Bathroom Safety Tips for Caregivers
The bathroom is often one of the smallest rooms in any given house. However, at the same time, the potential for injury while in the bathroom is perhaps higher than anywhere else in the home. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2011 study discovered that more than 234,000 unintentional injuries in the bathroom among adults resulted in a trip to the emergency department. These injury rates were even higher in older people, with the highest number of injuries happening to people over the age of 85. Research from the National Institute on Aging corroborates this, thating that one in every three people over the age of 65 suffers from a fall on an annual basis - and that around 80% of those falls occur in the bathroom.
The CDC study revealed that the most dangerous activities often occurred while showering, bathing, or leaving the shower or tub. Around 4 out of every 5 of these injuries happened after a slip and fall, making it even more important to ensure older adults are provided with as much support as possible while using the bathroom. Caregivers need to know the risks and how to resolve them, ensuring that the people they care for are kept safe while in the bathroom.
General Safety Tips
We’ve established just how important it is for a caregiver to keep their older charges from becoming hurt or injured in the bathroom, but how to go about accomplishing that goal is another thing completely. It’s a careful balancing act; caregivers need to ensure the person using the bathroom is protected while also preserving their dignity and independence wherever possible. Thankfully, there are a number of ways that a bathroom can be altered to ensure better safety for older people.
First and foremost, it’s integral to keep the path into and out of the bathroom clear of any possible obstacles. Remove clutter and objects that could cause someone to possibly trip and fall by trying to move past them. Additionally, consider removing any floor mats or rugs on the bathroom floor, as these are easily tripped over. These can set these down once more during a bath or shower and then picked up once again to keep the bathroom floor clear of all clutter.
Additionally, it’s crucial that the path to the bathroom, and the objects in the room itself, are clear and visible at all times - especially at night. Adding stick-on lights or automatic night lights to the bathroom and the hallway nearby makes navigating into and out of the bathroom much safer at night. Anyone of any age can trip in the dark on the way to the bathroom after just waking up, after all.
Safety Tips During a Bath or Shower
With the CDC identifying the bathtub or shower stall as the most dangerous spot in the bathroom, it’s necessary to focus directly on safety during bathing or showering. First and foremost, older people need to have proper support so that they can transfer safely into and out of the tub or shower stall, and one of the best ways to offer more stability is through the inclusion of grab bars in the bathroom. These sturdy metal bars should be placed strategically in places that are easy to reach in order to make it easier for people entering and leaving the tub to stay balanced. Make sure they’re located at an optimal height so that anyone using these bars don’t have to reach too far down, or too far up, as this could shift their center of gravity and make slipping more likely, not less.
For older people who prefer bathing in a tub or that can’t lift their legs high enough to make it over the tub, the inclusion of a transfer bench can be beneficial. These benches make it easier to enter and exit a tub from a seated position, eliminating much of the danger of falling while standing. A good complement to the transfer bench is a shower chair, as this can be used for anyone who feels uncomfortable with standing throughout an entire shower or who has balance problems.
Other important tips include the use of a non-slip shower mat to cut down on the possibility of falling due to wet, slippery tub or shower stall floors, even for anyone using a shower chair. Additionally, ensure that everything someone needs while inside the shower, such as shampoo and other toiletries, is easily within reach so as to not cause a slip due to a loss of balance caused by reaching too far. Finally, it’s always a good idea for a caregiver to test the temperature of a shower or bath beforehand, as being subjected to water that’s either too cold or too hot can cause someone to jerk and lose their balance.
Safety Tips When Using the Toilet
The bath or shower might be the most dangerous part of the room, but we can’t ignore the dangers that an older person might face while using the toilet, either. Thankfully, there are just as many ways to make using the toilet safer as there are showering or bathing. In fact, some of these methods overlap, such as the use of grab bars. Placing these bars in locations near the toilet, either on the walls or even as free-standing poles affixed to the floor and ceiling, provide extra stability while sitting down on a toilet or standing back up, reducing the danger faced by falls.
There are other ways to make using the toilet safer as well. Using a raised toilet seat with arms also provides good support while sitting down or standing up and reduces effort and strain placed on the knees and back. Additionally, as it can sometimes prove difficult to wipe after using the toilet, using toilet tissue aids such as specially designed toilet wiping wands made with hypoallergenic materials takes away the need to reach or bend over while still ensuring the person using the toilet keeps their dignity and independence.
At this point, it should be crystal clear that providing high levels of safety for older people is one of the most important aspects of being a caregiver for an elderly individual. Short of literally assisting someone undress, enter a shower or tub, wash themselves, and then safely leave to dry off and get dressed once again, safety-proofing the bathroom in the ways described above remains the most effective way to keep injuries from occurring in the bathroom.
In many cases, individuals who decide to move to a retirement community after reaching the age of 65 or older will have the benefits of a bathroom that already has many of these accessibility features built in. Grab bars are often standard in new construction for retirement community apartments and townhomes, which makes the job of a caregiver less complex. At the same time, the need for additional equipment such as shower chairs, transfer chairs, or toilet wiping wands means that a caregiver can’t rest on their laurels, even if they’re caring for an older person who wants to preserve as much of their independence as possible.
Meanwhile, for older people who choose to age in place, it may often be necessary to renovate or refurbish not just the bathroom but even large portions of their existing home to make it safer for them to live. Reaching an upstairs bathroom may not be possible safely without the addition of a stairlift to prevent slips and falls, for example; in lieu of the installation of such a device, a downstairs bathroom may need to be completely retrofitted to make using the tub and toilet within it safer and more accessible.
Meanwhile, the path forward for caregivers is clear: you need to protect the older person under your charge, and that goes doubly so for when they need a bath or to use the toilet. If you can’t be with them every step of the way because they wish to remain independent or to preserve some of their dignity, it’s absolutely imperative that you ensure their bathroom is as safe as possible by using the safety tips we’ve gone over above. All of these together don’t just contribute to your charge’s safety but also their quality of life - something that’s important to keep in mind.
- Stevens, J. A., Haas, E. N., & Haileyesus, T. (2011). Nonfatal bathroom injuries among persons aged ≥15years—United States, 2008. Journal of Safety Research, 42(4), 311–315. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsr.2011.07.001
- Wilson, B. (2021, March 10). 7 Tips for Creating a Senior-Friendly Bathroom Starting with Toilet Safety Rails. AgingInPlace.Org. https://aginginplace.org/7-tips-for-creating-a-senior-friendly-bathroom-starting-with-toilet-safety-rails/