Bathrooms in the homes of older adults should be both safe and functional. Many of the new designs for bathroom fixtures from top manufacturers help meet this goal, while also helping to make the bathroom stylish and beautiful. Let’s take the toilet as an example.
The toilet obviously is one of the key fixtures in any bathroom. And perhaps more than any other fixture, the design and placement of a toilet directly affects one’s health and safety.
Many people are unaware of just how sophisticated toilets (yes, toilets!) have become, or how they can be both functional and stylish. This article explores the design features that should be considered in toilets for older adults, and highlights the new technologies that are revolutionizing how we approach the most commonly used space in our homes.
Ideally, a household should contain toilets at different heights to accommodate multiple users, including standard and comfort height toilets. Standard height toilets are 15” tall and a taller, comfort height toilet is between 17” and 19” tall. A taller toilet isn’t the answer for everyone. Short people, generally women, may find a comfort height toilet too high. A person’s feet should be well placed on the floor for safe functional transfers, onto and off the toilet. Wall hung toilets can be an ideal solution for this problem and are becoming more commonplace in homes. They allow for placement at the height that best fits the user. They are also very easy to clean, take up less footprint, and are virtually free of plumbing issues by design. Investing in a quality toilet that is placed at the ideal height for the user can prevent the need for additional durable medical equipment (often referred to as DME) such as a raised toilet seat, grab bars, a safety frame, or a 3 in 1 commode. DME is often regarded as unsightly, costly, and embarrassing by older adults.
Bidets are the latest fad in bathroom design in the United States, although they have been commonplace in Europe for decades. They can enhance personal hygiene, and this is paramount as we age. For example, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common type of bacterial infection in older adults. According to the National Institutes of Health, UTIs affect around 10% of men and 20% of women. A UTI can increase your risk of delirium, hospitalization, and death. A bidet can help promote and make it easier to maintain good hygiene, while adding comfort and luxury. It can also help reduce constipation, a common condition in older adults. Options abound, from low tech bidets to entirely automated wash/dry systems accommodating every budget. Keep in mind that all outlets near toilets should contain a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
Here is a brief list of new technological features that can be incorporated into a modern toilet design:
- Motion sensor lighting
- Powered assist flush
- Automatic lid lifters
- Soft/quiet close lids
- Built-in child seats
- Thermostatic controls
- Health monitoring
A toilet with motion sensor lighting can help reduce a person’s fall risk through wayfinding. Powered assist flush can reduce the need for frequent cleaning and maintenance. While thermostatic controls make for a more comfortable toilet experience, especially in cold weather. And finally, health monitoring systems can alert the user or a caregiver of a possible UTI or presence of blood in the stool or urine.
These intelligent and convenient features are aimed at increasing independence, comfort, ease of use, safety, and last but not least – achieve an aesthetically pleasing design. Your bathrooms are worth investing in and so is your health and safety, especially if it helps maintain your independence as you get older. Please read our next blog on “Designing a Beautiful and Functional Kitchen With Smart Appliances.”