Home Designs For Life: Remodeling Ideas To Increase Safety, Function, And Accessibility In The Home.

Episode 22: How to Create a Safe, Accessible, and Functional Bathroom

August 09, 2022 Janet Engel, OT/L, CAPS Season 2 Episode 22
Home Designs For Life: Remodeling Ideas To Increase Safety, Function, And Accessibility In The Home.
Episode 22: How to Create a Safe, Accessible, and Functional Bathroom
Show Notes Transcript

A Bathroom remodel should fit our existing needs but should serve our future needs alike. No one wants to spend money twice on the same remodel in less than a 5 year span. Therefore, we need to plan for our future needs as well. Unfortunately, our abilities change as we age and we need to take this into consideration. Planning and being prepared means we get to live in our homes longer or forever, regardless of our changing abilities. Listen to this episode to learn about must-have features in an accessible, universally designed bathroom include.


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 Hi, everyone. It's nice to be with you again. I am done with all of the traveling that I've been doing over the summer and my son has started school again. So I am back on schedule and working and doing, and I am very happy to be here today and we are going to be. Well, I am going to be talking about must have features in a bathroom remodel.

So we all know that bathrooms can be a messy place, but they shouldn't be dangerous and ugly as well. And so that is what we're gonna discuss today. How we can make your bathroom safer, how we can make it more accessible and of course, more comfortable and more beautiful. So before you reach for that sledge hammer, let's point out what we need to achieve with our bathroom remodel.

So five things that we want to make sure that we accomplish. Number one, we want to increase accessibility. Number two, we want to increase safety. We also want to increase comfort. We want to increase, ease of use, which is how we're able to function in that space. And number five, we want to incorporate universal design features.

So a bathroom remodel should fit our existing needs, but we also need to think about the future and what we may need them.   Because we don't wanna spend money twice on a remodel, especially in less than a five year span because that space no longer works for us. And unfortunately I've seen that happen with patients that they have remodeled their bathroom  for what their abilities were at that particular time.

And then two or three years down the road. They weren't able to use the bathroom at all. And so that's  very unfortunate. So we do not want that to happen to anyone and it shouldn't happen to anyone. That's why it's so important to hire the right contractor and hire an occupational therapist that can help you.

Modify your space for your existing needs, but as well as for whatever your needs may be in the future, taking different things into consideration, like diagnoses or your age, or just  simple things that happen to us as we age like arthritis or  having  changes in our vision  or having changes in our balance.

So.   What we want. There are several things that we wanna do the most important is we want to plan and we wanna be prepared, right. That way that we can stay in our homes longer or possibly even for the rest of our lives, regardless of how our abilities may change in the future. So must have features in an accessible universally designed bathroom include, but are not limited to the following.

So I'm gonna read a list of things that. I would consider or recommend to a client. So number one, your entry, you wanna create a doorway that is at least 32 inches wide so that it can easily be accessed with a Walker or a wheelchair. And your threshold to enter that space should not be any higher than a half an inch bevel.

That way. If you have a wheelchair or a Walker or even a cane, you're not having to go over a surface, that's going to be uncomfortably high for your device to navigate it. So if your door is 32 inches wide, it's automatically going to look better. It's going to look more modern. It's going to look more contemporary.

So you don't even have to use    mobility device in order to justify putting in a 32 in store. If you have a 32 in store. It's going to look better. Your space is going to be more contemporary. So why not build it that way from the beginning? So, number two, you wanna have a curbless shower or a no threshold shower.

And if you cannot create a curbless shower, you want your threshold  to really, you don't want more than four inches high. So. The reason why we want this is because it's going to provide a clear entrance to the shower that can be accessed with or without a mobility device. So think about it.

Anyone will benefit from a curbless shower. You don't have to be 80 years old to see the benefit of walking into a space where there's absolutely no threshold, even a two year old or. A 10 year old or someone with no handicap  like a young, healthy 20 year old will benefit from having a curbless shower shower.

Now it also looks nicer. It's kind of like the 32 in door. It automatically gives a more modern contemporary look to your bathroom. So if you can do it. Then you should totally  put in the curbless shower or a threshold that is as low as possible. So the  another thing that you wanna consider is you wanna block the walls of the shower for future placement of grab bars or a wall hung seat.

It's better to have this in place and never need it than to have to tear up tile. To add reinforcement later. So this is a low cost change or a modification that your contractor can put in ahead of time. When either you're doing a remodel or you have a new build, it doesn't cost that much more money to block the walls.

And if you know that it's all blocked, then you can put a grab bar. Pretty much anywhere you like, you can install a wall hung seat, which they make.  There are companies like Ponte Giulio that make beautiful wa hung seats that are very contemporary, modern looking, and it will be sure to  really add some design to your bathroom, to your decor.

