Quick – what's the most dangerous room in your home? The kitchen? The garage? No, it's the bathroom.
More people get hurt in bathrooms than anywhere else in their homes.
Not surprisingly, about two-thirds of the injuries involve slips and falls, mostly while bathing or showering, with toilets close behind. This is especially serious for seniors. A third of seniors slip and fall each year, 80 percent of them in the bathroom.
More than 235,000 people over the age of 15 visit emergency rooms because of injuries suffered in the bathroom. About 14 percent are hospitalized - CDC.
Falling isn't fun for anyone but younger people can often shrug it off. It's a different story for seniors, though. One out of five falls causes a serious injury, such as broken bones or traumatic brain injury.
Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture. More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways.
A complicating factor is that there are so many seniors living alone.
Today, nearly 29% of America’s 46 million older adults 65+ not living in nursing homes or hospitals live alone. That’s 12 million people. Nearly half of them are 85 or older. One in five will need personal care after they reach that age. The rest are just one serious fall away from needing help with daily living.
The Americans With Disabilities Act spells out the minimum safety standards that must be met by public buildings.
While not every home can meet all of the ADA standards, there are some relatively simple fixes that can make life safer and more pleasant.
Bathroom safety fixes
- Grab bars are essential. They can prevent most falls if they’re solidly mounted in the right locations.They should always be mounted solidly in studs, never in drywall and never with glue.
- Toilets should be chair height, 15 to 17 inches. Most toilets today are too low, making it hard to sit down and stand up safely. Grab bars on both sides if possible, please.
- Slippery showers are dangerous for even the most athletic. All it takes is one wrong move. Again, grab bars are a must.
The bathtub problem solved
Perhaps the trickiest – and most hazardous – everyday item in the bathroom is the bathtub. Getting in and out involves climbing over knee-high sides – 15 inches or more – into an often slippery surface with little to hold onto.
The solution is the walk-in tub – basically a high bathtub with a door that allows a floor-level entry. It allows seniors and everyone else to step safely into a dry surface, then be comfortably seated while they soak in warm sudsy water and, perhaps, turn on the massage jets.
When it's time to get out, the water drains rapidly and you step out without climbing over anything, with built-in grab bars close at hand.
Walk-in tub features
Standard features include:
- Low step-in. You only have to step up a few inches to get in and out, compared to a foot or more for a standard tub
- Deeper tub Standard tubs are shallow - they only hold a foot or so of water. Walk-in tubs are deeper, most about two and a half feet deep. The added depth providers a more relaxing, spa-like soak compared to the normal size.
- Handheld showerhead Most tubs include this feature, which makes it easier to bathe hard-to-reach areas.
- Sealed doors Every walk-in tub has watertight sealed doors to prevent water from spilling out. Once the tub has drained, you can open the door and exit the tub.
Most walk-in tubs also include an anti-scald valve, in-line heater to maintain constant water temperature, textured non-slip surfaces and built-in grab bars or handrails.
Walk-in tubs are a fairly recent innovation but are catching on fast. They fit in the same size opening as most tubs and installation is usually a one-day job.
A reasonable expense for a dangerous problem
Walk-in tubs range from $1,500 to about $8,000. Add a few grab bars and a new toilet and you can retrofit your bathroom to make it safer and more pleasant for everyone.
This may sound like an expensive proposition but it is in line with other home improvements that homeowners undertake every year. And considering that a year in a nursing home – where one can end up after a serious fall – costs about $96,000, it may be money well spent.
Most home improvement contractors can provide bids on equipment and installation. Manufacturers also provide referrals to experienced contractors in their advertisements.
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