(This article is written by Megan Crissey, an occupational therapy assistant student at National American University in Independence, MO.)
Showering: it is most likely one of the first things you do in the morning to wake yourself up and get ready for the day. Imagine now that something has happened to you and you are unable to get in and out of the shower like you used to. How does this change how you get ready for your day? Is there any way you can fix this problem so you can feel “normal” again? YES, there are changes you can make in your bathroom, also known as home modifications, to make showering easier and safer for you! Making changes in your bathroom is important to prevent injuries while showering.
According to AARP, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house with 80% of all bathroom accidents resulting from a fall. If a person falls in the shower, they may have a fear of falling again. This increased fear may limit their movements while cleaning hard to reach areas, reduce the number of times they shower, or make someone stop using their shower altogether. How terrible is it for someone to feel unsafe showering in their own home? Occupational therapists are the professionals who can help you figure out the safest home modifications for you and your bathroom. AARP supports research in using occupational therapists for your home modification needs.
Research from the U.S. and Australia shows occupational therapists have a unique look on making your home a safe and livable space (Stark, Keglovits, Arbesman, and Lieberman, 2017). Occupational therapists are trained to look at each person individually and find ways to make their home work best for them. For example if your toilet is too low for you to safely sit down, don’t worry! An occupational therapist can find a way to raise the toilet to a comfortable and safe height that is just right for you.
Home is such a special place to each person. It is where you raised your family and made so many significant memories. Occupational therapists want to help you stay in this place for as long as you desire. Making simple changes in the home helped aging adults live in their homes longer and lessened the number of hospital stays due to falls and fall related injuries in a recent study in a community in Pittsburgh, PA (Dickson and Toto, 2018). Wouldn’t you like to stay out of the hospital? Find an occupational therapist today to help you stay where you are!
When looking for an occupational therapist, you need to find one who listens carefully to your wants and needs. While we have found that occupational therapy is the best fit for home modifications, research shows that clients and family members were more satisfied with occupational therapists who paid attention to their specific needs (Aplin, Jonge, and Gustafsson, 2014). What works for some may not work for others! Occupational therapists are skilled at matching your ideas and thoughts with the best home modifications for you and your family.
Now time for the fun stuff! I've got some great recommendations for you! Before you go on, remember to always include an occupational therapist in your home plans! Now read below to find out more!
If you are able to remodel your bathroom or build a new house, I recommend you put in a barrier free shower with non skid or slip resistant tiles on the bathroom floor. This type of shower eliminates the step into a tub shower combo or standard walk in shower. This means that barrier free showers work for people of all ages and abilities. For instance, they allow wheelchair users to roll in and transfer to a shower chair or bench with no difficulty. Barrier free showers drastically reduce fall risks! No shirking off showers because of a fear of falling!
If remodeling is too expensive for you, there are cheaper ways to make your shower safe! Non slip coating, like SlipDoctors, can be applied to your existing bathroom floor or tub shower surface as well. Non skid decals or non skid bathmats on your shower floor will add traction to your feet while moving around. FYI: non skid decals or bathmats work in a similar way as non skid socks on hardwood floors. You can be fall free on a dime!
Only 19% of American homes have grab bars installed near toilets and in the showers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). Grab bars on each side of the shower entrance and near any seating are great safety features because they allow you to hold onto a sturdy object for stability while you stand on one leg to get in or out. Grab bars are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to prevent falls in the bathroom. Recently, a client told me she had installed grab bars in her shower for safety and they were placed out of her reach. This client was unable to use the grab bars that were installed in her home! What a waste of time and money! If the client consulted an occupational therapist who specializes in home modifications, she could have avoided installing grab bars that are not usable. Don’t let this client be you!
Adding a hand held shower head can make rinsing easier for those hard to reach places. Bending over while standing to rinse may make you lose your balance resulting in a fall. If you feel unsteady while standing, sit down and use a hand held shower head to rinse off your entire body. I would recommend installing a hand held shower head with a mount that allows you to adjust the height. Another benefit of installing hand held shower heads is the price; I found some as inexpensive as $10! Plus, hand held shower heads are easy to install! You unscrew the existing shower head then screw on your new hand held shower head. Easy peasy!
Speaking of sitting while showering, consider placing a shower bench or stool in the shower to save your energy and reduce the risk of slipping and falling in the shower! Sitting down to wash your body will make it easier to reach different areas of the body like your legs, feet, or back. Thoroughly scrubbed feet and shaved legs gives us ladies the feeling of sweet relief! Gentlemen, don’t discount the opportunity to sit and shave in the shower if you have a handy recessed shelf to store your shaving supplies.
Using a long handled loofah and long handled razor can make lower leg grooming more comfortable! Being able to reach your back and legs to wash with a long handled loofah can make showering help you feel cleaner. Consider adding a hook or shower storage rack to hang your supplies close to you.
Adding automatic soap dispensers on the wall of the shower or bottles with pump handles can make getting shampoo, conditioner, and body wash effortless compared to trying to lift heavy, slippery bottles. Pump handles and automatic soap dispensers are easy on your wrists! Make sure the soap dispensers or hygiene products are within reach of you while seated to lessen back strain. Here are some examples below:
Extra lighting in the bathroom is always a good idea. You can add lights inside the shower area to increase visibility and decrease the chances of slipping on something unexpected. Also consider adding natural lighting with skylights or windows with textured glass, shutters, transom, glass blocks, or hopper windows. Natural lighting is attractive and makes us happy!
As you can see, there are many different options to choose from when making changes to your bathroom. Occupational therapists can come into your home, evaluate how you are able to complete your daily routines, and offer you the best solutions to help keep you safe. Today is the day to take an action step towards empowerment and freedom to live where you want to live for as long as you want. Home modifications can be a simple way to take away your fear of an uncertain future and replace it with the confidence to live a happy, independent life.
Aplin, T., Jonge, D. D., & Gustafsson, L. (2014). Understanding home modifications impact on clients and their family’s experience of home: A qualitative study. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal,62(2), 123-131. doi:10.1111/1440-1630.12156
Dickson, K. L., & Toto, P. E. (2018). Feasibility of integrating occupational therapy into a care coordination program for aging in place. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72, 7204195020. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.031419
Stark, S., Keglovits, M., Arbesman, M., & Lieberman, D. (2017). Effect of home modification interventions on the participation of community-dwelling adults with health conditions: A systematic review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71, 7102290010. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2017.018887