We all love to get refreshed (and sometimes sing!) in the shower, but if you’re a senior the shower is one of the most likely places for a damaging fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 235,000 people go to the emergency room every year for bathroom-related falls. Seniors are at much greater risk from shower injuries, including hip fractures and head trauma.
You can reduce the risk of a serious fall through awareness of your movements and installing shower safety equipment. It is always better to take these safety steps before a fall happens, rather than dealing with the arduous and expensive consequences afterward. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and nowhere is that saying truer than in retrofitting your bathroom for safe aging.
In this article, we will cover common injuries that can be sustained in the shower, safety equipment to reduce risks, and other tips so you can enjoy your shower with peace of mind. The most important safety equipment is information, and by educating yourself on risks and common steps taken to avoid injury, you can see better results down the road.
Falling in the Shower: Common Injuries Among the Elderly
When you are aging, a fall in the home is an especially common and dangerous type of injury – especially when showering. The bathroom accounts for 80% of falls in the home for seniors, and those falls can have disastrous consequences. For an elderly person, even a minor fracture or brief hospitalization can result in serious complications.
Almost one-third of seniors who fall in the bathroom are diagnosed with a fracture. Some of the most common injuries related to shower falls include contusions/abrasions, strain/sprain, fracture, laceration, internal injury, concussion, and burn/scald. Each of these injuries can be advanced and serious in its own way, from cognitive difficulties arising from concussion to advanced second or third-degree burns from exposure to overheated shower water.
Different safety and mobility solutions can address each of these injury risks. Solutions can range from equipment installation to something as simple as being diligent about the temperature of shower water. Below, we will outline key safety equipment and tips that will ensure a safe shower.
Safe Shower Equipment for Elderly: Top Equipment
Installing new equipment in your house sounds daunting and expensive, but below you will see a range of equipment from inexpensive finds at your local hardware store to renovations that require a licensed contractor. No matter your budget or ability, safety solutions are within reach. The most important thing is taking on the safety equipment that meets your specific needs, and something is always better than nothing. Some common safety equipment includes:
Tips to Avoid Falling in the Shower
Safety equipment is always advised, and often necessary, but it’s not the only way to keep yourself safe in the bathroom. Other behavior modifications and simple rearrangements can reduce the risk of a fall. A few of the top tips to reduce the risk of a dangerous fall include:
- 1Install additional safety equipment. As covered above, even the simplest safety items can make a big difference in reducing shower risk. Whether you outfit your shower area with non-stick mats or renovate it to create a full walk-in shower, what’s important is that you find a mobility solution that meets your exact mobility needs. And if you are currently aging into a high-risk category, the time to act is now to prevent an emergency later.
- 2Remove obstacles. Many falls occur on the side of the tub or shower, so ensuring that your bathing area is completely walk-in safe reduces the risk of such a fall. Other obstacles, such as unnecessary shelving or raised edges in the bathroom, should be removed as well. As much as possible, make your bathroom an open, level, obstacle-free area.
- 3Avoid over-exertion. According to the CDC, overexertion is the second leading cause of bathroom injuries, after a fall. A shower chair or transfer bench can be very helpful in avoiding overexertion.
- 4Watch water temperature for scalding risk. Elderly individuals are at especially high risk for scalding and burning from high-temperature shower water. Because of slower reflexes with age, and lack of control of water temperature in the case of assisted bathing, elderly people can often expose themselves to dangerously high water temperatures without realizing it. With sensitive and thin skin, relatively short exposures to high-temperature water can cause scalding and burns, which can also result in infection.
- 5For serious mobility concerns, consult a physical therapist. Don’t wait until after a fall to consult an expert about your mobility concerns. If you ever feel concerned or unstable in the bathroom, seek out more information from an expert. Post-injury rehabilitation can be an expensive, lengthy proposition and leads to greater risk factors down the road. Before you ever have an injury, inform yourself fully about the risks of aging in place.
Several of the above tips are more broadly applicable to home retrofitting for aging, but the bathroom is still the most dangerous place in the home for an elderly person. Ensuring a safe bathroom should be the highest priority for elderly individuals, families, and caregivers.
Shower Safety: Stay wary
Staying safe in the shower is relatively simple but requires vigilance from both elderly individuals and their caregivers. Whether you are a senior citizen, a loved one of someone at high risk for a fall, a disabled person of any age, or a caregiver, this article equips you with the tools to avoid shower injuries. You can do additional research to inform yourself on common injury risks, the most effective equipment, and other safety tips not covered here.
The risks can be scary but are no reason for despair. As outlined above, and like so many aspects of aging in place, simple solutions can lead to great results. Avoid expensive hospital bills, worry from family, and injury risk by properly outfitting your bathroom and informing yourself of common dangers.