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Bathroom Design Considerations for "Aging in Place"

By on October 28, 2016

It's no secret: as a society, we're living longer.

Thanks to advancements in medicine, technology, and pharmaceuticals, as well as more education, awareness, and preventative informational programs, as a whole, the US population is living longer. According to the US Social Security Administration, a man who turns 65 today could reasonably expect to live until 84, while a woman may live to see 86.  In 2014, 46.2 million people -- roughly 1 in 7, or 15% of the population -- were over the age of 65, but by 2040 that's expected to be 22%, says the

That also means that as a society, we also have a larger number of older people in our population.  In 2014, 46.2 million people -- roughly 1 in 7, or 15% of the population -- were over the age of 65, but by 2040 that's expected to be 22%, says the Administration for Community Living.  By 2060 -- just 50 short years from now -- the 65+ population is expected to reach 98 million -- double what it is today.

What is Aging in Place?

ADA Accessible baths will become more common as the population ages. Photo credit: New Life Kitchen and Bath via AgeInPlace.com

ADA Accessible baths will become more common as the population ages. Photo credit: New Life Kitchen and Bath via AgeInPlace.com

Aging in Place is basically what it sounds like. It's a philosophy that suggests seniors should live where they choose, for as long as they can, while maintaining or improving their quality of life through needed services or assistance.  As we age, our bodies - and therefore, our abilities -- change. From mobility issues to sensory perception, mental acuity to increased illnesses, our health needs change. Because of these changes, families often need to reconsider how their homes are laid out - especially the bath area.

Here are a few design considerations as you think about adapting your bath for your longer life span.

Wider doorways.  Widening a doorway seems like an obvious first step to making a bathroom more accessible for wheelchairs or for two people to go through simultaneously (as in an assistant helping the older person.) However, Aging in Place expert Louis Tenenbaum says this may not always be an option, depending on your home's current structural design, including "carrying the structural load from floors and roofs above and rerouting wires or mechanical systems that are located in the walls next to the door. You also need a plan for patching the floor space where the walls used to be."

Additionally, consider eliminating any and all tripping "opportunities" throughout your home - such as the thresholds that so often line doorways.

Walk-in Tubs.  While this may seem like a simple solution, Tenenbaum recommends giving it some thought. "Think about how you take a bath: You generally fill the tub with water before you climb in. But with a walk-in, you enter first and close the door — then you sit there waiting for the water to fill. When you’re done, you have to drain out all the water before you can reopen the door to exit. Manufacturers recognize the issue because they list speedy drain times in their advertising. But not everyone is comfortable with this arrangement."

Built-in Shower Seats. We've talked about shower seats here on BathTub Doctor before. They can be a valuable feature to a bathing area. However, Tenenbaum points out that most shower seats are poorly placed when they're built in. "Most seats are placed too far from the showerhead and controls."  A better - even cheaper option -- can be a portable, adjustable seat. He also recommends having a handheld shower head: "a handheld shower handle that you move instead of moving yourself back and forth. This should be mounted on an adjustable grab bar, not mounted on a slide bar that won’t support you."

Glass shower doors.  Glass shower doors can be lovely, styling and make the most out of a small space - but they're still a door.  That means the shower door is blocking a significant portion of the entry way to a shower/bath, thus hampering accessibility. Even swinging doors can be problematic. That's why Tenenbaum recommends considering a shower curtain.

Adapting a home to one's aging needs is likely to be on everyone's mind at some point: either for themselves or for someone they care about. Every accessibility/age-in-place solution is just as unique as the individual and is dependent on the person, their capabilities, their home, and (of course, that thing many of us hate thinking about) budget.

The key to planning the right bathroom for your aging-in-place needs is to start early: do your research, consider options, and take your time to find the right solution that meets all of your needs.

 

Check out some of our other articles:

How to Squeeze Every Inch Out of Your Bath (And Still Be Stylish) 

10 Tile Trends for Your Bath

 

About Christina McCale

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