When designing a bathroom for an older person, safety and efficiency should be a primary consideration. As people age, mobility can become limited, and some seniors require the use of wheelchairs and walkers to move around. This requires that bathroom design incorporates maneuverable space, safety features such as grab bars, and organization that limits the need to move around the space when wet.
The bottom of an older person’s tub or shower and the floor of the bathroom should have a non-slip surface to prevent falls. Use non-slip bath mats for tubs and showers and use resilient or vinyl flooring instead of hard surface such as marble or ceramic tile for the main floor. Opt for fixtures, including vanities and counter tops, without sharp edges, so that the severity of injury is minimized in the event of a fall. Consider replacing towel rails with grab bars, which can serve both functions.
Grab Bar Installation
Install grab bars that are a minimum of 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter into studs or reinforced walls so they support the weight of an adult. Grab bars should be installed in various locations around the bathroom to accommodate mobility needs. Mount 24-inch-long grab bars next to the toilet at a height of 30 to 33 inches. Toilet grab bars should extend at least 18 inches in front of the toilet seat so they’re easy to grab from a wheelchair. In the tub or shower area, mount a 39-inch-long vertical bar about 3 to 5 inches in from the outside edge of the entrance to the tub or shower. Its lower end should be installed between 24 and 26 inches from the floor. Along the side wall of the enclosure, install a minimum 47-inch-long vertical grab bar to aid in sitting or standing in the tub.
Designing a bathroom for seniors requires utilizing the space so that it is as efficient as possible. This means planning the location and relationship of elements within the bathroom to reduce the need to walk around the bathroom. Place related items together in the same location. For example, storage for medicines and toiletries should be near the vanity and sink area. Towels and bathing supplies belong near the bath or shower.
In homes with occupants of various ages or with different mobility issues, the bathroom should be adaptable so it serves the needs of everyone. For example, storage should be available at a variety of heights, with an emphasis on lower shelves to allow for seniors with limited mobility that require a wheel chair. Install the shower head on a vertical slide bar to allow for adjustment to varying heights and use raised toilet seats to make it easier for everyone to sit down and stand up. Switches, controls and outlets must be easily reached from a seated position and easy to operate.
Size and Space
Older people with mobility issues may need wheelchairs or walkers to safely move around the bathroom. For this reason, when designing a bathroom for older people, make sure you allow enough space for them to move in front of or beside all fixtures. Typically a space that is 59 inches wide by 59 inches long through the bathroom provides enough room for wheelchairs and walkers. However, battery-powered wheelchairs or scooters are slightly larger, and require 71 inches of maneuvering space. Showers should allow room for either another occupant in the shower, to accommodate caregivers, and for the use of a shower bench or shower wheelchair.