While my focus in this column is upon elders, here is an issue that can and does impact people of all ages. I can’t seem to find Canadian statistics but in the US, more than 230,000 people are sent to the ER each year specifically due to an injury sustained while bathing, showering, or using the bathroom facilities, and yes, most of them are elderly!
Research has been done that identifies the hard of hearing as persons especially prone to falls. In addition, when you think about the aging process, in general, all of our mobility and cognitive clarity, especially while navigating our way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, deteriorates as we age. And an added point, elders and their caregivers need to also be far more aware of deteriorating foot issues that can cause imbalance problems. I have seen some pretty gnarly feet and toes over the years, and since feet are our foundation to standing erect, frequent care of them needs to be a constantly practiced regimen.
Falls in our elderly population come at a high cost and alarmingly there have been some cases of elders spending many days on the floor of their home before being found by a loved one or a neighbour. In one case that I am aware of, an 80 year old man spent 5 days on his bathroom floor before being discovered and then spent over 7 months in rehabilitation in hospital. We all need to take note of the danger that a fall in our own bathroom can pose, especially for elders. Here are some practical suggestions to avoid falling in what can be a very treacherous, but all too common place. *Adapted from November 2016 Best Bath Newsletter at www.bestbath.com
To reduce bathroom falls, follow these simple steps:
- Install grab bars. Installing grab bars in easy-to-reach places provide support and balance for entering and exiting the shower or tub. Also consider adding grab bars near the toilet for additional support and safety.
- Add shower seats. A shower seat can provide stability and a place to rest for those who have difficulty standing for long periods of time.
- Add an adjustable (and hand-held) shower head. An adjustable hand held shower head, allows the person to direct the water where it’s most needed without having to contort their body into awkward positions.
- Fix slippery surfaces. A non-slip mat (or decals) on the floor of the shower or tub — along with a non-slip rug on the floor — provides additional stability and can reduce slipping. A non-slip rug in front of the toilet and by the sink area also helps to prevent slipping.
- Install taller toilets. Over time, one may experience increased difficulty lowering themselves onto a low toilet seat and returning to a standing position. A raised toilet (typically 3 to 4 inches) reduces the amount of squatting and the distance covered to sit on the toilet.
There are qualified local construction companies and renovation specialists who can assist in making ones entire home a safer place in which to age. I think I’ll start considering how to ‘age proof’ my own home now, before I have to regret the consequences of an avoidable fall.