How to Improve Bathroom Safety for Seniors

As we age and mobility declines, falling becomes one of the primary causes of serious injury. The CDC says the bathroom is the most dangerous place in the home, especially for adults aged 65 or older.1,2

One of the most important things caregivers can do to help aging adults maintain independence is to improve bathroom safety. The good news is that transforming the slippery surfaces and hard edges of this frequently visited room is relatively inexpensive. A few simple changes and bathroom safety products can minimize the risk of falls and let aging adults keep their privacy and independence.

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Bathroom safety is just one piece of the puzzle. Take a peek at our Ultimate Guide to Aging in Place for even more hands-on tips.

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1. Get a tub transfer bench or shower chair

Tub transfer bench
Drive Medical Plastic Transfer Bench
Drive Medical Plastic Tub Transfer Bench
Starting from
$68.98
pro Adjustable height
pro Reversible transfer
pro Suction cup grip

*Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

Because a lot of bathroom accidents involve slipping in and around the tub or shower, a bench or bathroom chair is recommended as a safety precaution.

Look for a sturdy model—like this one from Drive Medical—with suction that provides a nonslip grip and has adjustable height and bars.

A backrest can also help stability, and it’s a good idea to look for a model that’s versatile enough to accommodate transfer from a wheelchair.

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No need to remodel your tub

A walk-in or wheel-in shower or tub is ideal, but that may not be affordable for everyone. Luckily, a tub transfer bench offers a budget-friendly solution. Benches like these let you sit down outside of the tub and then hold onto the bars to swing your legs over.

2. Switch to a handheld showerhead

Senior-friendly showerhead
Deliao Elderly Shower Head
Deliao Handheld Shower Head
$35.99
pro One-button pressure control
pro Soft grip handle with safety strap
pro Off button to control drip

*Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

Once you’ve got a bathroom chair, you’ll want a handheld showerhead to go with it. Fortunately, this is an inexpensive modification that even the most hesitant DIYer can manage with a few basic tools.

Be careful not to get distracted by fancy spa showerheads that boast about high pressure. Instead, look for a practical showerhead with an adjustable flow that’s easy to manipulate for arthritic fingers.

3. Mount shower safety handles and grab bars

Bathroom grab bars
Gotega 18-inch Grab Bars
$32.99
(2 pack)
pro Supports up to 500 lbs
pro Nonslip grip
pro Multiple sizes available

*Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

If you’re a caregiver, it may be difficult to anticipate where an aging adult needs an extra hand. Get in the bathroom together and assess the best place to mount grab bars.

Older adults may want bars mounted in these common spots:

  • Inside the shower or tub
  • At the entrance of the shower or tub
  • Near the toilet

There are different kinds of grab bars, but you should choose substance over style. AARP recommends a bar that can hold up to 250 pounds, with a textured surface and a diameter of 1.25–1.5 inches for easy gripping.3

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Pro tip

If you get a grab bar that doesn’t have a nonslip textured grip, you can apply grip or anti-slip tape to any surface. Anti-slip tape has a grit rating, like sandpaper, that indicates how much traction it provides. Be sure to get a roll with at least an 80 grit and a width adequate for the handhold you want to provide.

4. Install toilet bars and support

Toilet bar
Vaunn Medical Bathroom Grab Bar
Vaunn Toilet Rail Grab Bar
$69.99
pro Patented adjustable height
pro Sturdy frame supports up to 300 lbs
pro Anti-slip, padded grab bars

*Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

The toilet is also an area where older adults are prone to fall. This is because low toilet seats can be difficult to rise from or lower onto if you have mobility issues or arthritis.4

Installing a raised toilet seat or toilet frame, preferably one with grab bars on either side, is a simple solution. Look for models that offer nonslip handles, adjustable height, and a stand-alone frame that will fit the space.

