Designing Accessible Bathrooms for Older Adults to Maintain Independence

As we get older or suffer from a disability, we often become dependent on others. We take for granted our ability to perform routine living activities like using the bathroom and related hygiene that goes with that. There are actions we can take now to maintain independence.

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Designing Accessible Bathrooms for Older Adults to Maintain Independence
6 Min Read May 18th, 2022 Updated:May 31st, 2023

As people get older, they face more and more health and age-related issues. And unfortunately, this is unavoidable. But being able to carry out certain daily living activities on their own can be very empowering for older adults. 

Therefore, while it's advisable to help them with their daily living activities as necessary, it's also good to help promote their independence by giving them the ability to perform some of these tasks by themselves. 

One of the most basic activities in life that shouldn't be taken for granted is going to the bathroom. Using the toilet, performing routine hygiene functions, getting in and out of the shower safely, and other bathroom activities are part of everyday life. However, when we can no longer perform these activities independently, people become dependent on others. 

When older adults can no longer use the bathroom on their own, this affects them mentally, emotionally, and socially. So, to avoid this for as long as possible, there are certain things you can do. One way is to design an accessible bathroom to help older adults or those with disabilities, to be less dependent on others.

Design an Accessible Bathroom 

Maybe your elder parents or a loved one you're taking care of doesn't require the use of a wheelchair or a walker at this point. But this doesn't mean you shouldn't prepare when they need it in the future. So, if you want to create an accessible bathroom for older adults, do it sooner than later.

Keep in mind that as we get older, we all experience a decline in our health. Our bodies change, and our mobility isn't the same as when we were younger. Being prepared helps people prepare for the consequences of aging.

Start the process by taking some measurements. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the bathroom door should be around 32-36 inches wide for a wheelchair to pass through. Therefore, you should consider widening the doorway to facilitate access.

The same law advises that to turn a wheelchair, you need a turning radius of about 5 feet. So, you should make sure that the bathroom provides enough space for that. And you should also leave a clear area of approximately 27 inches under the sink for the wheelchair to fit. 

A large bathroom.

An accessible bathroom includes ample clear space in the middle.

Accessible Bathrooms Start with Bathing Area

Create an accessible bathroom for older adults by considering the bathing area. Even if the older adult in your care doesn’t require a wheelchair, limited mobility is still a common issue. Therefore, bathtubs are not recommended. The reason bathtubs can be problematic is because of how you get in and out of a tub. A person using a bathtub must lift their legs. This movement can be a dangerous and challenging task for an older person or someone with some disability.

Instead, consider installing a walk-in shower. Walk-in showers provide easy access and a lot of room. And if you go for one with no threshold, it can even accommodate a wheelchair, if necessary. A shower chair or bench can be placed inside the walk-in shower so the person can sit.

A bathroom.

Installing a walk-in shower to make a bathroom much more accessible for older adults 

You could also install a walk-in tub. However, the main disadvantage is the long waiting time. The user has to get in before turning on the water and can only get out once all the water is drained. Walk-in showers often provide a better user experience.

Retrofitting the Toilet

Sitting down and getting up is challenging when you have limited mobility or back pain. This is why you should consider raising the height of the toilet. 

To do this, you have a few options:

  • Install the toilet about 17 inches from the floor.

  • Use a thicker toilet seat.

  • Install a toilet extender.

Useful Accessories

Apart from the bathroom fixtures, you can also use some helpful accessories to design an accessible bathroom for older adults.

·       Install grab bars wherever necessary

Grab bars are probably the most valuable accessories for older adults. People with various mobility issues can use them to sit down, stand up, or simply for support. Therefore, you should install them in all the key areas. But no matter what, don’t forget to place them in the shower and next to the toilet. And make sure that you secure them tightly to the wall to prevent injury.

·       Choosing the right shower head

Having a fixed shower head makes the cleaning process harder because you usually have to stand and move around. Therefore, you should consider installing a detachable showerhead that users can hold in their hands. And don’t forget to place it at an average height where the older adult can reach it easily when seated.

An added advantage is most people, no matter what age, enjoy showering with a detachable showerhead. 

A shower head.

Install a detachable showerhead at the right height for easy use for someone sitting. 

·       Shower Seats

While walk-in showers provide easy access, they require standing. And this can be exhausting for older adults. Not to mention the risk of slipping in the shower. Consider installing a built-in seat or buying a bath chair. 

·       Anti-Slip Mats

Slipping on the wet floor of the bathroom is extremely dangerous for anyone, particularly for older adults. One way to keep older adults safe is to redo the bathroom floor. In this case, you can opt for anti-slip floor tiles. However, this is a big project. So, if you don’t have the time or money to do it, you can go for the easier option. Using anti-slip mats represents a cheap solution to a significant problem.

·       Alarm Systems 

Sometimes accidents happen regardless of all the prevention measures taken. And older adults are prone to accidents. Therefore, you should also install an alarm system in the bathroom for emergencies. For example, you can use doorbells, emergency buttons, or alarms.

Additional Support for Older Adults

Sometimes, the space doesn’t allow you to make all these changes to a bathroom. And depending on the needs of the older person, you might have to consider moving them to a different home. For example, if the person you’re caring for has to use a wheelchair but can’t use the bathroom because of a lack of space, that’s a big problem. 

Moving can be very stressful, particularly for older adults. Leaving a home that someone has been living in for many years can be very emotional. Even if your parents are moving in with you, they still might have difficulty accepting it (and it will be tough on you and your family). 

So, it would help if you tried to make this process as smooth as possible for them. Give them time to get used to moving and involve your loved one in decision-making. 

