How to Make a Bathroom Handicap Accessible?

You are getting older and you want to stay in your forever home as you age.  Or, you have a medical condition; permanent, temporary, or degenerative, that impacts your ability to perform functional activities such as walking, bathing, or standing.  Modifications to your home, especially having an accessible bathroom, can be made so that you can continue to live in your home safely and independently.  These alterations do not need to be expensive, and many devices or fixtures can be purchased or rented.

One of the most hazardous rooms in your home, whether you are young or old, is the bathroom.  The presence of water contributes to slick floors, and unsecured bath mats and toilet or shower transitions present obstacles that contribute to potential fall hazards. Altering your bathroom will help prevent injury to both you and your caregiver.

Some of the modifications that can be done to prevent fall hazards in the bathroom include:

  • Widening the door entrance into the bathroom.

Increasing the width of the entranceway will allow access with a wheelchair or walker.  It can be accomplished by removing the door and installing a barn or pocket door or simply replacing the existing door hinges with offset hinges.  If more space is needed, the door frame can be enlarged, but this involves more of a construction effort.  In addition, the threshold leading into the bathroom should be flush from one room to the other.

  • Replacing the bathroom cabinet with a wall-mounted sink.

Removing the cabinet would provide wheelchair accessibility.  It would also allow for more maneuverability within the bathroom.  If a wall-mounted sink is installed it is important to wrap all the exposed piping to avoid burning of the skin or banging of the legs.

  • Modifying the toilet.

Increasing the height of the toilet seat will reduce the effort and strain of transitioning from sitting to standing and vice versa.  The toilet can be adjusted by installing an elevated toilet seat or adding a comfort or ADA height toilet which offers an extra 2 ¼” to 4” of height compared to standard toilets.  To make the toilet transition even safer grab bars can be added.  Toilet safety rails were also known as a versa frame or a grab bar support frame help make raising and lowering from the toilet seat safer, preventing falls.  Grab bars can also be mounted next to the toilet seat for additional support.

  • Installing new shower fixtures.

Updating your shower or tub with several different devices will promote safety when standing or sitting while showering.  Some of the helpful devices are listed below:

  • Use securerubber mats in the shower or tub to avoid slippery surfaces.
    • Install grab bars, preferably stainless steel with a knurling texture to reduce the possibility of hand slippage.  Proper installation of the grab bars is necessary and NEVER use suction cup grab bars.
    • Replace your fixed shower head with a handheld showerhead that not only allows you to direct where the water goes but also has an on/off switch.
    • Remove shower doors and mount a curtain rod and shower curtain.  This provides a larger entrance and exit area and creates room for caregiver assistance.
    • Use a shower chair when you are in the shower.
    • Use a tub bench if your shower is located in a tub.  It should have two (2) legs inside the tub and two (2) legs outside the tub.  A tub bench gives you the ability to sit on the bench outside of the tub and slide over into the tub.  The tub bench provides a safe place to sit while showering and an easy means of threshold transition out of the tub/shower.
    • Create an accessible shower by removing the tub or lip at the entrance of the shower, making a no threshold/barrier-free shower.  This limits the effort to enter and exit the shower and reduces the chance of falling.
    • A rolling shower chair can be used to roll a person into the shower and can also be used over the toilet.  This device reduces the number of transfers which reduces caregiver strain and safeguards the wellbeing of the person with mobility challenges.
    • If your current home cannot accommodate shower or tub modifications you could rent or purchase a portable shower.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury and deaths worldwide. Whether you are young or old, healthy, or facing a medical challenge, there are steps you can take to prevent falls in your bathroom.  Creating a barrier-free bathroom will remove obstacles that can cause slips and falls.