Safety and Innovation – Bathroom Design for the Elderly

by Dale on May 11, 2010

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If you’re a caregiver to an older adult, you know that bathing is a common and difficult challenge.  I learned this first-hand when my mother had her health crisis.  I suddenly realized the 2 bathrooms in her 1980’s home prohibited her independence in bathing and toileting.  And, those are two activities of daily living that you can’t ignore.  I quickly did the basic things, like clearing the rooms of scattered rugs, installing a raised toilet seat, and getting a shower seat for a walk-in shower (thank goodness there were not tubs in both bathrooms!)  My mother later moved to a continuing care retirement community where I learned all about bathrooms designed to ADA specifications.  Mom loved her spacious bathroom with no-threshold shower, grab bars all over the place and various types of lighting.

I found out recently that the marketplace is full of innovative bathroom equipment for older adults.  Home builders and remodelers are starting to incorporate tubs, showers, toilets designed to meet the needs of older adults.  But, you don’t have to have a huge budget or grand remodeling scheme to consider some of these items.

If you have an elderly family member, you’ll want to take a look at some of these innovations.  You may have an immediate need or just be thinking ahead as you replace older bathroom fixtures.  In this post, I’ll share some of the items I was able to personally view in a local wholesaler’s showroom.  And, I’ll provide a few links to helpful resources.

First of all, before you head out to shop and get bedazzled by all the incredible innovations out there, start by learning the basics of bathroom safety and design.  This short article on bathroom safety by the University of Missouri extension agency is a great primer.  It provides easy-to-understand usage diagrams and will walk you through the basic features of grab bars, tubs, showers and toilets.

Now consider the functionality your aging parent needs and available budget.  You want to also be sure to pay attention to proper installation,  and if needed, training to use the equipment properly to avoid falls and get the most benefits.

Here are a few of the items I viewed.  Thanks to Gail Sager, of Mid-City Supply for explaining the products, functionality and benefits.

1.  Showers. While senior living facilities need to abide by ADA (American Disability Act) requirements, home owners need only use them as a guide.  Two factors to consider are the person’s mobility and the structural constraints of the bathroom and home.  Features include built-in shower seats, grab bars, flexible shower arm and single lever faucet.  There is a new feature being offered, a zero threshold shower base.   It offers a “flush, integrated trench drain”, level with the floor, preventing water in the rest of the bathroom.

2.  Tubs. There is a great variety of tub models.  I’m sure we’ve all seen the commercials for the walk-in tubs.  Gail said there are a few differentiating factors to consider.  Does the tub door open in or out?  If there is a mobility issue, choose the open-out door.  Since the tub cannot be filled until the person is sitting in it, select a model that fills and drains quickly.  She showed me a model that filled in 4 minutes.  The seat is heated.

There is a new model of tub that includes a hydraulic lift.  It includes an “easy-transfer automated door that lowers to open and rises to close, a bench-less design and a quick drain feature that allows the bather to exit in seconds instead of minutes.”  Wow.  My next question.  How much?  It is $12,000.  That is a lot of money, but consider that one year of nursing home care averages $75,000. All of these items help an elderly person remain in the home, ease the burden on the caregiver, and minimize safety issues of falling and injuries to the caregiver.

3.  Toilets. There are many recent innovations here.  There is the taller toilet.  I was also shown a toilet seat, 19″ side to side, that was designed for large people.  The bidet toilet is becoming popular.  The unit I was shown featured a panel to control spray pressure, water temperature, and drying.  Operation requires electricity. Bidet seat and toilet is priced at about $3,000.  Bidets can also be purchased as attachments.  Gail mentioned that this type of toilet is becoming popular beyond elderly use.

I hope I’ve got you thinking about bathroom safety and opened your mind to some of the new possibilities to support safety, independence and quality of life for your aging parents.  Please comment below with any related products or experiences you would like to share.


1.  Thanks to Gail Sager and Heather Hosterman at Mid-City Supply Co., Inc. Elkhart, IN

2.  A list of design and product suggestions from AARP

3.  Excellent article, “Safety with Style – Bathrooms for Aging American”


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