How assisted living facilities can keep residents safe in the bathroom

As much as we’d all like to maintain our health and agility well into old age, an inescapable fact of life for most of us will be an eventual decline of mobility and balance.

Our agility and cognitive abilities deteriorate as we get older, making falls much more common. Not only do we become more prone to falls as we age, we also become more susceptible to injuries thanks to a gradual loss of bone density and physical strength – a process that shockingly begins at just 25.

According to the CDC, more than one out of four seniors experiences a fall each year. Roughly every fifth fall results in a serious injury. Some three million older people need emergency treatment after a fall each year. Falls can also be fatal, accounting for approximately 34,000 senior deaths annually.

For the nearly 30,000 assisted living communities across the US that are home to more than 800,000 Americans, taking steps to minimize the risk of falls is an important part of keeping residents safe. One of the best ways to do that is to fall-proof bathrooms as much as possible.

The bathroom can be a dangerous place

Herman Walker is the US sales director for Pressalit, a Denmark-based provider of accessible bathroom solutions. He said the bathroom is often the most dangerous room in both private homes and assisted living facilities.

“Bathrooms are typically small, with little place to maneuver,” he said. “They are often wet and slippery. If an elderly person does slip and fall, there is a high likelihood that they will hit a very hard surface, whether it’s tile floors, the sink, bathtub or toilet.”

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The most common scenarios are falls that occur when stepping into or out of the shower or when using the toilet.

That’s why many assisted living facilities will have care workers help residents in the bathroom. The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) estimates that 64 percent of assisted living residents need assistance bathing and 40 percent need help using the toilet.

Most facilities also have basic safety features installed like seated showers and support bars, but even those can pose dangers.

“Sometimes elderly residents with limited mobility fall when they attempt to support themselves on shower bars or the sink,” Walker said. “These safety features are usually fixed in place as a sort of one-size-fits-all solution, but assisted living residents have wildly different needs, sizes, and mobility levels.”

True bathroom safety is customizable

Even though most assisted living facility residents have their own private bathrooms, the facilities are typically designed to accommodate all potential residents. But what may have worked well for a regular-sized elderly resident with decent mobility is unlikely to work for a wheelchair user or a bariatric resident.

“Putting a support arm in a restroom that is attached to the wall and can’t move in any direction and then expecting all people to be able to use it just doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Walker said. “In some cases, they can actually impede access and make it harder for residents to use the bathroom safely.”

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Walker said that the best assisted living bathrooms allow for customizing the setup for each user based on their size and mobility level. This could be anything from changing the height or horizontal placement of toilet support bars, a movable seat that allows residents to slide in and out of the shower, or even sinks that can be raised and lowered at the push of a button.

Not only can accessible and fully-adjustable bathroom fixtures reduce the risk of falls and injuries, they can also often allow residents to bathe and use the toilet on their own. This has the double benefit of improving the resident’s quality and life and freeing up care workers’ time for other clients.

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