So another thing we wanna consider is we want to make our shower larger than we normally would. So planning for the future may mean that. We may need the help of another person in the shower. So wouldn't it be great if we had a shower that was large enough to allow two people to be in there at the same time, then that would really.

Eliminate several of your problems, because if you let's say you have someone with  dementia that isn't able to follow directions well, and isn't going to be able to complete their bathing task.  Like someone without any cognitive deficits, then you're going to have to have someone help them because otherwise their body probably will not be clean.

They will forget to shampoo their hair, or they may only wash their face or the top of their body, but completely  forget their legs and their feet.  So you may have to have the help of someone else  for many different reason. So, if you already have a space that's large enough to fit two people, then you know, that really  will make things a lot easier.

So if you have a space that is larger, then you can also fit many different types of shower chairs. For example, if you wanted extended tub transfer bench  versus just  a regular transfer bench or a regular. Shower chair. I you're going to have the space to, to fit this in there. So, so it's something to consider.

 Now other things that we want to look at is our toilet. So the toilet really is one of the most important features in the bathroom because when we need assistance with toilet, We can no longer be alone for  really more than an hour or an hour and a half, because if you're not safe to make it to the bathroom and transfer on to the toilet, then someone is going to have to be there with you all the time.

Or you may be in a very uncomfortable position and very dangerous.  So. You definitely don't want to increase your fall risk by having to walk to the bathroom and transfer to a toilet when it's not safe for you to do so. So having a toilet that is a good height for you is crucial. And this changes. So we talk about ADA height, toilets, a lot, which are toilets that are at least 17 inches high.

But now that may not be ideal for every person out there. So for example, small women   maybe having a, a toilet that is 15 inches high is going to be suitable because you want your feet to be able to touch ground. But in general, when you have a surface that is too low, And usually the 15 inch toilet is too low.

It is going to be dangerous for you to sit on the toilet because it's a long way to come down before you come to a seated position. And it's also going to be harder for you to get up from that toilet. So, one thing that we can look at is the. Angle of our hip. So when we sit down, we do not want less than a 90 degree angle at the hips, because if you have less, that means it's going to be that much harder for you to get up from that surface.

And it's not just a toilet that I'm referring to. It could be a, a couch, a sofa, a chair, your bed. So we want to have at least a 90 degree angle at the hip or more so that we can get up easier from a surface. So there are many ADA height toilets that are 17 inches, 17.5 inches. You can even get 'em 19 inches or 19.5.

Another thing you can do is you can have a wall hung toilet installed in your bathroom, which actually gives a very contemporary, modern look. And it's easier to clean underneath the toilet because  the plumbing is completely different. So there's, you're gonna have better hygiene it's it really is a much better solution.

Almost by default, the Huong toilet will not clog because of its design.  And then it also has an activator which you can operate either manually, or it can be operated with a remote control. The activator can also be a different color from the wall, which will allow you to provide color contrast so that if someone has  Low vision.

They can see where the wall  activator is  as compared to the rest of the surface. And if there are two people living in the home, there's actually a formula that you can use to determine the right height for the toilet. And it's you take the average height of the two people, and then you work out this mathematical formula and it will give you the hi, the recommended height for the two individuals.

So keep in mind that the recommended basic clearances for the toilet are a minimum of 30 inches from the front 30 inches on the side and or placement of the toilet that is in a 60 by 60 inch space. So when I talk about these measurements, what I'm referring to is how you're able to access the toilet.

And transfer onto the toilet in a Safeway. All right. So now we're gonna be switching to hardware. When I mention hardware, I'm talking about the  different handles or pools that we put on our cabinets. So we always wanna use handles that are closed, or you can call 'em D shaped handles. Because these handles are not going to snag on clothing or any other items that are close that come close to them.

Another type of handle that we can use is the cup handle, which is that antique. Kind of handle. It's very pretty.  It's still used a lot today and it's has a beautiful ergonomic use to it. It's it's aesthetically pleasing as well comes in many different finishes. So that's another handle that is also recommended.

Create a universal design in your bathroom so that everyone can use these finishes in the same way. And they're also safe for everyone to use. We also want to avoid knobs. They are not ergonomically friendly for the aging hand. So avoid using knobs at all costs. When it comes to switches, we want to use either paddle switches or we wanna use motion, sensor switches.

They're easier to use. Plus they're also safer. If we have arthritis in our hands, it's gonna be much easier to use a, a paddle. Then, or use a motion sensor, which is the best, then have to use a small switch to turn on and off. So we also want to have the G F C I outlets in our bathroom. So G F C I stands for ground fault circuit interrupter.

So this  is used when you are in a damp area, it can make you prone to dangerous electric shock, which of course the bathroom and the kitchen. These are two areas where. You would make use of a G FCI outlet. They can reduce your risk for injury and you should definitely install one near the toilet. In fact, you should have at least two G F C I outlets in your bathroom depending on how large your bathroom is.

