Universal design can make a safer bathroom

Consumer Reports News: December 07, 2007 11:42 AM

An estimated 34 million Americans care for a parent, relative, or family friend over the age of 50, according to a recent survey conducted by National Alliance for Caregiving, a research and policy organization, and Evercare, a provider of health plans for frail elderly, disabled, and chronically ill Americans. That number is expected to grow as more baby boomers move into retirement.

If your parents will be moving in to your home, you might want or need to accommodate them by remodeling a bathroom following universal-design guidelines. (See our Bed & Bath page for more information on bathrooms.)

Before you start your project, read the advice here from Mary Jo Peterson, a universal-design expert in Brookfield, Connecticut, on how you can make the bathroom work for everyone in your family:

Simple solutions. Switch a doorknob to a lever and remove or countersink the doorsill between rooms. Also, since a wheelchair typically requires a doorway 34 to 36 inches wide, install an open-out door or fold-flat hinges—they might provide a wide enough access.

Upgraded option. Use twin 18-inch pocket doors, which slide into the wall on each side.

Simple solutions. Avoid rounded, smooth faucet controls, which can be difficult to grip. Look for antiscald features.

Upgraded options. Faucets with wide levers or a spout with a single-handle control look good and are easiest to use.

Simple solutions. Use a curtain for stand-alone showers. Angle the floor to direct water toward the drain. Put controls near the entryway so they’re reachable from outside. Use textured tiles, grab bars, and a seat.

Upgraded option. A built-in seating platform adds security and a spalike feel. Read "Go for the flow" for  information on showerheads.

Simple solutions. If the bathroom has two sinks, consider adding one that’s taller to reduce bending. To allow adequate knee space beneath, a sink should be at least 29 inches high by 30 inches wide.

Upgraded options. Four-legged consoles, including recessed or countertop bowls, are a trendy alternative to vanities. A wide console can accommodate a wheelchair, as can a wall-mounted sink and a sink counter that leaves space below itself.

Simple solution. Use grab bars in the toilet and bath areas. Anchor them in 3/4-inch-thick plywood behind the drywall.

Upgraded options. Some companies offer grab bars in a range of colors. These bars are made of nonslip nylon, a better choice than metal.

Simple solutions. Install a taller, comfort-height toilet; it’s a plus for anyone with a bad back or weak leg muscles. And an elongated bowl is more versatile than a round one. Remember, a wheelchair requires a space at least 30 inches wide by 48 inches deep in front of the toilet.

Upgraded options. A wall-mounted toilet can be installed at any height. An open-ended toilet-paper holder is simpler to use than a spring-loaded holder. Learn more about toilets in "Comfortable and efficient."

Simple solutions. Build a tub into a “deck” someone can sit on before getting into the water. Put controls and faucets on the sides of the tub, and install a hand-held showerhead on the wall or deck.

Upgraded options. Ease entry to the tub by installing grab bars and an undermount tub.

More safety information: Smooth, glazed ceramic tiles can be slippery in the wet bathroom environment. To prevent slips and falls, be sure the floor, shower area, and tub have slip-resistant finishes. Also consider adding a rubber bath mat or stick-on strips. To prevent burns from hot water, install antiscald valves in the shower or tub.

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