Essential Steps to Designing a Bathroom for Seniors

I often get asked for advice on preventing slips and falls. Inevitably, the questions tend to focus on the bathroom. The following article from Lynn Wilson, founder of The Caregiver Partnership provides an excellent list of suggestions to improve the design of your bathroom.

Falling is an important health concern for older adults, and the bathroom is one of the most dangerous rooms in an elderly person’s home. The combination of slippery surfaces and physical instability requires special attention to designing this room with safety at the forefront.


Clear pathways through the bathroom, removing any unnecessary cords and decorative objects that could decrease mobility. Check that flooring is properly maintained, with no loose tiles or edges on vinyl that could be tripping hazards. If rugs are used, they should lie flat. Apply nonskid tape underneath rugs, or better yet, use nonskid mats. Make sure floor cleaners don’t leave behind a slick surface.

Tubs and showers

Safety bars and textured mats are essentials in a bathroom designed for senior safety. If your tub surround does not have a safety bar, also called a grab bar, install one on the wall inside the tub or shower, as well as directly outside the tub for ease in getting in and out. Add textured bath mats or nonskid tape to the shower bottom for extra traction. Is standing in the shower uncomfortable for your loved one? Add a bath bench and a showerhead with detachable hose. Check water heater settings to help avoid the risk of scalding.


As we age, it becomes more difficult to get in and out of seated positions. This is where toilet safety rails and a raised toilet seat will provide comfort and safety. Consider replacing a white toilet seat with one in a contrasting color to help with visibility and depth perception. For a variety of safety options that can change as a senior’s needs change, a 3-in-1 commode can serve as a raised toilet seat, a toilet safety frame or a commode that can be used anywhere in the home.


Make sure the bathroom, and hallways leading to it, are sufficiently lit. A fixture with two bulbs instead of one is better when one burns out and can’t be changed immediately, and adding a nightlight or motion-sensor light can provide a little extra peace of mind. If vision is impaired, add non-skid tape strips in contrasting colors to floors, grab bars, and objects throughout the room to improve traction, visibility and depth perception.

Hygiene supplies

Place hygiene supplies where they’re easily accessed, in a place that doesn’t require a lot of bending low or reaching high. For seniors managing incontinence, many find a tall, narrow freestanding cabinet close to the toilet to be an ideal place to keep wipes and absorbent products within reach.

Emergency communication

For caregivers and seniors who want that extra reassurance of knowing help is just a call or button press away, install a phone jack or an emergency response system such as Guardian Alert 911 which doesn’t require a jack and allows the user to call for help from anywhere in the home through wearable pendant.

Building a bathroom

If you’re adding living space for a parent to your home, or just a lucky senior having a home built to your specifications, look for an experienced contractor who understands the needs of the elderly and aging in place. Your wish list might include a wide doorway, elevated counter, wall-mounted sink, automatic faucets and soap dispenser, and a walk-in or wheelchair-accessible tub/shower.

Source: Lynn Wilson, Founder of The CareGiver Partnership

Matt Del Vecchio is a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA).  He is the founder and president of Lianas - a company specializing in retirement residence search and senior transition support.

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