How to Make Walk-In Showers for Seniors Safe
Updated: Aug 2, 2021
Expert Advice to Make Walk-In Showers Sage for Seniors
Whether you or a loved one is aging in place, a major concern is how mobility issues may impact safety in the shower. There can be many hurdles that seniors need to jump through just to access the shower—stepping over a tub, feeling stable on slippery surfaces, moving about in a tight space with nowhere to grab onto...the list goes on.
It's no surprise that the shower stall is one of the most common areas where seniors fall. Roughly 81% of bathroom injuries are caused by a fall, and the injuries can be devastating—especially if you're a senior.
Making adjustments to the overall space, particularly the shower, is key for safety. It might seem a bit overwhelming to know where you should start when it comes to transforming your current room into a safer space. That's where the team at Melesh Construction Dallas comes in. Our team of experts specializes in accessibility modifications designed to ensure you can grow old in the home you love without worrying about comfort and safety. To help you know what steps to take to prepare your shower for aging in place, our pro team created this blog. Discover our top tips for improving walk-in showers for senior safety.
Our Top Improvement Tips
Are you a senior worried about falling in the bathroom? Or perhaps your parents have just moved in with you, and you need to make adjustments to accommodate their mobility issues? In any case, there are numerous steps you can take to improve walk-in showers for seniors' safety.
1. Say Goodbye to Clutter
For an elderly person, sorting through multiple bottles of shampoo and conditioner, or even leaning down to grab a bar of soap, could be dangerous. He or she may have to move in a way that could wind up causing a fall. It's imperative to not only keep items in the unit down to the bare necessities, but to also provide easy access for toiletries and other items—such as any medical equipment kept in the shower. For example, rather than having bottles and soap on the edges of a tub, consider installing a rack or shelf, so toiletries are more easily reached.
2. Flatten All Surfaces
It's very common for walk-in showers to be built with a lip or edge where the tiled surface meets the bathroom floor. While this may not seem like a big deal for most people, for an elderly person it can become very tricky to navigate. This is especially the case if an older person needs to push a wheelchair or walker into the shower. A safe step walk-in shower ensures the unit's basin is flush with the floor. This reduces tripping hazards and makes it easier to access.
You should also ensure the width of the unit allows for a person using a wheelchair or walker to enter easily. A roll-in shower can make a world of difference to an older person with mobility challenges who desires to stay as independent as possible.
On the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website, it states that all walk-ins should be 36" wide, so anyone who uses a walker or wheelchair can roll in easily.
3. Grippy Surfaces
There are multiple ways you can lessen the likelihood of a fall caused by walking on slippery surfaces.
Bathroom stickies are a simple but effective way to reduce slips and falls. These can be easily added to any bathroom fixture and will drastically improve safety. Other, more permanent, options include installing non-slip floor tiles or applying non-slip paint to your current surfaces.
It's not just the inside of a walk-in or bathtub that can be slippery. Once an older person gets out and steps on the bathroom floor, it also becomes wet and could cause a fall. That is why it's very important to use non-slip mats. These mats are also much more comfortable to step on than a cold tile floor.
4. Grab Bars for Showers
If you're planning to age in place, grab bars are an absolute necessity. They can be the difference between washing in safety and comfort, and winding up hurting yourself by falling on the hard bathroom floor.
The best place to install grab bars is anywhere that you might naturally grab onto while entering and exiting the shower. This could include beside the shower, in the unit and next to the toilet. A professional contractor from Melesh Construction Dallas will be able to help you install grab bars, so you don't have to worry about falling again.
Do not use grab bars that are suction-cupped to the wall. Even though the packaging might suggest they're as strong as built-in bars, this is not the case. You or your loved one could grab the bar only for it to pull off the wall. Built-in hand bars are the best option. In fact, you could consider replacing all your towel racks with grab bars for extra security.
5. Seating Matters
Expecting your senior family member to stand the entire time they're showering is unrealistic. It's much safer and more comfortable to include seating. But what kind of seat is best for the unit?
There are many options for walk-in seats. You can have one built-in, buy a wooden bench (teak is a great option) or find a medical-grade seat at your local medical supplies store.
Tub Transfer benches
These are slightly different from a typical seat, and are usually used by elderly people who have a shower/bathtub combination, and who find it challenging getting into and out of the unit. Transfer benches fit on top of the bathtub lip, making it easier to slide-on and helping seniors avoid physically stepping into the tub.
