While taking a bath can be relaxing and restorative, getting into and out of the tub can be hazardous for seniors. The CDC estimated that approximately 234,094 nonfatal bathroom injuries required hospital treatment annually, with nearly two-thirds occurring in the bathtub or shower. For an elderly person, a fall can be a serious risk of injury, most commonly head trauma or hip fracture.
Given the risks, it is important that you educate yourself on common techniques and equipment to ensure your bathtub is a safe space to unwind and get clean. There are easy and cost-effective ways to reduce the risk of bathtub injuries.
Whether you are a senior citizen, a disabled person of any age, or someone with an elderly loved one, this article will teach you about safety techniques and equipment that can help avoid a fall in the bathtub.
How to make a bathtub safe for the elderly: top tips
The slick surface of a bathtub floor can cause a fall, but water on a tile floor outside of the bathtub can be hard to see, thus even more dangerous. You can make the bathtub and whole bathroom area safer by:
- 1Learning the safest way to get out of the bathtub. When aging, you often have to re-learn how to do certain motions to avoid injury, and getting out of the bathtub is no different. Thankfully, you can learn methods of getting out of the tub that can reduce the risk of injury.
- 2Outfitting your bathroom with safety equipment. Some safety items are incredibly simple to install, such as mats in and outside of the tub or a tub transfer bench. These easy fixes can be remarkably effective, as you will see further down in the article.
- 3Install tub modifications. Some essential, but harder-to-install, safety equipment includes a walk-in tub, grab bar, or a bathroom lift. These modifications may be a greater investment but can go a long way towards preventing a potentially damaging fall.
Bathtub safety equipment for seniors
A variety of home safety equipment can keep you stable in the bathroom, properly supporting you and preventing a fall. From inexpensive quick fixes to home remodeling, there is an accessible solution for any budget. Some of the things you can get at your local hardware store, or in consultation with a licensed contractor, include:
- Bathtub steps. Bathtub steps can be anything from built-in steps to portable stackable steps. Portable steps can be great for adaptive situations, shared living, and travel (and more friendly on your budget than a full remodel!)
- Non-stick mats. According to the National Institutes for Health, non-stick mats or abrasive strips can be one of the most effective bath aids for reducing the development of bathing-related disabilities. You can buy them for cheap and install them easily, and they effectively put off the degeneration of bathing difficulties.
- Bathtub grab bars. A grab bar can be one of the most effective pieces of equipment you can use to safely get into and out of the bath or shower. You should always firmly install a grab bar on the wall, as suction cup grab bars can shift during movement. The National Institute on Aging notes that a “grab bar in contrasting color to the wall is easier to see.” You should also note that a towel bar or rack should not be used as a grab bar.
- Bathtub lifts. Lifts for the tub can be one of the most effective tools in the bath safety arsenal, especially for those with more severe mobility difficulties. Lifts range in price, installation, and size, so they can be a great option no matter what your mobility, storage, and financial needs are.
- Bath pillows. While most of the safety equipment we have discussed is mainly geared towards preventing a catastrophic fall, it’s just as important that your back is well-supported in the tub. Sitting up against a hard surface with no support can be rough on your vertebrae, and a bath pillow is a comfortable solution. With an ergonomically designed bath pillow, you can take your time in the tub without worrying that you’re putting any extra stress on your back and neck.
- Walk-in tubs. A walk-in tub is the most drastic home modification on our list, but also probably the safest and most convenient. Not only does a walk-in tub eliminate the need for dangerous motions to get in and out of the tub, but these types of tubs can also include design features such as built-in grab bars, anti-slip surfaces, and a low entry surface to reduce the need for big steps. Unfortunately, Medicare does not consider walk-in bathtubs to be “durable medical equipment,” so does not cover the cost of installation. Some state Medicaid programs may cover some of the cost, so if you qualify for Medicaid you should check if your state covers walk-in tubs.
Whether or not you choose to try one or more of the safety items above, what’s important is that you outfit your tub and bathroom area with the equipment that meets your needs. From small fixes to more major modifications, if you have concerns about mobility in the bathroom, you should try something to give yourself peace of mind.
And if you’re not sure if any of this is for you, discuss these options with your physician, physical therapist, chiropractor, or other mobility professional.
Bottom Line: Bathroom Safety is Peace of Mind
Everyone loves a bath, and getting older shouldn’t mean giving up anything you love. Through easy and proven techniques, you can safety-proof your bathtub and the surrounding area and prevent anything that could limit your mobility in the future.
Whether you adapt your movement in the bathtub area, get temporary/portable safety equipment, or make more major modifications, bathtub safety is something that shouldn’t be ignored as you get older. It can be easy and inexpensive to get peace of mind in the bath and keep enjoying the things you love.