So another thing that we wanna keep in mind is that we wanna use low maintenance non-skid material. Whenever possible. So I'm referring to what we use on the floor.    Also what we use on our countertops. So materials such as vinyl are a safe, durable, low cost flooring solution for the bathroom.

Now  we also want to create. Storage for our bathroom. We wanna create accessible storage where we can keep things that we use often, which in the bathroom, there are many items, especially for women.  We use hygienic items. We have our toilet paper.  We may have clothing that we keep, we towels our robe.

So we want to be able to access these items easily without having to reach for something  where you're having to look up. Because when you take  your eyes.  When you are looking up or looking down, especially looking up your center of gravity completely changes and your fall risk will increase.

So that's why you wanna have things located at chest height so that you're not having to reach up or reach down to get something, especially something that you use often and never place a heavy item. On a shelf that is higher than what you can reach   comfortably, because that's when you risk having something fall on your head.

And I've had many patients that have had traumatic brain injuries from just a box  landing on their head and it's changed their lives forever. So it's totally not worth the risk of having something heavy fall on your head or fall on your face or fall on your foot. And then  be really injured from that.

So now we are going to continue  to the vanity area. So. If we can, we wanna install a roll under sync or a sync with a remove with removable drawers in case in the future.  We need to either access that sink from a wheelchair, or maybe you don't have a wheelchair, but you need to sit down while you're performing you're grooming activities.

And so you can  pull up a chair and, and sit down in front of. Sink now again, Ponte Giulio makes really beautiful, accessible sinks, all kinds of different designs. Some have grab bars.  They even have sink where you can attach cabinets to them. So there's a lot out there that you can choose. So just because you get a role under sync, that doesn't mean it's gonna be ugly and it's gonna look like  what they have at the local hospital in your neighborhood.

So talking about the counter, we, it would be great if you had a multi-level counter height. So the reason we want a multi-level counter height is because we perform different activities in the bathroom. Right? So for example, when we're brushing our teeth  normally we do that standing up at the sink, but.

I can tell you for women, when you put on your makeup, it's much more comfortable to do that in a seated position, just like for men  shaving it's much more comfortable to shave sitting down than it is to do it standing up, especially when you have to bend over and so that you can keep your face  centered in the mirror.

So. What about taking our medications? People commonly keep their, their medicines in their bathroom.  So if we can take our medications in the bathroom and we can do it in a seated position, especially if you're taking more than five medications, you wanna make sure that you're taking your time, that you're doing it correctly, that you have a good amount of light.

  So. And also how you're storing your medication, cuz some there's a lot of me medication that has to be stored in dark places. So if you can sit down to do some of those activities, it's actually really, really comfortable and it looks very pretty. It makes your bathroom  look like it has more of a, a design  a high end design, a high end look to.

So perhaps instead of putting in two sinks, maybe you should just put in one sink and then do a multi-level counter. And then that way you still have space where you can use your counter for other tasks. So that's just an option to keep in mind, especially when you have limited space in your bathroom, which most of us do.

So I know that, for example, in my bathroom, I, my counter has two sinks and then I have no other counter space, but yet it. A large bathroom and what the previous owners decided to put in was a free standing  tub, a French tub, which I rarely use. I've lived here in this house for about two years and I've used it twice.

So really, if I were to remodel my bathroom, which I want to do in the future, I would remove that French tub. And I would put in.  A lower counter at about 30 inches high so that I could sit down and do my makeup and  take my medication and  anything else I do wax wax my legs.  Instead of the way I do it now, which is I have to sit on the floor and do it.

So there are many uses and you don't have to be an older person. To need these things or benefit from making these changes to your bathroom. So let's see, let's move on to the mirror. So that's another thing that I wanna change in my bathroom because right now I just have two mirrors that are your run of the mill mirrors.

What I'd really like is to install  mirror with the L E D. Lighting behind it. Number one, the, it would save me money. I wouldn't have to  have lighting above the mirror, which really that's. If you put your lighting above your mirror, that's where you're going to have the most  shadow cast. So really you wanna put your lighting.

Adjacent to your mirrors, but we don't all have a large enough bathroom to put our lighting adjacent to the mirrors. So if you had an L E D backlit mirror, then that would eliminate the need for more lighting. Plus those L E D lights are gonna last forever. So you're now gonna have to replace 'em and it casts a really nice light.

So it would be really nice lighting to do your makeup. So that's something else. Now keep in mind that you also want to have a mirror that's long enough so that if you have to sit down at your counter, you can still see yourself in the mirror. All right. So just keep that in mind. Now be generous with the lighting that you install in your bathroom.

It's better to have more lighting than not enough, especially in the bathroom because we do many tasks in the bathroom that are very important.  It's where we get ready, where we perform our hygiene tasks.  We may take our medication in there.  So it's, it's. Used a lot. Plus we have to use the toilet.