5. Don’t forget nonslip rugs and mats

The most frequent tripping culprit is right under our noses. Make sure bath mats and rugs are the nonslip variety, and get an anti-slip tub or shower mat that’ll stick securely when wet. You can also apply nonslip treads instead on the shower or tub floor for a minimalistic look that won’t run the risk of coming loose.

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Pro tip

If you’re attached to your current bathroom rug ensemble, you can apply anti-slip tape or appliqués to the bottom of the rugs to keep them in place. Just be sure the bathroom mats you’re in love with are low-profile and don’t have so much plush that they pose a tripping hazard.

6. Motion-activated night lights

Motion-activated night lights
Mr. Beams Battery-Powered Motion Sensing LED Light
$14.99
pro Uses AA batteries
pro Sticks anywhere
pro Motion-activated light saves energy

*Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

Sometimes it's disorienting to turn on a bright overhead light when it's pitch-black. But when you gotta go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you need some sort of illumination to prevent stumbles. An easy solution involves placing night lights along the path from your loved one's bed to the bathroom.

They don't have to be motion-activated, but a motion-sensing design—like this one from Mr. Beams—saves energy by turning on only when it's needed. It's also a safer option because there's no need to fumble around in the dark to try to turn it on. 

We also recommend choosing a battery-powered model so that you can place it where it's most convenient—not just where there's an outlet.

7. Waterproof medical alert button

Best medical alert system for bathroom safety
aloe care wall button
Aloe Care Health's Total Care System
$349.99 + $49.99
/mo
pro Designed for the bathroom
pro Voice- and touch-activated help
pro Automatic fall detection

Sometimes falls can happen even when you've used all of the above products to prevent them. It's good to have a backup plan just in case. We recommend keeping a waterproof medical alert button within easy reach of the tub and toilet or having your loved one wear a medical alert pendant.

We've yet to find a medical alert pendant that's not waterproof, but be careful if you go the wall-mounted-button route—not all of them are designed to get wet. Check out Bay Alarm Medical for a traditional medical alert system with shower-friendly buttons.

If you can budget a little more for equipment and monthly monitoring fees, our absolute favorite medical alert system for the bathroom is Aloe Care Health's three-in-one wall-mounted device. It's activated by touch and voice, and it also features automatic fall detection just in case your loved one passes out and can't call for help on their own.

FAQs about bathroom safety for seniors

In addition to installing some safety products and tools for senior independence, it’s also important to keep necessary supplies like toiletries within easy reach. Think carefully about what essentials are needed on a daily basis in the bathroom. Things like toilet paper, towels, and hand soap should never be more than an arm’s length away.

While preventing falls is the primary concern in the bathroom, it’s not the only safety risk for aging adults. You should also make sure your loved one practices medication safety. Clearly label medicines, organize them in a medication tracking device, and consider using a time-locked pillbox to avoid accidental overdoses.

Depending on the climate, it’s also recommended to turn down the water heater to 120 degrees to prevent accidental burns. 

Mounting grab bars and paying attention to nonslip surfaces can drastically reduce the risk of falls. However, there’s no way to absolutely guarantee safety and eliminate the possibility of injury to older adults. It’s best to be prepared and research the best medical alert devices, so if a fall does happen, help will be on its way. We recommend Bay Alarm’s In-Home Medical Alert devices for bathroom safety because they’re waterproof, have a long-range, and don’t require a contract.


Sources

  1. Judy A. Stevens et al., Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, “Nonfatal Bathroom Injuries among Persons Aged ≥15 Years—United States, 2008,” June 2011. Accessed May 19, 2022.
  2. Gwen Bergen et al., Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, “Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged ≥65 Years—United States, 2014," September 2016. Accessed May 19, 2022.
  3. AARP, "Grab Bars à la Mode," February 2004. Accessed May 19, 2022.
  4. Michael Ditillo et al., College of Medicine Tucson, "From Mundane to Menacing: Practicing Bath Safety," January 2020. Accessed May 19, 2022.

Disclaimer

*Product prices and availability are accurate as of post date and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

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