6. Walk-In Tubs
Sometimes, you or your loved one might prefer bathing, but it's no longer practical to step over the tub's edge—unless you get a walk-in tub. However, while this may sound like a great solution for you, there are a few things you should consider first.
Walk-in tubs are lower to step into, roughly 3" to 7" high—whereas a traditional bathtub has a 14" rim.
Walk-in tubs are usually pre-built with grab bars. This provides stability and helps prevent an elderly person from slipping their head under the water.
Generally, walk-in tubs include built-in seats. This keeps bathers warm and submerged in water, but also makes it easier to get in and out of the tub.
A walk-in tub is still a tub. The lip can still be a tripping hazard, and it will come with high walls that may be a drowning hazard if an elderly person has a medical emergency causing them to lose consciousness.
Unfortunately, given that walk-ins have a door that opens and closes there is a chance they may leak if the seal does not stick properly.
Walk-in tubs are also difficult to open and close. This can be a challenge for seniors who have poor grip strength or arthritis.
Bathers have to sit in the tub as it fills up. If the water is too hot, they may get burned. This is problematic as a senior person may not be able to adjust the temperature quickly enough.
7. Hand-Held Shower Heads with Wall Mounts
A hand-held shower head can offer a senior person more control and independence, especially if he or she is seated in the shower. Additionally, there are many options available that are easy for seniors to use—especially if they have arthritic hands.
8. Lever Faucet Handles
This is a tip that you can use throughout your home. Levers are much easier for seniors to use than knobs, because they require less time to open and less strength to use. If your loved one uses a walker, a lever handle can prevent them from losing balance while they open/close doors. This is also the case in the bathroom.
9. Tempered Glass Doors
Units with tempered glass doors are much safer for seniors to use than curtains or typical glass found in standard showers. Tempered glass does not shatter in the event a senior citizen falls down. Usually, tempered glass is found in most modern bathrooms, but this may not be the case if you live in an older home. Another great option is to have a frameless door. These are far easier to clean and don't rely on a track to open and close—which can be a tripping hazard.
Another reason to trade in curtains for glass is that the latter enables more light into the unit. This helps senior citizens see better as they use the facility. Additionally, curtains might impede an elderly person's mobility if they get wrapped around a walker or wheelchair.
10. A Note On Portable Showers
If your aging relative has just moved in and can't get upstairs to use the bathroom, you may want to consider investing in a portable option. While installing a walk-in on the first floor is a preferable solution, a portable model might fit the bill if the move is temporary. Many of these showers are built to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.
11. Always Use a Medical Alert System
Even by taking the proper precautions and installing the necessary adjustments to prevent a fall, accidents can still happen. Or, a medical emergency that has nothing to do with the state of your bathroom could occur—like a heart attack. You should always have a medical alert system for you or your aging relative in the event of an emergency. There are many options available, including:
Family 1st Medical Alert System
Life Alert, which also offers a button that can go in the shower stall
Alexa and other smart devices that can be voice activated
The new CVS Medical Alert System: Symphony
LifeFone Medical Alarm
Invisawear Smart Jewelry
Shower Conversion: Frequently Asked Questions
Does Medicare Pay for a Walk-In Shower?
Typically, medicare does not pay for a walk-in shower. However, there may be some situations where you may be able to receive some financial assistance. It's best to review your insurance plan and speak directly with an agent.
How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Tub with a Walk-In Shower?
Each bathing independence renovation project is unique, so it's best to call and speak with your local contractor to know what you can expect. At Melesh Construction Dallas, once you let us know more about what aging in place projects you have in mind, we can discuss details like costs and project timelines.
What's a Good Size for a Walk-In?
According to the American's with Disabilities Act, your walk-in shower should be at least 36" inches wide and deep. This is so that a wheelchair or walker user is able to enter the unit comfortably.
Do Walk-In Showers Use More Water than a Regular Shower?
No, a walk-in model does not use more water than a regular shower. How much water and energy is used while showering depends on how long the shower is. To cut down on your energy use and water bill, consider installing an efficient shower head.
Hire the Pros at Melesh Construction Dallas Today!
Are you ready to get started on transforming your bathroom from a difficult to use slipping-hazard into a state of the art accessible space? If you're ready to age in place gracefully, our team of experts can help. We have years of experience working with seniors and their families.
We know the unique needs of elderly citizens and how to modify your space, so you can maintain independence and comfort. To get started today, we invite you to give our friendly team a call at 972-866-7781. Alternatively, you can book an online consultation to learn more.