Seniors who want to age in place should consider remodeling their bathrooms so that they better accommodate their needs. Below are some ideas to keep in mind when planning a remodeling project.
1. Include a Bathroom on the Main Floor
If possible, place a bathroom on the same floor as the main living area. A bathroom located where the senior spends most of their time means they can avoid using the stairs. It’s a tall order for many homes, but can make a world of difference for older adults with declining mobility.
2. Provide Adequate Floor Space
The bathroom should be large enough to accommodate someone using a cane, a walker or even a wheelchair to get around. Someone who uses a wheelchair will require the most space—at least around 60 inches of open floor space to turn around. Doorways should be at least 32 inches wide so that a wheelchair can get through. Some chairs may require 36-inch-wide openings.
3. Make Tubs and Showers Accessible
For some seniors, standard bathtubs are difficult to get in and out of safely. At the very least, replace shower doors with shower curtains and apply a non-slip surface to the bottom of the tub. A tub seat or chair makes using the tub easier.
For showers, the best choice is a roll-in shower that allows someone in a wheelchair to get into the shower without getting out of their chair. A shower seat is also a good option. Plan for accessible shower or tub shelf storage so that shampoo and soap are within easy reach.
4. Keep Tub and Shower Fixtures in Mind
Faucets should be clearly marked. Stick to lever models, as they’re easier for people with limited mobility to operate. For the most flexibility, install a hand-held shower head or one attached to a pole that adjusts up and down.
Replace a standard faucet with one that has an anti-scald valve. These maintain the temperature of the water when the water pressure changes, preventing the user from getting burned should someone flush a toilet or the water pressure changes in some other way.
5. Add Grab Bars
Avoid the temptation to use towel bars as grab bars—they won't hold. If you’re installing grab bars yourself, follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. The bars should be attached to wall framing or with special fasteners. Install a bar vertically near the entrance to the tub for support getting in and out of the tub or shower.
Add grab bars along the back and side walls to provide support while the person is standing on the wet surfaces. It is also a good idea to place a grab bar near the toilet.
6. Consider a Toilet Seat Extender
Some people have trouble sitting down on a toilet or getting back up after sitting on one. A seat extender can make these transitions easier. If you plan on replacing the toilet, opt for one that meets the requirement of the American with Disabilities Act.
7. Choose Sinks and Vanities Wisely
To accommodate someone who uses a wheelchair, consider installing wall-mounted sinks. These allow the user to pull right up and use the sink. Choose lever-type faucet controls, which are easier to operate than knobs.
8. Create Easy-to-Reach Storage
Storage is always a main concern in a bathroom remodeling. Shelves and cabinets should be within reach of whomever will be using the space. Consider sliding shelves in storage cabinets and countertops that allow someone in a wheelchair to pull up to the counter and use the surface comfortably.
Countertops should have rounded edges for safety. Edges can also be finished in a contrasting color or material to make them easier to see for someone with poor eyesight.
9. Use Bright, Clear Lighting
Lighting throughout the room should be bright with a minimal amount of glare. Plan on a ceiling fixture or fixtures to provide general room lighting, but you should also add task lighting around sinks, tubs and showers.
10. Stick with Non-Slip Floors
Non-slip tiles are a good choice for bathroom floors in a senior’s home. While throw rugs may serve an aesthetic purpose, they’re not the best choice for the bathroom, where an older adult could slip or trip on one.
Many of these bathroom upgrades are simple to accomplish and relatively inexpensive, while others may present more of a challenge. Choose the ones that fit your circumstances today, but remember that needs change. While you, or the person you are remodeling the bathroom for, may be independent today, it never hurts to design with assistance in mind.
Fran Donegan writes on home heating topics for The Home Depot. Fran is a longtime DIY writer and the author of the book Paint Your Home. He also writes advice for homeowners about remodeling rooms to simplify aging in place. For more information about bathroom remodeling services, visit Home Depot's website.