So we're walking in there many times a day. So we wanna make sure that we have  lighting either on the sides of the mirror or that we have the L E D backed mirrors. We have  lighting in the ceiling.  Especially, we want to have at least one light in the shower. When I was doing home health, I would see this all the time where there was no lighting inside the shower and it was dark and there wasn't enough lighting in the bathroom.

And so then the shower saw was really dark and a lot of my patients were already at risk for. So now you're taking a shower, which is one of the most dangerous activities that we do. And really one of the most tiring activities that we do of daily living and you're doing it in a dark space. So it's not a good idea.

So other areas that we can add lighting is we can add L E D lighting strips under our cabinets. So that's a great way to light up your bathroom. It's low cost because it uses very little energy. It's very inexpensive to buy these L E D lighting strips. 

And they're very easy to install. You can probably install them yourself without.

Having to hire a handyman or a contractor and it makes your bathroom look nicer. So this is another tip. You can also add L E D strips in your kitchen. So this is used for way finding which wayfinding is our ability to be able to  Find our way in our environment. Okay. So when you have L E D lighting strips in a bathroom, you, that will be on  you can have that on at night.

And so that's an additional light source that you have that will make your bathroom safer. When you walk in, let's say at two in the morning to use the toilet, your bathroom is lit and just so.  My listeners know, lighting can also be added to toilets.  So that's another safety feature that we can add to our bathroom, which my toilet doesn't have it, but I would love to add that because I have to, I use the bathroom in the middle of the night and I rely on just light coming in through the window that I have in the toilet area.

But I would love to have a light that's. One of the things that I wanna do is install a light for the toilet now, maintenance and safety. So going back to choosing low maintenance materials. When we are purchasing the materials that we're using in a remodel, or let's say a new build. We want to look at the D C O F   measurement, which is you wanna have a minimum threshold of point 42.

And this will determine how this is the coefficient of friction that a flooring has. It's going to tell you how slippery that surfaces when it's wet. So remember you want to have at least a point 42 DCO, O F as measured by the D C O FCU test. So. We also wanna take into consideration that we are in a damn space.

So using wood in a bathroom is not a good idea or using  MDF. That really is a bad idea as well, because your floors are definitely gonna get wet. And once water starts seeping into the flooring. Now you're talking about mold growing, especially if you live in a humid climate. Like I do. I live in Georgia.

 And in  all parts of the lower United States or the Eastern part of the United States, it's a humid climate. So now you have the risk of mold growing in your environment, which is going to affect your breathing. Okay, and can make you sick. So also choose materials that are going to have resistance to chemicals that we commonly use in the bathroom like Clorox.

 So we don't want the Clorox to bleach the surface. So for example, if you use marble, especially if you're using a Polished marble you cannot use Clorox on polished marble to clean it because it's gonna etch it. That means it's, it's gonna scratch it. It's going to remove the polished look plus it. It's going to damage the marble.

 If you have, Travertine the same thing that's gonna happen. You can't use Clorox to clean Traver team. You have to use special products made for those types of materials. So. When we're part of aging in place and aging in place design is choosing materials that are low maintenance and that we don't have to buy  very special, expensive products to clean those surfaces.

  So avoid glossy finishes. That's a big one. Even if you're choosing tile, a tile that is low maintenance, you do not want a glossy finish in your bath. Because glossy finishes are  going to be slipper more slippery and they also cause glare. So when we have glare inside of space, especially a small space, It's going to affect the way that we see things it's gonna affect our vision.

Especially as we get older, we're more affected by glare and glare can really increase our risk for falls or even make it impossible to, to see well, in a room, especially    specific times of the day, like maybe very early in the morning or later in the afternoon, depending.   What direction your bathroom faces and where the windows are.

So avoid glossy finishes, if you want to put in a glossy tile, because  it's beautiful. It's  very designed forward. You can use it, but just use it in a small space so that you can get the look, but you're not going to. Die by the sword of the glossy finish. So these are all changes that can save you time and money and not to mention lots of headaches in the future.

So when we're talking about aging in place, planning is the most important thing that you can do to reduce your stress level.  Just reduce how much money you spend on. Remodeling.  You can increase the choices that you have in your space and you can make your space beautiful and you can make it whatever you want it to be.

And you can have the latest trends and your bathroom will still be safe. We'll be accessible. We'll be functional. We'll be comfortable. Anne is going to add to your quality of life. And that's what it's about when we're talking about creating a home for life. So thank you for being with me today. And again, if you have any topics that you would like me to talk about on the podcast or discuss, or a guest that you would like me to invite, or if perhaps you would like to be invited on my show, please contact me.

I love hearing from my listeners and my email is info@agingmatters.health and that is matters with an s at the end. And thanks again for being with me today.