Make your home wheelchair accessible

Make living at home easier for seniors

By Allan Britnell

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Safe Bathroom Basics

The bathroom, with its combination of electric appliances, wet surfaces and potentially scalding hot water, is the most common area for household injuries.

Rid yourself of trip and fall hazards by removing loose bath mats. Tile and laminate flooring is slippery when wet, so instead install wall-to-wall carpet (1) or anti-slip sheet flooring as a safer option.

Grab bars (2), starting at about $40, are one of the handiest devices you can add to the home. If the bathroom decor is due for an update, consider lining the walls with 3/4″ plywood. After covering it with wallboard, the entire wall will be supportive enough to allow you to install grab bars wherever you need them.

For more versatility, other styles of grab bars ($200 and up) swing into place from the wall or ceiling, or are height-adjustable to accommodate the needs of more than one user.

Sitting down on a standard throne can be a royal pain. You can make it easier to sit down and rise from the toilet (3) by raising the seat off the ground. Seats with thicker legs that give a three-inch boost can be added to any toilet. You can even replace the commode with a taller base that adds another two to three inches of rise ($500).

This accessible sink (4) has clearance space below it for a wheelchair. The deep basin tilts down for easy access and long levers replace standard taps, easier to use if you’re not at full strength. The mirror above it (5) also tilts down so you can see yourself when seated.

There are a number of options available for making bathing a safer experience. At the very least, you should have an anti-slip mat on the shower or tub floor. As occupational therapist Catherine Brackley points out, “If you slip in the tub and hit your head, that may be the end of it.” Here (6) we show a shower stall retrofitted into a space that once housed a bathtub. It includes a modular ramp (7).

The safest and most comfortable way to bathe is to have a seat in the tub (8). Again, there are a number of options (from $50 to $500). Portable vinyl and stainless steel chairs (often used for short-term needs by people recovering from an injury) can be moved in and out as needed. Other models are fixed to the wall but tilt up and out of the way when not in use.

Make showering easier when you’re seated: install a handheld shower head (9) with an adjustable height mount.

To reduce the risk of injury from hot water, you can install anti-scald mechanisms or turn down the temperature on the water heater (49°C is the maximum recommended). In homes in which the elderly are living with the younger set, a diverting valve can switch water flow between the side-mounted faucet and a standard shower head.

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