Designing Your Bathroom for Aging In Place

Yikes! I nearly worked myself into a snit today when I couldn’t find the notes I had made for today’s post.  The cleaning ladies were here today and I thought they had THROWN THEM OUT!!! Which, needless to say would not make me happy.  I might have to try and remember what I wrote!  Fortunately it was just a little (age-related?) brain cramp and my notes are all here.  Whew!  Which brings me to my subject for today- the concept of designing for those who wish to age-in-place. 

What, pray tell, is that?  Well, it’s a concept that requires us to think about what our needs will be as we continue to live in our homes and design for that now.   Case in point:  I’m working with a client who lives downtown and is remodeling her bathroom.  The building isn’t terribly old, but the room definitely needs an update (I’m not telling tales out of school- she said it).  She’s a little past middle-age and looking to stay in her condo as long as she possibly can.  Therefore, we need to think about what her needs might be 10- 15 years from now so that we can give her a design that will support her needs now as well as later on.  Things like:

  • A “comfort height” toilet- as we age it becomes more difficult to get up and down
  • Blocking for grab bars now to ease their installation later on- we’re having the contractor add in some plywood underneath the cement board that the tile will be attached to.  This way the support system is in place when she needs to add grab bars in the tub area.
  • Slip- resistant flooring, a good thing in a bathroom regardless of your age and abilities.
  • Selecting faucets with levers (actually hers has a joy-stick) that allows for easy use.  As arthritis sets in, it makes operating controls more challenging and sometimes painful.
    Kohler Stance faucet with single "joystick" control and polished chrome finish
    Single Control faucet
  • Lighting- ensuring that we have enough lighting as well as providing a night-light option (we’re suspending her vanity off the floor and we’re going to add under-cabinet lighting) which will allow for ease of finding her way in the dark. 
  • Adding a hand-held shower as well as a standard shower head to allow for seated showering (she also likes this feature to clean the tub with!)
    Kohler polished chrome showerhead
    Hand-held shower

There are other options to think about as well- perhaps adding a phone in the bathroom.  The bathroom is the one room in the house where falls happen most often to those who are aging.  Motion sensor controls for faucets might be a good idea- you can usually set a water temperature for the faucet so you have the correct mix of hot and cold every time- no need to worry about scalding and no worries about having to operate the faucet.  Another option if you’re doing a larger make-over would be to design seating in the bath/shower area.  There are a number of seating options, from those that are attached to the wall and fold flat against it to built-in seating with a heating element under it (no sitting on cold stone or tile! 🙂 )  Door sizes are also a consideration in a large re-model or new construction.  Planning for a 36″ door now can save a lot of time and expense if someone even temporarily needs to maneuver a wheel chair in and out.

There are many other options and things to think about when designing for aging- in- place.  With the aging of our population and people wanting the best quality of life for themselves as long as they can have it, it makes sense that this is a topic of much study and innovation.  Thanks to all of those who have studied, tested, and developed products for us and our loved ones to be able to maintain our independance and remain in our homes as long as possible with dignity and ease!

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