Aging in place is almost universally accepted as a good idea because the benefits are so clear. It gives you the freedom and dignity that come from staying in your own home, the ability to make your own decisions, the maintenance of friendships and community ties. In 2014 a study by the American Association of Retired Persons ( AARP) found that among people 65 and older, 87% wanted to age in place.
In a recent study done by Cornell University, more than half of low-needs nursing home residents — an estimated 100,000 people — could instead be living at home if they only had the right support system in place. Having a house that is safe for them to maneuver is one of those criteria. The Bathroom is a prime example of a space that isn’t designed for the elderly.
It is too easy to slip and fall in the shower and if you have a bathtub, you might find that it is difficult for an elderly person to climb inside. Sinks and other fixtures are not convenient for people in wheelchairs and storage can become very inconvenient to people who can no longer bend and twist to look for the things they need.. It is never too soon to start designing a home that accommodates people of all ages and abilities.
Start with the Bathroom
Consumer reports tell us that 235,000 people wind up in the emergency room each year due to injuries that occur while showering, taking a bath, or using the bathroom. Tub and shower bases with slip-free surfaces can eliminate a majority of these injuries. The design of the tub or shower can also come into play…
- Wide Doorways – The doorway should be a minimum of 32 inches wide. In older homes, it’s a narrow 24 inches. When the doorway is only 24 inches a walker or wheelchair will not fit through the bathroom door.
- Stand Up Showers with a Slip Free Base – If you have a small shower make sure to enlarge it so that there is extra room for seating and a walker.
- Curbless Shower with a Bench and Grab Bars – This doesn’t have to look as antiseptic as it sounds. Think in terms of a tiled shower area with recessed shelves at arm’s level to stop you from having to stoop down to the floor or reach up to a shower rack. Add a matching ceramic bench and grab bars that come in brushed nickel, chrome, or bronze to match your faucet hardware. They will look more upscale than the white plastic hospital variety.
- Tub with a Door – It would be much easier and safer to access than a conventional tub. Unfortunately, what people fail to realize is that with most walk-in tubs, you have to maneuver very carefully through a narrow door and then get out of the way as the door swings shut. And you still have to climb over a low step. So if you’re walking or flexibility is compromised, this unit won’t be effective.
Toilets and Sinks
Perhaps most important, don’t forget about the toilet. Getting up from a seated position might take some effort, so add a grab bar and consider a taller-than-average model. Many toilet seats are lower than 17 inches from the floor, making it difficult for the elderly to stand up or sit down. If this sounds like your toilet, consider installing a raised toilet seat. Several things you can do to make your bathroom sink more accommodating…
- Wall Mounted Sinks – If you are in a wheelchair or need to sit while using the sink install a wall-mounted sink rather than a traditional sink dropped into a vanity. This will give you space underneath the sink for your chair.
- Lower Counter Tops – These are perfect for seated people or people in wheelchairs but higher countertops are easier to use if you stand. Maybe create split-level countertops for both options.
- The fan should be on a separate switch and preferably on a timer. Fan noise can become very annoying and with the timer, it is possible to turn the fan on and leave the room.
We are generally introduced to the aging process by our grandparents, the details of age-related changes become more apparent as our parents reach 70 and older, and soon we, ourselves are thrown into an intensive course as we personally experience the full cycle of the aging process.