Aging-in-Place Ideas for Your Bathroom

By Jamie Gold

A floating vanity and a fold-down shower bench are aging-in-place-friendly features you can include in a bathroom.

Photo: GettyImages/Onzeg

Bad bathrooms happen to otherwise good homes.

Sadly, bad bathrooms often lead to injury to homeowners and their guests. But it shouldn’t happen – and it doesn’t have to.

A few simple changes can make your master and guest baths safer. Updating them to include aging-in-place features can make your home more valuable, too.

However, homeowners typically want their bathrooms to look like those of a resort hotel spa, not a nursing home. The good news is they can. With the American population aging, there are more products than ever that accommodate aging-in-place needs without sacrificing style.

Safety Without a Full Remodel

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, more than 235,000 people visit emergency rooms because of bathroom injuries. Many of these injuries are caused by falls, especially in older adults. Making a few easy changes to your existing bathrooms can help you and your guests avoid becoming a statistic.

One such change is to replace a standard showerhead with a hand-held model. Combined with a shower seat, (which can be either free-standing or, more attractively, built-in), this can let someone tired, or someone dealing with balance issues, shower while sitting down.

Your shower and tub areas will also benefit from grab bars. Your bathroom can get a pulled-together look from updated accessories like towel bars, bath tissue holders, hooks and flush levers that match your designer grab bars and faucets.

If your floors are polished marble, either treat them with an anti-slip treatment or replace them with a textured, slip-resistant tile. These have the added benefit of refreshing the look of your bath to something less dated.

Mold is another major health hazard lurking in your bath. It can result from a bath fan not being used or the fan not functioning well. A humidity-sensing fan will turn itself on or off when moisture is present. This can help avoid a mold issue at home and help those with respiratory, hearing and memory issues.

Spa Bath at Home

Breathing issues, as well as body aches, can also be eased with a steam shower. These are becoming increasingly popular among higher-end homes and contribute to an upscale aging-in-place bathroom.

An aging-in-place bath also benefits from a large, separate shower stall. If the shower stall can be ledge-free, that’s even better; it will reduce the risk of someone falling while getting in or out and allow for a wheelchair rolling in if the user needs one at some point.

Water filtration is another excellent solution for aging skin and hair, as well as for anyone who takes vitamins and medicines in their bathroom. There are a few traditional models with built-in filtration for your sink faucets, and there are filters that attach to your showerhead (though none of these meet spa-design style standards). A whole-house water filtration system can address your entire home’s needs without sacrificing style.

Lighting is a key feature in an aging-in-place bath. Good task illumination should be placed in the shower and at the vanity, so that shaving becomes less risky and the right medicines are swallowed in the right dosages. Lighting can also be placed in toe kicks, behind moldings and in switch plate covers for nightlight usage.

When changing countertops, you’re also likely to be changing sinks and faucets. Choose faucets with lever handles, as they’re much easier for less flexible (and wet) hands to grip. Avoid sinks like deep vessels that are hard to clean around if you’re the one responsible for bath maintenance and choose easy-to-clean finishes that won’t show every water spot and fingerprint, like polished nickel and chrome.

The countertops themselves should have rounded corners and also be low maintenance. These can include solid surface porcelain and ceramic slab or engineered stone with integral sinks. They should offer a strong color contrast to the surrounding walls and cabinetry, as poor depth perception can result in a fall.

Floating vanities installed at a lower height can be very aging-in-place friendly, as well. They’ll look ultra-modern, but deliver added accessibility if you find yourself in a wheelchair at any point.

Last Words

While no one wants to think about aging, it’s not uncommon to find yourself caring for an older relative in your home or suffering a sports injury or accident that can keep you off your feet while you rehab. Plan your home for the long run and you could find yourself enjoying it successfully after many more long runs, hikes, bike rides and walks in your life.
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Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCTWC is a wellness design consultant, Certified Kitchen Designer and the author of the New Bathroom Idea Book and New Kitchen Ideas That Work, (Taunton Press). Jamie can be found online at jamiegold.net.

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