Bathrooms require special attention in order to meet the living needs of elderly adults who want to age in place. Everyday routines like bathing, washing up and brushing teeth can be challenging for some older adults in a standard bathroom.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to make bathroom faucets more user-friendly for seniors with mobility issues. The design tips shown here should be part of an overall design philosophy for aging in place bathrooms that include appropriately placed grab bars, nonslip flooring and adequate lighting.
1. Handheld Showerheads
Replace a wall-mounted showerhead with a handheld model. A handheld showerhead attached to a pole allows elderly users to adjust the showerhead's height when standing or to use it as a handheld model when sitting or standing. Here are some other user-friendly changes that can help older adults:
- Combine the showerhead with built-in or portable shower chairs to make bathing more comfortable.
- Bathtubs and walk-in showers should have non-slip finishes on the floors, and there should be grab bars on the walls in and around the tub or shower to provide stability.
2. Lever Controls
Lever-shaped faucet handles in the tub, shower and at the vanity sink are easier to use than smaller, round knobs. Controls shaped like a cross are another easy-to-grip option. No matter which style you choose, the following guidelines can help:
- Shower and bath controls should be large and easy to operate.
- Hot and cold taps should be labeled with large text and/or bright colors so that someone with weak eyesight can easily distinguish between the two.
- To reduce the senior’s need to bend or stretch, place controls for tubs and showers as close to the room side of the fixture as possible.
3. Easy-to-Reach Vanity Faucets
Older adults who are mobile can use a standard floor-mounted vanity, but it’s helpful if the sink is on the narrow side so the senior does not have to bend over to reach the faucet controls. For someone who uses a wheelchair, a wall-mounted sink or a vanity that provides adequate room for the chair is necessary. Shallow, narrow sinks are best for someone in a wheelchair. Here are some other vanity guidelines to keep in mind:
- Under-vanity storage is often inaccessible for a person with limited mobility. In those cases, consider wall-mounted cabinets or shelves instead.
- Avoid sharp edges on vanity countertops.
- A contrasting band of color around the edge of the countertop helps seniors with weak eyesight identify the edge of the fixture.
4. Walk-in Tubs and Showers
The standard bathtub/shower combination found in most homes is a real challenge to use comfortably for someone with even minor mobility issues. If possible, the standard tub should be replaced with one equipped with a side door to allow for easy access. Some of these models also include built-in seating.
Another option is to replace the tub with a roll-in shower. Since these showers don’t have a threshold, a person can roll their wheelchair into the shower and transfer to a shower chair. Both options are a major expense, and adding a roll-in shower will require using up a lot of floor space in the bathroom.
However, the less cost-intensive addition of grab bars and nonslip surfaces can also make standard tubs and showers more user-friendly for seniors. Here are some other suggestions:
- Eliminate the need to reach or get in and out of the tub or shower by placing built-in or wall-mounted shelves or niches for bath supplies in the shower or tub enclosure.
- Install lighting fixtures in the ceiling above tubs and showers. Use fixtures rated for wet locations.
- Place a vertical grab bar near the entrance to the tub or shower to make entering and exiting easier.
5. Scald Protection
Tub and shower controls should be equipped with scald protection technology. Elderly adults are more susceptible to burns from too-hot water. And sudden changes in a building’s water pressure, such as when a toilet flushes while someone is in the shower, can lead to burns. These steps can help keep the water temperature safe:
- The thermostats on many water heaters are set too high, so check the unit and lower the temperature. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a setting of 120 degrees Fahrenheit (50 Celsius). The water will cool somewhat as it moves the water heater to the faucet, where it will be mixed with cold water. This step can reduce serious burns, but it will not eliminate them on its own.
- Faucets equipped with a thermostatic water mixer monitor the water’s temperature. When the monitor senses a change in temperature due to fluctuating water pressure, the mixer compensates so that the temperature stays about the same.
Taking some basic precautions when designing or remodeling a bathroom for elderly adults will give them the ability and confidence to live more comfortably and independently.
Fran Donegan is a DIY-for-the-home authority, currently writing for The Home Depot. Fran is a longtime DIY author, and has written several books, including Paint Your Home. Fran’s tips are geared to provide you with numerous options for bathroom remodeling, bath safety and organization. To research a variety of bathroom vanities, you can visit the Home Depot website here.