A bathroom that's accessible for the elderly

Design Line

November 29, 2008|By Rita ST. Clair | Rita ST. Clair,rsca@ritastclair.com

We're planning an addition to our family home that will accommodate both of my aging parents. They're still healthy and able to use standard fixtures and furnishings. We realize, however, that within a few years the bathroom, especially, may present some safety issues. How do we design a bathroom that doesn't look like it belongs in a nursing home but can work efficiently for the elderly?

All of us should consider the following suggestions, even if we're not presently experiencing any physical limitations. Whatever one's age, safety should be a key element in the design of a bathroom.

The accompanying photo shows the sort of design you're asking about. It's featured in Bathrooms: A Sunset Design Guide, written by Bridget Biscotti Bradley and published by Sunset Books.

While this visually appealing bathroom doesn't appear to have been laid out specifically for elderly or disabled users, it does follow the guidelines for what's known as universal design. The term refers to a setting in which furniture, fixtures and materials respond to the needs of those with impaired mobility.

The tile flooring has been given a nonskid finish and is pitched only slightly to allow for drainage. Notice too that the absence of barriers makes the shower area wheelchair-accessible.

And when devising a floor plan, be sure to include an open space in the center of the bathroom large enough for a wheelchair to turn around. If space permits, make it 5 feet in diameter for an easy pivot.

The toilet seat should be 18 or 19 inches off the floor and the sink about 15 inches higher than that. Cabinetry can impede access to the sink, so I'd opt for the installation you see here.

Grab bars should be installed on at least one side of the toilet as well as in the shower.

As for the color scheme, I'd choose something in the rose or pink family for the walls and flooring. Gray, green and blue are not colors that will wake up a morning bathroom user.

Lighting is a crucial element in any bathroom. In addition to a ceiling outlet that will properly illuminate every fixture, I recommend adding sconces alongside the mirror to provide proper lighting for makeup and shaving.

Choose handles rather than knobs for doors and drawers, and consider including a hand-held shower head in addition to one that's wall-mounted.

Further information on designing for accessibility can be found on the Web site for the Americans With Disabilities Act: ada.gov.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with general interior-design questions can e-mail her at the above address.

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