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ONE in every three adults age 65 and older falls each year, and falls are the leading cause of injury and death in this age group, as well as the most common cause of nonfatal and hospital admissions for trauma - these injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently, and also may increase the risk of early death, says the September 2013 issue of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Focus on Healthy Aging.

Twenty to 30 percent of seniors who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries, such as lacerations, hip fractures or head injuries, and falls are a particular risk when using your bathroom.

“This isn’t surprising when you consider the typical bathroom, with its lack of space and slick surfaces,” says Mount Sinai social worker Sheila Barton, LCSW.

While many seniors “make do and mend,” reaching out to grab towel rails or shower door handles for support if they lose their balance or slip, “towel rails aren’t designed to hold our body weight, and shower doors may open unexpectedly if we lean too heavily on them,” she cautions.

Barton offers these eight essential safety features in a bathroom:

• Non-slip flooring - While tile may be practical, highly glazed ceramic can be lethal underfoot - alternative options include: 1) Consider having your bathroom floor tiles replaced with slip-resistant tiles or tiles with a surface that mimics natural stone;

2) Choose smaller tiles - smaller tiles mean more grout, and grout is less slippery;

3) Switch to rubber or vinyl tiles - but if you select vinyl tiles, monitor the floor for curling edges that could trip you.

Also, “avoid rugs in the bathroom, and ensure that you don’t wear slippery socks or slippers while in the bathroom,” Barton adds.

• Grab bars - Install screw-mounted grab bars in the shower and around the bathtub, since suction cups could come way from the wall in an emergency, make sure they are attached to the wall studs and not just the drywall, and it’s best to have them running horizontally and not vertical or at an angle, as your hand could slip.

• Bath/shower seat - If your balance or leg strength is in any way compromised, Barton strongly recommends that you consider purchasing a shower or bathtub seat - “The seat should have a rigid back and seat, and rubber-tipped legs; make sure it can support your weight; a flexible hand-held shower wand will make washing while sitting down easier.”

If your legs are especially weak, you may want to consider a bathtub transfer seat - “This design is positioned with one set of legs in the tub and one outside,” explains Barton.

“You can sit on the seat before maneuvering your legs into the tub.”

Another pricier option is a walk-in tub - expect to pay $3,000 to have one installed.

• Slip-proof bath/shower - Use a rubber suction-grip mat, adhesive strips, or anti-slip tub surface material to prevent slipping in the bath or shower.

• Raised toilet seat - If you have arthritis or other back, hip or leg problems, the height of most toilets - about 14 to 16 inches - can be an issue.

Your options include:

1) Add an adjustable portable seat to your toilet to raise the height, but make sure it is secured properly, with clamps or brackets, or use one with a frame;

2) You can opt for an American Disabilities Act (ADA) approved toilet - these range from 17 to 19 inches in height, says Barton;

3) Have a plumber install a wooden plinth under it to raise it up a few inches - if you need a little support to lower and raise yourself, but there isn’t a nearby surface to attach a grab bar, you can get safety frames that wrap around the toilet to offer support, adds Barton.

• Lever faucet handles - If you have arthritis in your hands, and find it difficult to grip and turn a traditional faucet handle, lever faucet handles are a must.

• Waterproof phone - In case you fall while getting in or out of your bathtub, these are a good safety addition - some come with floating handsets you can actually have right there in the tub with you, explains Barton.

• Waterproof medical alert button - All medical alert systems come with waterproof pendant or wrist buttons and Alert (1-888-981-9936; alert-1.com) also provides a free wall-mounted emergency button  which you can install in your bathroom (available with quarterly and annual payment plans only).

“A fall is a major blow to confidence for an adult,” says Barton.

“It’s important to seek help right away in order to rebuild confidence, and take steps to make your bathroom a safer, slip-proof environment,” concludes Barton.

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