Bathrooms for the Elderly Buying Guide

Where to start

A bathroom should be a comfortable, relaxing space to enjoy no matter what age we are. Specialist bathroom equipment, like bath boards, seats and grab rails, can be fitted to overcome particular difficulties, and are compatible with most bathroom fittings. Ensure you’ve made careful decisions about the size and shape of fittings, and sought advice from an experienced occupational therapist (See here for more details: www.which.co.uk/elderly-care/housing-options/using-the-bathroom/349979-useful-organisations-and-websites-for-safety-in-the-bathroom ).

Good choices will result in a bathroom that’s a safer place for everyone to enjoy.

If you’re a wheelchair user, then you’ll need to think about clearance space to the sides and front of bathroom fittings. For more details, read our guide to Bathrooms for the Disabled.


The Options

Baths

A walk-in bath is easy to access because the door is usually at the front of the bath with a low step to climb over. Shut the door and fill the bath after you get in. As the bath needs emptying before you get out, make sure you have a good heated towel rail to keep the room warm so you don’t get cold. Walk-in baths can be the same size as a standard bath, just with a door. There are also short, deep, upright designs with a built-in seat for bathing sitting up.

If you need help in the bath, adjustable height baths make manoeuvrability easier for carers. A bath hoist is another option used with a standard bath and fixed to the floor or ceiling. A bath lift sits inside the bath. Make sure the lift travels low enough to reach the water and high enough to get out.

Although walk in baths are a specific product for the elderly, they can be on the pricey side. The next best thing would be a squared-ended bath with a straight edge flush to the wall is a practical option when you need space to move around the bathroom. A double-ended model is a particularly good design because there are sloping sides at both ends, and taps in the middle or mounted to the wall are out of the way. This means you can climb in and out of either end and sit facing in either direction. Choose a low, shallow bath for ease of movement and make sure a grab rail is within easy reach for stability. (see ‘Grab Rails’).

You might feel more confident with a bath seat, swivel seat or bath/shower board across the top of your new bath. The frame of the bath seat and swivel seat fix to the sides and the seated area is low down. A bath/shower board also fixes to the sides but is positioned higher up. Choose a bath design with a rim of 2.5cm so the board can rest safely over the top. The board mustn’t overlap the edges of the bath by more than 2cm. Don’t forget to check the product is the right size for the bath width. Install a bath shower mixer tap to make washing easier because you can direct the shower where you need it.

Remember that a seat or lift takes up space so if you want to lie back and relax then a standard 1700mm long bath is usually the best length or go for 1800mm for added comfort.


          Top Tips

  • Place a slip-resistant mat inside and outside the bath
  • Use a waterproof bath pillow for cushioning
  • A water temperature indicator confirms the bath temperature.


Grab rails are a great addition when additional assistance is needed in the bathroom. Guidance is available on www.rica.org.uk or ask an occupational therapist through social services to carry out an assessment and advise where they are best placed.


Showers

A wet room makes the whole bathroom watertight and is level so there’s no step up into the shower. A waterproof tanking membrane protects the walls and floors and non-slip tiles are tiled over the top. A design like this doesn’t need a shower tray as the tiled floor is watertight and slopes gently towards the drain for water to drain away. A shower screen is optional and going without one maximises space in the room. You can also create a wet room shower in one area of the bathroom by using a shower tray that runs flush to the floor.

A shower over a bath works well when using a bath board or bath seat that straddles the bath. The handset rail kit is best mounted on a riser so you can adjust the height of the shower up and down the rail, and swivel it around, making it more comfortable to wash whether you’re standing or sitting.

A separate shower enclosure should be fitted with a shower tray as level with the floor as possible to reduce the chances of tripping over. Our Eco shower trays are shallow, measuring only 35mm high. Our lowest profile is the Easy Wet Room ultra-low shower tray that is installed flush with the floor tiles leaving a lip of just 25mm. Again, make sure you fit grabs rail to steady yourself as you climb in and out.

An enclosure with big dimensions will be easier to navigate. Our largest shower trays are 1700mm x 900mm so there’s plenty of space, particularly if you need to sit down on a shower stool or chair. A plumber can check the shower tray is able to take the weight or install a wall-mounted seat.

