Designing a Bathroom for the Elderly with Safety and Style

Feb 25, 2015 by

95 years old, my grandmother opens my eyes to understanding the will to live, the faith to fight, and the hope to persevere.  Battling Alzheimer’s and strokes, she has bright days, where her spirit shines fiercely through her eyes, her mobility returns, and her mannerisms twinkle with the vivaciousness of her youth.   Then there are the days where she struggles with remembering how to swallow and using the restroom.  Seeing my strong grandmother – once found a play kitchen at a Goodwill in the Bay Area and then lugged it down herself via Greyhound bus to bring to me in Los Angeles – shake with trepidation with each step in the bathroom that she might fall again, opens my eyes to how imperative design is in the bathroom for quality of life.

The bathroom can be considered one of the most dangerous rooms in your house. According to a 2008 study by the CDC, there were approximately 234,094 nonfatal injuries in the United States that occurred in the bathroom area, and the majority were senior citizens.  However, no age group is immune to injury.

Rethink the Tub

stylish white walk in bath tub and shower bathroom design

via Design Style Home

One of the prime culprits in bathroom injuries is the bathtub.  Even I myself have fallen backwards out of one!  Because most bathtubs are made or acrylic and/or fiberglass, their surfaces are prime for slipping – not to mention that most feature curved and sloped contour lines. Those two factors—when combined—create a hazardous situation for anybody, especially those that are unbalanced.

Safer tubs have anti-slip floors and seats and built-in grab bars.   Walk-in tubs are much safer than traditional tubs because they eliminate the real danger of slipping every time you enter or exit.  We wish our grandmother’s senior living home had a walk-in tub!   Why don’t all senior living facilities have walk-in tubs?!  Isn’t that common sense?

Alas, in lieu of a walk-in tub, an alternative option would be to modify the existing tub by placing non-slick mats on the floor, as well as installing grab bars to prevent falls.

A Well-Lit Space

Vintage Chandelier Lighting Bathroom Design

via JPS Interactive

While installing a new tub or shower can fairly expensive, there are other ways to reduce the risk of bathroom injury that are relatively inexpensive and easy to do as well. One such way is to simply make sure your bathroom is adequately illuminated, both during the day, and more importantly, at night.   The more clearly you can see, the more easily you can stay safe from sharp corners, puddle of waters, and other natural dangers inherent in the bathroom environment.  A motion-activated night light has deterred many a midnight injury.

table lamp in bathroom design

Via Deb McBride Designs


Get creative with lighting!  You don’t need to hire a general contractor and rewire.  Add a slim table lamp next to the sink or use a free standing floor lamp in a safe corner.

Risky “Business”


It is the toilet that presents most difficulty for my grandmother in the bathroom, though now switching to a higher toilet has helped.   Due to her limited mobility, she also uses a toilet seat extender to raise the existing height of the toilet seat to a more comfortable and safer level for her.

She has also benefited significantly from the installation of grab bars. A grab bar positioned on the wall directly next to the toilet provides increased support and stability when sitting down and getting up from the toilet.

In times of difficulty is when we see the human spirit triumph.  What once we took for granted – an act as simple as using the restroom and bathing – becomes a challenge, but shows us that we can still live with dignity daily, as long as we are surrounded by love and faith.

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