As the baby boomer generation gets older, many are thinking ahead to the future. An accessible bathroom may make the difference between being able to stay in a long-time home, or having to move to somewhere more functional for changing needs.
Remodeling a bathroom before it’s needed can make a bathroom work better not only for yourself, but also for aging parents who may visit or need to live with you in the future. Accessible bathroom do not have to be sterile and institutional looking. Functional bathrooms for individuals with mobility or balance challenges can be beautiful. It’s a concept known as universal design.
According to Megan Multanen of Bestbath in a recent article in HomeCare magazine, the secret is to blend beauty and functionality by integrating universal design features with a thoughtful layout. Many features can work without having to increase square footage or move plumbing.
Here are six ideas for you to create a bathroom to meet your needs:
1) Good lighting – Use contrasting colors for key areas such as showers, counter tops, and toilet areas to help those with impaired vision or diminished depth perception. It is recommended to place lighting (such as sconces) on either side of the vanity mirror to help eliminate glare and shadows. It is also important to provide adequate lighting in the shower.
2) Hand-held showers with a flexible hose, mounted on a vertical slide bar, and paired with a standard showerhead can accommodate both standing and sitting users. Some slide bar models also function as grab bars.
3) Barrier-free shower stalls – A shower with a low or no threshold makes entering the shower easy for those who use wheelchairs or walkers, or who can not lift their legs safely to get into a tub. Barrier-free showers are available in many different styles, prices, and configurations, including models with access doors.
4) Built-in shower seats – This option to plastic shower chairs or benches is more comfortable and design-friendly. Most models save valuable space by folding up against the shower wall.
5) Faucets with lever and pull handles instead of knobs are easier to grip and twist with arthritic hands. They are also easier for children’s small hands to use. Similarly, pull-type hardware is a more practical choice for drawers and doors.
6) Door width accessible for wheelchairs can be one of the more expensive alterations needed for the bathroom. Most bathroom doors do not accommodate the width of a walker, let alone a wheelchair. Doorways should be a minimum of 32″ wide. If the doorway is located in a typical hallway and requires turning a wheelchair, you’ll need a 36″ door.
Whether you include the above features or add other accessibility options, the key is to think about your future needs and plan accordingly. Younger homeowners may decide they are not ready to install grab bars. However, integrating hidden structural changes during a renovation allows you to add such features later. For instance, adding plywood reinforcement behind the walls will allow you to install grab bars at a time in the future when they are needed.
Planning for the needs of our older selves and our elderly parents can be an investment that pays off not only in added comfort and safety, but also potentially in your home’s resale value.