Extra body jets can help ease aches and pains like our Square and Circular Body jets. Cool touch technology and anti-scald protection is built into all our mixers for shower safety.

If your water pressure is powerful, the flow of water coming through a large shower head tends to be more gentle than a smaller head, which can force the water through and sometimes feel uncomfortable. Adjustable water flow mixer controls will help, and don’t forget to fit a separate handset rail kit for added flexibility alongside a fixed shower head.

Double shower door enclosures allow more space to get in and out with the chunky D-shaped handle in the 6 Series being good for gripping both the sliding and hinged designs. The hinged doors have a 1000mm wide opening...


          Top Tips

  • A ridged slip-resistant mat is a safe way to step out of the shower or bath
  • Long-handled sponges and brushes are useful for washing in a seated position if bending is difficult.



Toilets

Look for a higher toilet seat if you have problems bending down. A wall-hung toilet gives the greatest flexibility because you can position the toilet at a height that is comfortable for you. Otherwise the highest seat in our closed coupled range is the Chambers Signature Standard at 430mm, while the seat of the Aalto Signature is 420mm with a wider profile of 380mm.  

A push button flush doesn’t need to be gripped, and for a wall-hung toilet the button is built-into the concealed support frame and set higher up on the wall.

 

Wash basins

A wide, shallow basin is more comfortable to slip your hands into than a narrow, deep bowl. The Maderno Signature Pedestal Basin is 715mm wide. Look for soft, curved shapes rather than hard, linear edges, which might get in the way. Like a loo, the wash basin needs to be at the right height too and a wall-hung basin can be fixed anywhere on the wall. The Contour Designer Wall Hung is a great rounded design choice.  

Basins with a generous ledge provide a practical place for a soap dish and toothbrush mug like the Metro Square Pedestal. Counter-top basins fixed onto bathroom furniture take practicalities one step further by creating even more surface area for bathroom essentials. This is particularly good for the visually-impaired. Choose bright-coloured accessories to place against light surfaces and bathroom fittings to help identify items from one another.


          Top Tips

  • Keep a magnifying mirror handy so you don’t have to lean over the basin for a closer look in the wall mirror
  • Choose bathroom furniture with chunky handles you can grip



Taps

Lever taps are easier to operate than twisting or cross-head taps that need a firm grip. A lever can be pushed left or right, up or down, with your hand, wrist or arm.


          Top Tips

  • A tap turner is like a plastic lever that fits onto a tap head to make the tap easier to grip



What Else?

A vinyl or rubber floor is warm, more cushioning and less slippery than a tiled floor (even better if the floor has a textured surface). But if you prefer tiles then avoid shiny and glossy finishes and search out a product with an anti-slip surface. Consider installing an electric underfloor heating mat for extra comfort.

If you’re visually-impaired introduce plenty of natural light and avoid highly reflective surfaces that can cause glare. Contrasting colours help identify different parts of the room; for example, accessories in primary colours next to white bathroom fittings.

VAT-free bathroom products are available to those who are terminally ill, have a long-term illness or disability. Products that have been bought to be used for this purpose, but aren’t specifically designed for these needs, will need written proof from a plumber or builder advising of the adaption so you can obtain a VAT refund. For more information, see: https://www.gov.uk/financial-help-disabled/vat-relief.

Don’t forget to seek advice about where to place an emergency cord. The cord needs to be long enough to reach from the floor and not trapped behind furniture. A free assessment of your bathroom needs may be possible with an occupational therapist (OT) through social services. Or you can pay to have a private assessment done. See: www.cotss-ip.org.uk to find a private OT.

Summary

Access and comfort is designed into a walk-in bath

Flexible washing is best with a handset rail kit 

Stay safe with a wet room design or shower tray flush to the floor

Large shower openings allow room to move

Shallow basins are more comfortable for washing hands

Flick on a lever tap with your hand, wrist or arm

Safe flooring is a must with an anti-slip surface

Contrasting colours help the visually-impaired navigate the bathroom

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