As we age, our bodies don’t always work the way they once did. We lose strength and balance, and suddenly what once was a small obstacle becomes a safety hazard. Bathrooms, and specifically showers, are especially dangerous. Walk-in showers for seniors can reduce the greatest risk to older people in their home.
Making Bathing and Showering Safer
Among Americans 65 and older, falls result in more injuries and death than any other cause. Removing or reducing the causes of falls can make life safer for this age group.
Stepping into a bathtub or into a shower is fraught with danger. Falls often occur when a person must step over the wall of a tub or a curb (threshold). Balancing on one leg, even for the second or two required to step into a shower can be risky business for the elderly or anyone with physical limitations.
Removing or reducing the size of the threshold can dramatically improve shower and bathing safety. In short, the solution is a walk-in shower.
What is a Walk-In Shower?
First, let’s define what a walk-in shower is. Depending on who you ask you might get different answers. Some people may say that a walk-in shower is one without any door or curtain. Others may say that it is a shower that does have a door or curtain, but there is nothing to step over when you get in the shower. Still others may say that it is any shower with an extremely low or no threshold to step over, regardless of whether or not there is a door.
For the purpose of this article, we will define a walk-in shower as one that has an extremely low threshold so that a person can simply “walk in” to the shower, without the need to step up and over a tub wall or other high curb.
Because we are addressing the senior market that is looking for safety, the low threshold definition is what is most important. However, removing the door can also make a shower safer when you have nothing impeding your entry and exit. Consider incorporating both low/no threshold and a doorless enclosure when choosing your design and details.
Walk-In Shower Remodeling Options
Walk-in showers are available in a variety of designs. As you consider how best to remodel your bathroom, keep in mind that the space you have available in your bathroom may dictate the shower option you choose. If your space is limited, a prefabricated shower may be your only option. If you currently have a separate tub and shower, consider removing your tub to make way for a larger shower.
Pre-made or prefabricated shower kits are available in a wide array of designs from numerous manufacturers. These kits typically have a low curb, so they aren’t completely flat when you walk in, but are usually much lower than tubs. Some kits will have built-in seats or benches and safety bars.
The kits won’t have the elegance of a shower made with custom tile work, but the cost can be significantly lower, and installation is quick. Standardized sizes mean replacing an existing shower would not require any additional space.
For a true zero-entry shower with no curb to step over, a custom-built shower is your best option. You can choose all the details including the plumbing fixtures, door (if any), your favorite materials for the floor and walls, and the size.
If you use tile, you can pick from hundreds of styles, sizes, shapes and colors, and you can have the tile design made according to your specification. You can also have custom-made niches and seats or benches, according to your wants and needs.
A zero-entry typically means that the floor of the bathroom extends into the shower. So you probably will be replacing the entire bathroom floor, including the shower floor so the entire floor is the same material. This means you will be spending more money than you would if you are simply replacing the shower. If you can keep your existing bathroom floor and have the shower floor material butt up against the existing floor, then you can have the zero entry, without having to replace the entire floor.
A zero-entry shower will require floors that slope away from the entry point and toward the drain, preventing water from flowing out into the room.
While this article is primarily about walk-in showers for seniors, it’s worth mentioning the option for replacing a traditional bathtub with a walk-in tub. For someone who prefers to take baths, or needs the safety of a sit-down tub, walk-in tubs are a viable way to make bathrooms safer. They also make bathing without assistance possible.
A standard bathtub can be replaced with a walk-in tub. The entryway to these bathtubs has a very low threshold, so entering the tub is much safer than stepping into a standard tub. A small door closes to seal the entrance and make the tub water tight, allowing it to function like a normal tub. The tubs usually have a seat built in so the bather can easily walk in, sit down on an elevated seat, and bathe safely.
Shower Safety Features
As discussed previously, the most common safety feature of a walk-in shower is low or zero curb height. But there are additional safety features you can add.
While not really a safety feature, a roll-in shower is a variation of the walk-in shower. It has absolutely no curb, allowing someone in a wheelchair to roll directly into the shower from the bathroom floor and transfer to a chair or simply remain in their wheelchair. The shower would typically have a much larger opening and be deep enough for a chair to fit inside.
Safety Grab Bars
Several grab bars are placed strategically on the walls at the opening and inside a shower, providing stability when entering and exiting, and while using the shower. The bars may not be used often, but in the event of slips or unsteadiness, they are crucial to prevent falls. As seniors age the grabs bars will prove more and more critical to preventing accidents and injuries.
Aging people often struggle with balance or find it difficult to stand for long periods. A seat provides assistance for them to sit while bathing, reducing the risk of slips and falls. Seats may be portable seats made for immersion or exposure to water, or you can have a seat built-in if the shower is large enough.
Anti–Scald Faucets and Valves
This feature prevents extremely hot water from coming out of the faucet or shower head and burning the occupant. Also, sudden fluctuations in water temperature can cause people to jerk away from the hot water causing unsteadiness on their feet. So these devices prevent burns and resultant falls as well.
Depending on the material used to make the floors of a shower, they may be quite slippery. Ideally, walk-in showers should have no-slip floors that are made of slip-resistant material. Anti-slip coatings may be applied to the floor. Others will have grooves or similar features to offer traction. A no-slip mat can always be added if the floors are not slip-resistant.
Aging In Place — Why Walk-In Showers Are Important
The majority of Americans say they want to stay in their homes as long as possible as they age. This preference, termed aging in place — has many benefits including avoiding all the stress, hassle, and expense of moving to a new residence. However, while aging in place comes with benefits, it also has its risks, the most common of which is safety.
Seniors who age in place often find that their home, which at one time served their physical needs well, now presents safety hazards. Seniors struggle with mobility challenges and balance problems, and homes with stairs and high ledges can result in falls.
Converting regular bathtubs and showers into the walk-in variety is a huge step toward making a home safer for seniors. They are extremely helpful for seniors who struggle with balance. They provide independence, safety and comfort. Numerous options are available, to suite a variety of needs and tastes, and in wide price ranges.
If you need to make your bathroom safer for yourself or a loved-one, consider upgrading your standard shower. Contact Property Pro Services today to discuss how we can help redo your bathroom. We’ll answer your questions, and provide a free quote.