either wall- or toilet-attached) can compensate for low toilet seats and help an elder sit down and get up safely.
Grab bars are best-suited for elders with good upper-body strength who can hold onto grab bars while moving or standing. All grab bars should be slip-resistant, color-contrasted from the wall for visibility, and securely fixed to the studs of the wall for adequate support.
Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (healthcare professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn. If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Rein at firstname.lastname@example.org.