Bathroom Designs for the Elderly and Handicapped

Beth Asaff
Modified bathroom

There are more bathroom designs for the elderly and handicapped than ever before. Home builders are also incorporating long-term stay options by crafting homes with wider doors, different levels of counter surfaces in both the kitchen and the bath, and deeper steps. Whether you are retro-fitting your existing bathroom, or building a new one, take some steps to create a universal design that can suit any homeowner.

Creating Universal Design

Universal design is the concept of creating a space that can be used by anyone, including seniors and those with disabilities. These bathrooms incorporate several aspects of Universal design that can be used for both the elderly and disabled individuals.

Retro-Fit Toilet

Retro-fit toilet

Retro-fitting refers to making minor changes to an existing space. This toilet has been modified with an extender that raises it height, making it more accessible for seniors that have difficulty lowering themselves, or for those transferring to wheelchairs.

Grab bars installed beside the toilet make transferring and lowering easier, while the flush valve of the toilet is placed at a height that can be reached without bending. An additional point in this bathroom design is the mosaic floor; mosaics are less slippery than larger tiles because the many grout lines create traction underfoot.

Accessible Shower

Accessible shower

This highly accessible shower can be used for roll-in, walk-in and transfer situations. The bench folds up to make additional space for wheelchairs, while the smooth, curbless shower floor presents no obstacle to entry. A grab bar assists in transferring from a wheelchair to the shower seat, or lowering from a standing to a seated position.

The shower valve is installed at a height that can be reached from a seated or standing position, while the showerhead is attached to a sliding bar. The shower head can be positioned and fixed at any height, or removed from the bar for easy accessibility.

Senior Friendly Bathroom

Senior friendly bathroom

This senior-friendly bathroom incorporates many tenets of Universal design. Several points to consider include:

  • Low threshold in the shower making a smaller barrier to entry
  • Two grab bars in the shower help steady the user and assist in preventing falls
  • The showerhead can be disengaged from the wall for flexibility in use
  • The wide shower door will accommodate a wheelchair or walker
  • A wide turning radius in the center of the bathroom allows for freedom of movement by a walker or wheelchair user
  • Additional lighting in the shower area keeps the space well-lit
  • Different heights of countertop allow the user to sit while using the sink and vanity area

Modern Accessible Design

Modern Accessible design

Having an accessible bathroom does not mean designing it to look straight out of a hospital room. Depending upon the user's needs, it is possible to create fresh, modern bathroom designs that are also accessible. This modern bathroom features several components of Universal design, including:

  • A wheelchair accessible sink that allows the user to wheel up beneath it
  • Plenty of space beneath the faucet, with a lever handle for ease-of-use in turning on and off the water flow.
  • A low-threshold, low-barrier to entry in the shower allowing a walker or wheelchair user to enter the area safely
  • A low, handheld showerhead, as well as a ceiling-mounted, fixed shower head to allow flexibility and ease-of-use in bathing
  • Smooth, resilient flooring underfoot to protect the user from falls

ADA Bathroom Design Guidelines

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act developed building guidelines for public facilities and businesses to follow in order to accommodate individuals with disabilities. ADA bathroom design standards provide helpful insight into what homeowners can do as well. The University of Missouri's Extension Office website also offers detailed diagrams and installation advice, as does the bathroom fixture manufacturer Wasauna.

General Considerations

Here are some basic guidelines for bathroom designs for the elderly and handicapped:

  • Install grab bars parallel to the floor, not diagonally, alongside the toilet and in the tub/shower area. Adding a vertical grab bar inside the bathing area is also a good idea.
  • Install vanities or sinks that are open under the sink to accommodate wheelchairs and benches.
  • Ensure countertops or sinks are 30-34 inches high for someone in a wheelchair, and 40 inches high for someone who has trouble bending.
  • Install toilets in an accessible bathroom that are approximately 18 inches high; seat extenders can help achieve this.
  • Hang mirrors lengthwise, along the back of the sink, not at standing eye level.
  • Ensure bathing benches are two-to-four inches smaller than the tub width to avoid puncturing the side walls.
  • Change out bath fixtures and door handles to accommodate reduced hand coordination and grip.
  • Make sure there's plenty of room around the toilet for wheelchair maneuverability.
  • Ensure door entrances are 32 to 36 inches wide.
  • While a non-slip surface is perfect for a bath or shower, investigate the option of complete non-slip flooring. Just make sure that the surface is easy to roll across in a wheelchair.
  • Eliminate the clutter. Decorative knick-knacks on countertops, extension cords, and hampers may impede the progress of someone with a disability to conduct business efficiently.
  • Adjust lighting based on the individual's needs. Lighting may have to be lowered or brightened, or additional light sources may have to be added. Reposition all switches, too.
  • Use faucets and valves that have lever handles that can be turned without gripping, rather than cross handles that require a tight grip.
  • Install a hand shower rather than a fixed showerhead to allow for greater flexibility in the shower

Planning a Budget

It's hard for a homeowner to estimate the cost of converting a bathroom for better accessibility, but need dictates budget. Cost is approximately $200 to $500 for general support structures and other bathroom safety accessories, such as bath and toilet bars. Modified vanities, extended fixtures, and bathroom walk-in tubs increase costs into the thousands. Many remodeling experts suggest that an extensive bathroom overhaul will average somewhere in the $7,000 to $10,000 range.

Additional Resources

handicap bathroom

This shows a complete, modern design that creates an open floor plan for the bathroom. This removes any obstacles that the user has to navigate and provides numerous points of contact.

There are many companies that sell components necessary for bathroom designs for the elderly and handicapped. Many of these companies also have consultants who will provide on-site evaluations and provide estimates.

It's also important to let the individual, if able, describe his or her typical routine to the contractor so all needs can be met.

Here are some resources to help you get started.

You can also find a lot of information on bathroom safety products at PVHS. They are a supply company that offers a comprehensive buying guide.

Creating a Safe Environment

The time and effort put into designing and implementing these safety measures can potentially save you quite a bit of stress and risk. Following the ADA guidelines and the advice of professionals will help you design an ideal bathroom that is functional for anyone.

Bathroom Designs for the Elderly and Handicapped