Design-Friendly Ways to Adapt a Bathroom for Seniors

From accessible showers to non-slip flooring, aging homeowners have a variety of special interior design needs. Helping a person adapt their home to meet these demands can provide them with a sense of comfort and dignity as they age.

Here’s how you can support the accessibility needs of aging people — without sacrificing the style and character that makes their home unique.

Aging in Place

Aging in place renovations are a growing need in the architecture and home design industries. An increasing number of homeowners are modifying their living spaces so that they can live independently in homes that are more accessible, inclusive and functional, James Galbraith at HealthCraft Products writes.

Why are more people deciding to age in their own home, rather than move to a retirement community or an accessible space? Angela Stringfellow at Caregiver Homes explains that some seniors choose to stay simply because their homes are filled with memories. Others do so to avoid the high costs of retirement communities and assisted living facilities. Renovating a house with a few upgrades can be much cheaper over time than making the switch to a seniors home.

When you’re working with a new client who’d like to adapt their home for aging in place, it might help to understand their reasons for staying. Someone trying to preserve the history and memories of a home might be willing to spend more money to adapt existing vintage features for improved accessibility, for example. Someone who simply wants to save money by staying in the home might be open to replacing existing fixture with modern, cheaper, safer ones.

Another key element of helping someone adapt their home for aging in place is choice architecture. Aging in Place CEO Patrick Roden, RN, Ph.D. defines choice architecture as “the design of different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers and the impact of that presentation on consumer decision-making.” In other words, it is vital that you’re aware of how you’re influencing consumers in their design choices, as those choices affect their overall quality of life.

With more seniors deciding to age in place, it’s important that you know how to cater to these customers and their unique preferences and needs.

home renovating - bathroom for seniors

Renovating the Bathroom

The bathroom should be the highest priority in any aging in place home renovation. This is because the bathroom is the most dangerous place older people, according to Vincent Mo Wing-chung, founder of Longevity Design House. Wing-chung helps people make their homes more comfortable and accessible for aging family members.

He says it’s important for designers to speak with multiple generations of family members before making design changes. This is because older people are often sharing a home with younger generations, whether they’re living in the home of their children or they’re inviting family over often. When aging in place renovations are comfortable and accessible by everyone in the family, that’s when they’re truly successful.

Anyone consulting on an aging in place bathroom design should also understand that homeowners might resist certain accessibility renovations. For example, aging-in-place specialist Roger Gervais hears three common reactions when accessible bathroom updates are suggested.

Many people worry that if they make such renovations, people will think they’re old or incapable. Second, some people believe it will decrease their home’s value to make such changes. Lastly, many aging people are reluctant to make such changes because they think that they simply don’t need them.

Anti-Slip Measures

When homeowners are reluctant to swap out their vintage fixtures for aging-friendly ones, fearing it will damage the house’s character, there are ways you can help modify older fixtures to make them more accessible.

Grab Bars

Grab bars are a great way to prevent falls due to slippery tubs and floors, NerdWallet staff writer Margarette Burnette says. If a homeowner wants to keep using their vintage clawfoot tub, for example, it can be made safer with the addition of grab bars on the walls.

Some homeowners might resist adding grab bars to the bathroom because they can have a sterile, hospital-like look. To mitigate this issue, Common Bond Design cofounder and CEO Alexandra Kalita recommends opting for a well-designed grab bar. Some grab bars are intended to look like towel bars, for example. Such designs will make it easy to make a bathroom more accessible without sacrificing the bathroom’s style or vintage flair.

When deciding where to put grab bars, aging-in-place specialist Steve Hoffacker stresses the importance of having one in the main shower, regardless of what type of shower it is. He also says that having a grab bar near the house’s entryway might help homeowners when they’re holding grocery bags or other items. Likewise, adding a grab bar in the entryway of the bathroom can assist people carrying toiletries, clothes or towels.

couple home - bathroom for seniors

Flooring and Layout

Slippery floors are another core concern when regarding bathroom safeway, John Burfield at Lifeway Mobility writes. Bathroom tiles and shower floors can get extremely slick when wet, especially if the floors don’t have texture or grip. To make a freestanding bathtub more accessible, a non-slip mat or non-slip adhesive strip can be added to the tub floor. These come in white and transparent colors, helping them blend into the theme of the room.

Many people slip getting in and out of the tub, Celeste Smucker at C-Ville, a news site for Charlottesville, Virginia agrees. That’s why it’s safer to opt for vinyl floor, rather than tile, as it doesn’t get as slippery. Moreover, vinyl can be designed to look like tile to preserve the vintage look of a bathroom and aid in cohesion throughout the home.

Expanding the doorway of the bathroom also helps make the overall bathroom experience safer and more pleasant. Rodney Harrell, Ph.D., director of livability thought leadership at AARP, says it’s a smart idea to have a door opening that’s at least 32 inches wide. This enables better access for people using wheelchairs and walking devices to enter the bathroom with ease.

Showers

While a curbless, walk-in shower allows access for everyone, even making toiletries and other essentials easier to grab can create a safer bathroom environment. Lindsey Mather at Architectural Digest strongly recommends adding a built-in shower niche instead of a precarious caddy to keep toiletries organized. She’s a fan because shower niches provide a single place for all bathroom items, eliminating unsightly and possibly unsafe stacks of soaps and shampoo bottles.

Seniors should keep all toiletries within easy reach of the shower, Kim Kinney at Brytons Home Improvement writes. Reaching for things — whether overhead or on the floor — can increase the risk of becoming unsteady and taking a fall.

Shower fixtures themselves can have a significant impact on senior safety. For example, Hatchett Remodeling writes that there should be multiple options for shower heads in an aging in place bathroom, including an overhead one and a handheld one. The faucets should be positioned at an appropriate height with lever handles that are easy to grip.

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