How to remodel a bathroom for aging in place
Growing old may be a blessing in some ways, but it still comes with its challenges. As age increases, mobility, dexterity, and strength within the human body typically decrease. The physical limitations that come with aging can be frustrating, especially when it becomes difficult to perform regular hygienic activities, such as bathing or using the restroom. Sometimes, a remodel is necessary to ensure that your bathroom is set up for aging in place.
As a company that specializes in custom-designed home remodeling, our team at Lamont Bros. has helped senior homeowners adapt to changes in their mobility. If your goal is to stay in your own home as you grow older, you should expect your home to need a few changes. One of the most common remodels for aging in place is a bathroom remodel.
In this article, you can read about how a bathroom remodel can help you prepare your home to support your needs as they change with age. We’ll discuss different design features for each area of your bathroom, from the sink faucet to the shower walls. Here, you can learn everything you need to know about an aging in place bathroom remodel, including:
- What does “aging in place” mean?
- How to remodel a bathroom for aging in place
- How you can make sure your aging in place remodel goes well
What is “Aging in Place?”
As people’s strength and mobility decrease with age, everyday activities take on new risks. Showers bear a greater chance of falling. It becomes more difficult to stand up after using the toilet. Personal hygiene activities may require the help of a caregiver. The longer a person stays in their home as they age, the more difficult the home becomes for them to live in.
Aging in place is the ability of a person to function independently and healthily in their own home as they grow old. When we talk about “remodeling in aging in place,” that simply means preparing the home to best serve the needs of a person who has chosen to age in place.
Remodeling certain areas of the home can better accommodate physical mobility restrictions. Because every person’s needs are different, the challenge is identifying what changes to the home will empower the homeowner to live there as long as possible.
What are some common features of an aging in place bathroom remodel?
There are four primary functions of a bathroom. A person must be able to shower, use the toilet, wash their hands, and groom themselves. While the standard bathroom layout works relatively well for the young and spry, a bathroom can hold many hidden dangers for older folks.
Every remodel for aging in place should be unique – there is no one-size-fits-all. However, there are a handful of best practices when it comes to helping a person stay in their home. The main goal of every aging in place remodel should be to reduce health risks. This is primarily aimed at preventing falls while maintaining the ability to care for yourself.
General bathroom design
The first issue to address when remodeling a bathroom for aging in place is the overall bathroom design. After you establish that, you can address more specific needs. To begin, there are a few general changes you should consider to make your bathroom more accessible.
Grab bars for balance & support
Some of the most important elements of any aging in place remodel are grab bars. These wall-mounted handles are designed to help people keep their balance and offer support if needed. Not only are they helpful for keeping you upright as you navigate from place to place, but they’re also extremely useful for getting back up if you do fall.
The orientation of grab bars also affects how they can be used. Horizontal grab bars are great for balance and support while upright. On the other hand, vertical grab bars help when transitioning from a sitting position to standing.
32-inch walkways for wheelchair use
The ADA requirement for wheelchair passage is 32 inches. As a result, 34 inches is the minimum width your door and walkway into the bathroom should be. The bathroom should also include enough space to operate, turn, park, and transfer from a wheelchair.
Even if you don’t currently use a wheelchair, this is an important feature to include now in case you do need it one day.
Hardwood and tile floors are both known for being flat and smooth. While these qualities are great for the appearance, they’re extremely dangerous for fall-prone seniors. Fortunately, there’s a common metric within the construction industry for non-slip flooring. It’s called the Dynamic Coefficient of Friction, or DCOF.
When choosing a flooring, you should pay attention to the DCOF of each option you survey. The higher the rating, the lower chance of slipping you’ll have — most experts recommend a DCOF of at least 0.42 for non-slip areas.
Once you’ve worked through the big picture, then you can start addressing specific issues. The first area to consider aging-in-place features is the shower. Because it’s one of the most common places for bathroom falls, it’s important to consider your own needs when it comes to balance, mobility, and hygiene.
Most showers have some sort of barrier you have to step over to get in. For a shower-tub combo, this barrier is about 18 inches. For a typical walk-in shower, the curb can be anywhere from 4-6 inches. In any case, shower barriers pose a massive trip hazard and can be difficult to get over if you have limited hip mobility.
Fortunately, curbless showers that sit flush with the floor are entirely possible. With the help of a good designer and professional builder, you can remove the curb from your shower floor and walk right in. You could even put a wheelchair right into the shower if need be.
A shower seat is a great feature to include in your shower at home. They’re safer than standing and make it easier for a caregiver to help you bathe if necessary. The benefits of a shower seat are twofold. One, you have a lower chance of slipping and falling in the shower if you sit. Two, the seat is there for you to use if you are ever unable to stand.
