How to design ergonomic and safe bathrooms for the elderly

Although no one is immune to toilet accidents, the senior citizens suffer most from falls. Here's how you design safe bathrooms for the elderly members of your family.
Safe Bathrooms for the Elderly
Interior of bathroom for the disabled or elderly person. Handrail for disabled and elderly people in the bathroom.

No one is immune to accidents in slippery areas like the bathroom, but more-so, the elderly need help in these spaces to stay safe. Slips and falls often lead to severe injuries which can limit movement and function. So, when designing the home of your ageing parents or loved ones, think of ways to reduce the risk of accidents and to decrease response time in the event of a fall. Here’s how you design safe bathrooms for the elderly: 

A spacious, future-proof bathroom. A good bathroom designer prioritises the comfort of the elderly user, without sacrificing the design.

Make the bathroom accessible

Access to the bathroom is your first port of call. Ensure a clear path with no barriers or rugs to avoid tripping. Illuminate the way to the bathroom to help the person navigate at night.

You should consider wheelchair use even if the elderly members of your family are still able to walk. Give the bathroom enough space so a person in a wheelchair (and a caregiver) can move freely inside.

Use wide and easy-open doors

Bathroom doors should be at least 80 centimetres wide and should open quickly. Sliding doors with a smooth glide are highly recommended. Opt for lever handles over regular doorknobs. Remove bathroom locks to make the bathroom accessible in case of an emergency.

Here, the designer used simple pocket doors:

Lay non-slip floors

The last thing you want in a wet environment is slippery floors. Use non-slip materials to prevent slips. Here, the designer has laid textured porcelain tiles on the wall and floor: Another option is to lay a rubberised mat over the floor to increase the friction between your feet and the surface.

Wedge the toilets

The elderly can find it difficult to sit down and get up from the toilet. To ease the movement, consider wedging the bathroom to raise it to 46 centimetres high (see the illustration below).

For the user’s safety, attach the toilet to the floor and wall.

Install grab bars

Grab bars are the most prominent feature in bathrooms for the elderly. These assists when getting in and out of the shower and sitting and standing up from the toilet/tub. 

Stainless steel or aluminium grab bars are designed to support the weight of an adult. Secure these to the walls near the toilet and the shower at about 1.10 to 1.30 metres high. In a large bathroom, install these safely bars on an empty wall to help the user reach specific points in the bathroom.

Note: It is not recommended to use the towel rail as a substitute for grab bars. This can be highly dangerous. 

If you don’t like the look of grab bars, opt for the folding variant. You can fold these bars down and out of the way when not in use.

Ergonomic faucets

Instead of spherical knobs, install faucets with lever taps. These are easier to use than spherical, twistable knobs, especially for those who might have arthritis or other conditions affecting their ability to turn faucets. Valves with electric sensors are highly recommended as well.

Choose the shower over bathtub

Avoid installing tubs in bathrooms for the elderly members of your family as they can be difficult to enter and exit. Instead, build a full shower box measuring at least 80 centimetres wide. Make sure there’s space for a carer when necessary. Install a second showerhead, preferably handheld to make bathing easier. To make the shower more ergonomic, install a folding support stool. The user can sit here while taking a shower. To make tubs safer, install grab bars and a bathtub stool, as shown below:

Optional: Set up a bathroom alert system

Accidents can still happen despite taking all the precautions mentioned above. To make your bathroom for the elderly safer, consider installing a bathroom alert system. It helps signal a problem to everyone in the house (or to someone outside the house).

Most bathroom alert systems look like an emergency button or doorbell. When pushed, it triggers an alarm and contacts a chosen party, like another, loved one or a care company. Put these near the floor, so a person who can’t get up can still use it. Universal design serves the demands of everyone, especially people with reduced mobility. We hope this article helped you avoid life’s uncertainties from happening inside your loved one’s home.

If you're planning to renovate and future-proof your toilet, contact us. We'd love to help you design and build safe bathrooms for the elderly members of your family.

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Contact our Perth-based building designers for more info.



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