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8 simple solutions to make your bathroom safer.

One in every three adults age 65 and older falls each year, and falls are the leading cause of injury and death in this age group, as well as the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma. Twenty to 30 percent of seniors who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as lacerations, hip fractures, or head traumas. These injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently, and also may increase the risk of early death.

Falls are a particular risk when using your bathroom. "This isn't surprising when you consider the typical bathroom, with its lack of space and slick surfaces," says Mount Sinai social worker Sheila Barton, LCSW. She adds that many seniors "make do and mend," reaching out to grab towel rails or shower door handles for support if they lose their balance or slip. "However, towel rails aren't designed to hold our body weight, and shower doors may open unexpectedly if we lean too heavily on them," she cautions.

Barton adds that the Visiting Nurse Service offers Medicare-funded skilled services, such as a registered nurse or physical therapy, at home to patients who fall. "The patient can ask the RN or therapist to carry out a home safety evaluation," Barton says. This gives the patient the benefit of a professional looking at the environment and troubleshooting for areas that might present a falls risk. "A fall is a major blow to confidence for an older adult," Barton says. "It's important to seek help right away in order to rebuild confidence, and take steps to make your bathroom a safer, slip-proof environment." Barton pinpoints these safety features as essential:

1 Non-slip flooring Tile may be practical, but highly glazed ceramic can be lethal underfoot. If tile remains your preference, consider having your bathroom floor tiles replaced with slip-resistant tiles or tiles with a surface that mimics natural stone.

"Choose smaller tiles too, since smaller tiles mean more grout, and grout is less slippery," Barton advises. Another good option is rubber or vinyl flooring, but if you select vinyl tiles, monitor the floor for curling edges that could trip you. "Avoid rugs in the bathroom," Barton adds, "and also ensure that you don't wear slippery socks or slippers while in the bathroom."

2 Grab bars Barton recommends you install screw-mounted grab bars, as suction cups could come way from the wall in an emergency. "Position grab bars in the shower, and around the bathtub, and ensure they are attached to the wall studs, and not just the drywall," she says. "It also is best to have them running horizontally and not vertical or at an angle, as your hand could slip."

3 Bath/shower seat Bathtub grab bars can help you get in and out of the bathtub, but Barton strongly recommends that you consider purchasing a shower or bathtub seat if your balance or leg strength are in any way compromised. "The seat should have a rigid back and seat, and rubber-tipped legs," she notes. "Make sure that it can support your weight. A flexible hand-held shower wand will make washing while sitting down easier."

If your legs are especially weak, you may want to consider a bathtub transfer seat. "This design is positioned with one set of legs in the tub and one outside," Barton explains. "You can then sit on the seat before maneuvering your legs into the tub," Another, pricier option is a walk-in bath-tub--expect to pay somewhere upwards of $3,000 to have one installed.

4 Slip-proof bath/shower Use a rubber suction-grip mat, adhesive strips, or anti-slip tub surface material to prevent slipping in the bath or shower.

5 Raised toilet seat Most toilets are about 14 to 16 inches high and this can be an issue if you have arthritis or other back, hip or leg problems. "You can add an adjustable portable seat to your toilet to raise the height, but make sure it is secured properly, with clamps or brackets, or use one with a frame," Barton says. "Alternately, you can opt for an American Disabilities Act (ADA) approved toilet--these range from 17 to 19 inches in height."

Another option if you'd rather not use an adjustable seat or replace the existing toilet is to have a plumber install a wooden plinth under it to raise it up a few inches. If you simply need a little support to lower and raise yourself but there isn't a nearby surface to attach a grab bar, you can get safety frames that wrap around the toilet to offer support.

6 Lever faucet handles These are a must if you have arthritis in your hands, and find it difficult to grip and turn a traditional faucet handle.

7 Waterproof phone These are a good safety addition in case you fall while getting in or out of your bathtub. "Some come with floating handsets you can actually have right there in the tub with you, Barton notes.

8 Waterproof medical alert button We reviewed medical alert systems in our July issue--all systems typically come with waterproof pendant or wrist buttons and Alert 1 (1-888-981-9936; also provides a free wall-mounted emergency button which you can install in your bathroom (available with quarterly and annual payment plans only).

Product                                  Price

Universal Grab Bars (at Home Depot)    $15-$25

Drive Medical Padded Transfer Bench  $200-$240

ElderDepot Premium Seat Riser              $60

Medline Toilet Safety Rails            $30-$40

Uniden Waterproof Phone                    $70
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Title Annotation:HEALTH AND SAFETY
Publication:Focus on Healthy Aging
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2013
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