Making your bathroom senior friendly and safe

If you have perused a copy of house beautiful or homes and gardens or some such magazine, you would have seen photos of wonderfully spacious, carpeted, dry and glistening bathrooms.

Unfortunately Indian bathrooms are a completely different matter.  Most of them are small and ill-lit, have narrow doorways, have the slipperiest tiles on the floors and walls and are almost always wet.

No surprise then that most of the accidents that happen at home happen in the bathroom, especially where senior citizens are involved.

However, with a few changes and some precaution, your bathroom can be made safe (though they will never look like the picture above) and usable. The changes we are recommending here are cost effective and do not require any major remodeling or masonry work.

1.  Remove the latch/lock on the inside of the bathroom.  

Most Indian bathrooms have a strong latch on the inside that ensures that nobody can gain access to the bathroom from outside when the bathroom is already occupied.  With elderly people in the house, it is very likely that sooner or later, the person inside may not be able to open the door by themselves and will need assistance from outside.  In such cases, the only option is to breakdown the door and this means that any help that can be rendered will be delayed.

One easy way to circumvent this problem is to remove the latch on the inside and replace it with a typical aircraft toilet door vacant/engaged type of door latch.  This allows people to quickly enter the bathroom if required as well as ensures that people know when a bathroom is occupied.  This will cost very little and could save a life next time an elderly family member has a dizzy spell or falls down in the bathroom.

2.  Use anti-slip mats where necessary.

Indian toilets and bathrooms are always wet and this is an indisputable fact.  On top of that most bathrooms have tiled floors that make the bathroom floor cold and slippery all the time.  One simple way to ensure people do not slip and fall is to cover the wet areas with an anti-slip mat.  These mats are similar to those used around swimming pools and so are designed to keep the top dry while allowing water to flow freely through the gaps.

A simple device that ensures that you don’t have to lay a new floor for your bathroom, something that can not only prove costly but will also put your bathroom out of commission for a week or so.

The mats are in-expensive (at about Rs. 170 per sqft), are easy to remove and clean and extremely durable.  The mats stop people from slipping even when there are minor/major oil spills or talcum powder spills (both of which are deadly when combined with water on any hard flooring).

3.  Convert Indian toilets into western toilets.

They say that sitting on your haunches is the fastest and best way to evacuate your bowels and personally, I quite agree.  However, as people get older, it gets more and more difficult to go on ones haunches and the western commode become more appealing.  However, breaking the Indian toilet and replacing it with a western one can be a costly and time consuming process.  While the best course of action is to bite the bullet and make the change, if budget and time are constrained, there are multiple other options in the form of Indian to western converters.

Option A:  A simple converter that can be placed on top of the existing Indian commode.  Not the most elegant solution, but an effective stop gap arrangement.  Could cost as little as Rs. 900.

Option B:  A height adjustable powder coated or chrome plated western commode with pail that is clean and effective and easy to wash and maintain.  Several variants are available and cost anywhere between Rs. 1500 to Rs. 4000.  You can buy it here.

4.   Install grab bars and railings.

The next issue faced by senior people is support when sitting or getting up from the toilet seat.  Many times, the walls around the toilet are tiles and smooth offering no assistance to the elderly by way of something to hold on to.  At other times, the walls themselves are too far away from the closet to be of any assistance.  Many western closets are also very low making it very difficult for people with weak knees when sitting down and getting up.  There are a few simple devices that can make life easy under such circumstances.

A.  A toilet raiser.  This is a small hard-plastic device that sits on top of the commode and increases the overall height of the commode by 8cm to 13cm.  It can be easily removed and washed after use or completely removed when not in use.  Such a toilet raiser will put you back by about Rs. 1500 – much cheaper than ripping out the low commode and replacing it with a taller one!  Click here to buy.

B.  Grab bars.  These are stainless steel bars that you can affix to the walls around the toilet bowl.  When installed at the right height, they can provide additional support allowing people to use their hands and upper torso to take the weight off their knees when getting up or sitting down.  Would cost you between Rs. 500 to Rs. 1500 to install a pair of grab bars.  Click here to buy.

C. Toilet safety railings. In some bathrooms, the walls may be too far away from the toilet bowl and hence having grab bars conveniently placed may not be an option.  Under such circumstances, the best option is to go for a toilet safety railing. It requires no wall and can be fixed to the toilet bowl itself with just a couple of screws (the provision for such screws is already available on most of the common toilet bowls to accommodate the toilet lid.  So you can easily fix these railings yourself without having to call a plumber or a carpenter.  Will cost you about Rs. 2500 – Rs. 3000.

5. Install a health faucet.

Many Indian bathrooms have a tap close to the floor with a tiny bucket to assist in washing oneself. To use this, a person has to bend down and straighten many times in the process of washing oneself.  A health faucet is a good option that makes the cleaning process efficient, thorough and easy.  A health faucet is a tube connected to a tap at one end with a hand-held nozzle at the other end.  The nozzle can be pressed to release water and it can also be used to regulate the pressure of the water jet.  Will cost about Rs. 500 – Rs. 1500 to buy one.

6. Get a shower chair and a hand shower installed.

Having a bath, especially with hot water can be tiring for the elderly.  A shower chair and a hand shower can allow people to have a leisurely bath while seated. The shower chair shown here is a very light weight hard plastic and aluminium chair that is easy to carry and wash.  Its shape also provides access to different parts of the body so bathing a patient also becomes easy.  The chair is also height adjustable and costs about Rs. 2000.

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