published Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Phillips: Outfit a bathroom for safety of senior

by Ellen Phillips

Q. I’m not sure if this is an appropriate column question, but my husband and I are getting along in years and need to know how to outfit a handicap bathroom. Can you help? — Sally Slowly

A. Dear Mrs. Slowly: With the huge number of us baby boomers advancing in age, not only is yours an appropriate question, but also an important issue.

As folks age, we simply don’t get around as easily and need safety features. More importantly, universal design elements in a bathroom can mean the difference between staying in one’s home and requiring an assisted living or nursing home facility.

• Wheelchairs don’t fit within “normal” doorways. A doorway must be at least 36 inches wide.

• Grab bars are super essential. Install them around the toilet, bathtub, and shower. Don’t get that stick-on kind, either; make sure they’re secured into wall studs and support your weight.

• Many houses today come with a lovely and luxurious soaking tub, which doesn’t do you much good if you’re in no condition to crawl in and out. Installation of a roll-in shower for those in wheelchairs or the purchase of a module as seen on television are both good ideas. And for those diehards who simply don’t think they can give up their tub, some are designed to allow for wheelchair transfers.

• Pedestal and wall-mounted sinks are best for those in a wheelchair or are uncomfortable leaning down. Also, look for a toilet that’s a couple of inches higher than the norm (ADA compliant). In fact, I actually prefer the latter option since my back issues make a higher toilet more comfortable.

• Be sure light switches are reachable or install motion-sensitive lights. Moreover, a phone in the throne room isn’t a luxury these days but sometimes a necessity if a fall occurs.

According to Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, you can search the national Association of Home Builders website to find contractors who’ve taken a course on universal design ( and search ADA bathrroms) or at AARP ( and search for bathroom checklist.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business.

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