A friend of mine was talking about the experience of caring for her elderly mother and noted, “I never thought our family home (a two story cape, built in the early 1950s) could be so hazardous.” One of her most difficult tasks was helping her mother to the bathroom. “The bathroom is next door to her bedroom but with her walker the halls and doorways are too narrow.  Although we installed grab bars and purchased a shower seat, it’s hard to lift her into the tub. I don’t know how long she will be able to live at home.” 

Homes can become hazardous not only for older adults but even for those with temporary mobility impairments like a teen who breaks a leg in football practice or a person recovering from surgery.

If you’re planning to update or remodel a bathroom consider the following “Universal Design” adaptations to improve access and safety in your home:

  1. Install a no-threshold walk-in shower or mini-threshold water dam shower with minimum dimensions of 5 feet by 3 feet.
  2. Add a built-in shower seat.
  3. Place grab bars in the shower, tub and near the toilet.
  4. Install several showerheads, including a hand-held adjustable height showerhead with easy to operate controls.
  5. Widen the doorway to 36 inches in the bathroom entrance.
  6. If possible, allow for maneuvering space. Ideally, allocate space to accommodate a 60 inch turning radius.
  7. Replace twist handle faucets with lever handle, anti-scald faucets.
  8. Consider installing a pedestal sink. Not only are they attractive, but the sink is accessible to those in your home who use a walker, wheelchair or crutches.
  9. If you are installing a vanity, mount the sink bowl close to the edge for easier use and select cabinetry with easy-glide drawers that close automatically.
  10. Toilets should be centered 18 inches from any sidewall, tub or cabinet and the seat should be 18 to 19 inches off the floor for older persons, lower for children.
  11. Replace round door knobs with lever handle knobs.
  12. Install lighting to provide good visibility when using the shower, tub, sink and toilet. Also, add a night light.

Many bathrooms are part of a master bedroom suite or located just outside the bedroom. To make your bedroom space more accommodating:

  • Add a night light.
  • Install additional electrical outlets to accommodate technology or future medical equipment.
  • Fit closets with multi-level clothing rods or multi-level pull-out drawers and shelving. Don’t use bi-fold doors on closets because they can be difficult to open and close.

The television show “This Old House” has an interesting “how-to” video on Choosing Universal-Design Bath Fixtures. Also, AARP offers a home accessibility checklist for bathrooms.

Source: McClurg’s Home Remodeling and Repair Blog