While you can purchase a freestanding shower seat from a durable medical equipment supplier, it’s also possible to build one directly into the shower. Some fiberglass shower inserts come with a pre-formed seat. Or, if you want a more custom option, a skilled tile setter can build you one themself.
Remember, a shower seat can be more than just practical; it can add character and aesthetic value to your bathroom, as well. Teak wood seats can add contrast to your shower wall. More customized options are also available, such as Wedi’s custom shower wellness systems.
For hard-to-reach places, a hand-held shower is essential. It allows you to spray your body down with water by hand, eliminating the need to stand under the stream.
Hand-held showers significantly reduce fall risk in the shower because you move the water source to adjust its reach instead of moving your body under a fixed shower head. Additionally, a caregiver can use a hand shower to assist with your hygiene needs.
Getting on and off the toilet becomes more of a challenge as you age. Sometimes, this can be as simple as putting a grab bar next to the toilet. Other times, it requires much more attention to detail and planning.
For those who have trouble transitioning from a low seated position to a stand, a comfort height seat may be a good option. It reduces the amount of leg strength required to transition from sitting to standing, but also comes with some risks.
For people in wheelchairs, comfort height toilet seats are more difficult to transfer onto. Additionally, those who have neuropathy — a loss of feeling in the legs — can lose their balance and fall if their feet are not firmly on the ground. For those individuals, a low toilet seat is often better.
Sit to stand lift
In other cases, a grab bar or high toilet seat doesn’t provide enough support. When a person needs more help to transition between sitting and standing, a lift may be a good option.
Sit to stand lifts are mechanical devices that help a person transfer between sitting and standing. While they can be built into the wall, it’s more common to see these as freestanding units.
As one of the most popular features for bathroom remodels, bidets are a great way to add comfort and convenience to any bathroom. Their value only increases as you get older.
As a person ages, the process of cleaning up after eliminating waste becomes more difficult. Fortunately, a water bidet can do the job of toilet paper without requiring a similar acrobatic act to get the job done.
Bidets are becoming more popular today as bolt-on toilet seat accessories. However, some toilets come with built-in bidets.
Like toilets, there is some disagreement as to what sink arrangement is best for aging in place. Some believe that a higher sink height might reduce injury risk because the user doesn’t have to bend down as far to wash their hands. On the other hand, a person in a wheelchair would need a lower sink.
One issue that is widely agreed upon is that bathroom faucets can carry some danger to seniors. Because their sense of temperature in their hands can often be affected by old age, they may accidentally burn themselves with hot water and not even know it.
To this end, a temperature-controlled faucet that sets and limits the temperature of the water can reduce the risk of burns.
Baseless sink vanity
For those who use a wheelchair, getting ready in the morning can be a challenge. A baseless sink vanity allows a wheelchair user to tuck underneath the countertop and get as close to the faucet and mirror as possible.
How can I make sure my aging in place bathroom remodel goes well?
To make sure you get the best out of your remodeling experience, here are a few things to consider.
Work with an occupational therapist
A professional occupational therapist knows how to help people find ways to go about their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). By including an occupational therapist in the design process of your remodel, you’ll get expert advice on how to prioritize changes to your bathroom to best suit your needs.
Phase your remodel
We get it – a remodel of this scope could cost a lot of money all at once. Fortunately, you still have some time to age before you need every amenity listed above. If this sounds like you, perhaps your best option is to do your bathroom remodel in phases.
The first phase would consist of changes that need to happen now. For example, grab bars and non-slip flooring would be great items to install ASAP. However, your hip flexor is still in pretty good shape and you can clear the 7-inch curb on your shower easily. In this case, a curbless shower can wait for a later phase.
Consider your options & costs
For some people, aging in place makes a lot of sense. For others, the reasonable choice is to enter a care facility. It all depends on your personal needs and how much you’re willing to spend in order to continue living in your home.
Whether you choose to spend money on a home remodel or an assisted living facility, remember this: the cost of either option is still substantially lower than a hospital bill. Make the choice that is best for your own health.
Ready to talk to a designer about aging in place?
If you’re considering a bathroom remodel to prepare your home for aging in place, keep up the great research! Now that you have a stronger understanding of the concept of “aging in place” and can identify some of the common design features, take the next step. Head on over to our Bathroom Portfolio and start gathering inspiration for how your bathroom remodel could look.
Want to talk to a designer about your ideas for your bathroom? Click the button below to schedule a free video consultation with a member of our professional design team.