Assisted Living

Assisted living is another option for someone who needs help with daily living activities but still desires some independence. In an assisted living facility, they would have their own apartment in a facility with support services available. Plus, everything, including bathrooms, is designed for older people or those with disabilities. Assisted living facilities also have social activities, dining rooms, laundry, and other on-site services. This LTC NEWS guide to assisted living can be helpful - Assisted Living and Memory Care Facilities Guide | LTC News.

When you are helping your loved one move, wherever they are moving to, be careful with packing and lifting. Review these moving tips and help your parents with this to avoid any injuries.

Aging Happens. Be Prepared

Growing older is hard for everyone. And when health issues prevent people from carrying out their daily activities, this can take a toll on their mental and emotional state. Therefore, it’s important not to treat older adults like children and let them do some things independently. Even being able to use the bathroom by themselves can be empowering. So, if you want to help, use these ideas on how to design an accessible bathroom for older adults.

Long-term health care affects families and finances. Take time now to consider your future declining health and aging. Are you prepared for the consequences of longevity? Consider if your home is ready for aging. When you need long-term health care, how will you afford the high costs of care without adversely impacting your income and assets? Will your family be ready to deal with this reality?

Discuss aging and long-term health care. Consider Long-Term Care Insurance to protect savings and reduce the stress and burdens otherwise placed on your family. Most people start planning in their 50s. 

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About the Author

Jane Stinson is a relocation specialist who has worked with many seniors over the years. Having seen how hard some of them have taken it, she has decided to start blogging about helping seniors, and younger generations, move to their new homes. Jane aims to make the whole experience more comfortable. In her free time, she enjoys reading and gardening.

LTC News Contributor Jane Stinson

Jane Stinson

Contributor since March 26th, 2021

Editor's Note

If you have older parents, you have likely seen the consequences of aging firsthand. Declining health, mobility problems, and dementia are all things that can happen as we grow older. These conditions can make it difficult or impossible for older adults to perform daily living activities, such as bathing, dressing, eating, and using the toilet.

Long-term health care costs can be a financial burden for families. The average cost of a private room in a nursing home is over $100,000 per year. Unpaid family caregivers can also face financial hardship, as they may need to take time off from work or reduce their hours to provide care.

Long-term care insurance can help families plan for the future. These policies provide financial assistance to cover the cost of long-term care services, such as nursing home care, assisted living, and home health care. 

Long-Term Care Insurance is most affordable when purchased in your 50s, when premiums are lower, and your health is better. If you are concerned about your future long-term care needs, it is important to talk to a specialist about Long-Term Care Insurance. A specialist can help you assess your needs and find the right policy for you and your family.

Seek Professional Help Planning for Long-Term Care

Experts recommend seeking the help of a qualified and experienced Long-Term Care Insurance specialist to help you find the right coverage. A specialist will match your age, health, and family history with the right coverage at the right price. 

Long-term care is a very specialized area, and few insurance agents and financial advisors have the expertise. Find a specialist who represents the top companies as premiums can vary over 100% between insurance companies. Leading specialists will often have over 500 clients with Long-Term Care Insurance.

A specialist will save you money, and you will have peace of mind knowing they are making the appropriate recommendations - Work With a Specialist | LTC News.

Planning Tools and Resources Available on LTC NEWS

Planning for the future is never easy, but long-term health care planning can be very complicated and comes with many emotions. Getting the right tools and resources will make the process much easier.

One of the goals is to reduce the stress and anxiety usually placed on your family at the time of crisis. LTC NEWS can be beneficial in providing you with important information for you to consider.

LTC NEWS has put in place several resources, including:

Find all the resources on LTC NEWS - Resources for Long-Term Care Planning | LTC News.

Need Help Now for Mom or Dad?

If your family is already in crisis and you need to find help for mom or dad, LTC NEWS can help. We have put together several comprehensive guides to help you in your process.

Start by reading our four guides -  

If your loved one is lucky enough to own a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, be sure they use it. Sometimes families wait, thinking they can save the benefits for a rainy day. Waiting on using available Long-Term Care Insurance benefits is not a wise idea. 

Get Assistance in Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim

Many insurance companies have issued Long-Term Care Insurance policies over the years. Filing a claim can sometimes be complicated unless you know what to do or get expert help and assistance. 

Don't allow the claim process to stop you from using the benefits available in an LTC policy. Quality care obtained early will help provide a better quality of life and reduce the risk of a deep decline and facility care. 

If you need help in starting the process of a Long-Term Care Insurance claim, LTC NEWS can help. LTC NEWS provides free assistance with no obligation to help you or a loved one complete the claims process with a Long-Term Care Insurance policy. We have teamed up with Amada Senior Care, who will do all the work - free with no obligation. 

Get help finding quality caregivers or long-term care facilities and get recommendations for a proper care plan, whether a person has a policy. - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim | LTC News

Advantages of Reverse Mortgages 

Today's reverse mortgages for those aged 62 and older could be an ideal resource to fund a Long-Term Care Insurance policy OR even provide money to pay for care if you, or a loved one, already needs help and assistance. You might be eligible at younger ages as well. 

Some people have much of their savings invested in their homes. With today's reverse mortgages, you can find ways to fund care solutions, care itself, and even help with cash flow during your retirement. 

Learn more by asking questions to an expert. Mike Banner, LTC NEWS columnist and host of the TV Show "62 Who Knew" will answer your questions regarding caregiving, aging, health, retirement planning, long-term care, and reverse mortgages. 

- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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You can write a story or ongoing column for LTC NEWS. You can write about many topics, including aging, caregiving, health, lifestyle, retirement planning, and long-term care, to name a few.

Be sure to write for our core target audience of adults aged 40 and older. Our audience is worldwide; however, our primary target is the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other English-speaking nations. 

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Email your story idea or article: - LTC News Contributors | LTC News

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