The bathroom may just be the most dangerous place within a home for the senior who is aging in place. The CDC reports that one in every three seniors will experience a fall in their golden years. The National Institute on Aging reports that 80% of those falls occur in the bathroom. The shower is the place where the senior is most vulnerable in the home, and extra precaution should be taken to protect an elderly loved one while he or she prepares for, bathes, and exits the shower. Here are some tips to make aging in place an even safer alternative to institutional care.
To make showering and bathing safer, the entire bathroom should be given consideration. Here are the NIA's recommended guidelines for ensuring elderly people can independently care for themselves in the bathroom with the smallest risk possible.
Ideally, a customized new shower unit can be purchased that already takes into account the extra needs a senior may face. The higher threshold of the bathtub/shower units are particularly challenging. Walk-in's are a much safer alternative; however, if that is not in the budget, there are a few practical measures in addition to the ones listed above to take right now to keep the shower safe.
As we age, our skin thins, making us more susceptible to burns. The average person will receive second degree burns within just three seconds when the water is 140 degrees Fahrenheit and in only 17 seconds at 131 degrees. The best way to prevent burns from happening is to decrease the temperature setting on the hot water heater to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This will ensure that even if the water is set all the way to hot, it will not get warmer than 120 degrees, a temperature that would take 8 minutes to cause significant injury.
Another practical way to decrease the risk of skin burns from hot water is to have a single-levered faucet. It makes controlling the temperature of the water much easier and quicker.
Whenever a person ages in place, adaptations will need to be made to their homes. Ensuring a safer bathroom will go a long way in reducing the risk of injury while bathing and allow aging in place to go on longer.
AntiScald Inc. Exposure Time to Receive a Severe Burn. Available at http://www.antiscald.com/prevention/general_info/table.php.
National Institute on Aging (NIA). Home Safety for People with Alzheimer's Disease: Bathroom (2015). Available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/home-safety-people-alzheimers-disease/home-safety-room-room.
University of Missouri Extension. (2015). Bathroom Safety for Older People. Available at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/GH7060.