It was a perfect arrangement – until the day the aide arrived for her shift to find Katherine lying on the bathroom floor. Apparently, she had missed a step while trying to reach the toilet and fell backward, narrowly avoiding hitting her head. Although Katherine was not injured, her family decided she could not be alone anymore and moved her into a long-term-care (LTC) facility, where Katherine died just a month later.
Katherine's story, while sad, is all too familiar. Falls are a leading cause of injury and even death. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were approximately 234,000 nonfatal injuries in the bathroom in 2008 (the latest data readily available) among people 15 years old and older. More than 80 percent of those injuries were from falls.
Clearly, the bathroom is a dangerous place. But what can you do to ensure that you or your loved ones don’t become another statistic? Fortunately, it only takes following a few easy steps.
- Watch your habits
Fall Hazards: Do you pick up all towels, paper products, bottles, etc. off the floor?
Shelving: When preparing to bathe or shower, do you set your clothes on a chair or table or just drop them on the floor?
Spills: Do you clean up spills when they occur?
- Inspect your bathroom
Lighting: Is there adequate lighting to see what you’re doing? Is the light switch readily available? Is there a nightlight?
Shower Safety: Are there grab bars in the tub and shower? Do you have non-slip strips in the bathtub/shower? Or, do you use a non-slip bath mat in the tub/shower and/or just outside it?
Toilet: Are there grab bars near the toilet?
Spill Prevention: Does water or liquid soaps, lotions, conditioners, etc. collect on the floor?
Is there a place to dispose of empty bottles, used tissues etc.?
Laundry: Is there a hamper for dirty towels, washcloths, and laundry?
Is there a place to put clean clothes and towels during a shower or bath?
Flooring: Are there rugs or bath mats that can trip someone unsteady on their feet?
Is the flooring prone to being slippery? Is the non-slip surface of any rugs or mats intact or has it disintegrated over time?
Countertops: Are there sharp corners on countertops and shelving that could cut open a person’s face, eye, or other sensitive areas in the event of a fall?
- Assess your loved one
Do you see any areas in which they are particularly unsteady?
Are they able to get into and out of the bathroom easily? If they use a walker or wheelchair, does it fit in the doorway?
Can they get into and out of the tub/shower easily?
Are they able to dress themselves without any awkward fumbling or stumbling?
Do they become confused or forgetful about the task at hand?
Do they spill water or bath products on the floor and neglect to wipe it up?
Do they wear non-slip shoes or slippers in the bathroom? Do they wear haphazardly or correctly – with any laces tied and the feet fully enclosed?
Can they stand long enough to take a shower?
Can they easily raise and lower themselves to the toilet?
- Renovate your bathroom.
Lighting: Install a night light and make sure all lighting units are working properly and are easy to turn on and off.
Grab bars: Many health care professionals recommend there be two areas to grab onto for both the tub/shower and the toilet). These should be permanent or securely clamped on fixtures rather than those held by suction cups. Permanent models need to be securely installed into the wall. There are professionals who do such installations. They will ensure the grab bars are at the appropriate height.
Flooring: Make sure all rugs and bathmats have intact nonslip backing. Consider investing in a walk-in tub/shower.
Tub/Shower: Purchase a freestanding shower seat or invest in a built-in unit. Purchase and install a shower/tub organizer to keep all soaps and shampoos within easy reach.
Toilet: Purchase a riser to increase its height. Typically these are equipped with grab bars.
Countertops/Shelving: Consider renovating your bathroom to include rounded countertop corners and cushioned corners on cabinets to prevent further injury in the event of a fall.
Doors: If you have an elderly or disabled loved one, consider removing the locks from the bathroom door so you can get to your loved one quickly if he or she falls.
- Help your loved one.
Personal alarms: An alternative measure would be to invest in a personal emergency alert alarm, like those made famous in those commercials depicting the elderly woman who’s “fallen and I can’t get up!” Affordable alarms are readily available that just may save your loved one’s life – or even your own.
By following these steps – watching your own habits, inspecting your bathroom, assessing your loved one, making renovations, and helping your loved one – you will go a long way toward avoiding falls in your bathroom.
- Happy Walking