We are in the business of making homes, assisted living facilities, and universities safer places to live. An important selling point for manufacturers and dealers of low threshold showers and walk-in tubs is that the bathroom poses dangers that causes falls and injuries. Wet slippery floors, high tub walls to step over, and confined spaces can make bathrooms dangerous for just about anyone, let alone the elderly and people with limited mobility. Our goal is to remove the barriers that can cause slips and falls.
Naturally, health and community organizations take fall risks and injuries very seriously. Through fall prevention programs, some very sobering statistics on falls have been revealed. Here is some data gathered from studies and surveys to consider:
Queensland (Australia) Injury Surveillance Unit:
“Older people(65 and older) typically have greater difficulties with mobility, vision and balance making them more likely to fall or slip which accounted for 79% of bathroom injuries for this demographic,”
“Over a third of the elderly required hospital admission following a bathroom incident. It can be estimated that every year at least 10 older Queenslanders will die from falls in their bathrooms, demonstrating that prevention of these types of injuries will both save lives and improve quality of life.”
Home Safety Council:
Survey respondents consider the bathroom to be the second most dangerous room in their home (behind the kitchen).
British Columbia Ministry of Health: Support for the Strategies & Actions for Independent Living (SAIL), Falls and Injury Independent Living Prevention Program in British Columbia
Of the 220 clients that started SAIL, 85 (39%) fell over 180 days of study for a total of 142 falls. 13% of the falls occurred in the bathroom
University of Michigan Health System: Bath falls common among older adults
Researchers videotaped people ages 60 and older who demonstrated (while fully clothed) how they normally climbed in and out of the shower or tub. One-third of the 89 participants in the study had difficulty, such as plopping onto a tub seat or hitting the side of the tub or the shower threshold with their legs.
One of the major problem areas the researchers found involved sliding glass doors in showers. Three-quarters of participants who used shower stalls with sliding glass doors tried to utilize the door for stability or balance.
“This is extremely unsafe because shower doors were not designed to support a person’s weight,” Murphy says. “This problem could be easily remedied by educating older adults not to use the door as a support or possibly replacing it with a shower curtain, which was used only rarely by older adults in this study.”
While the majority of people using both tubs and shower stalls used safe environmental features such as grab bars, many used unsafe features in addition to the safe ones. Nineteen percent of participants using a tub were evaluated as using unsafe features, and more than 70 percent of those with shower stalls used unsafe features, such as the glass door, towel bar or a tub seat. One participant had a plastic lawn chair as a tub seat, a particularly dangerous improvisation given curved shape of the tub floor.
Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital
According to a recent study conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, more than 43,000 children 18 years and younger in the United States are treated in hospital emergency departments annually for injuries occurring in a bathtub or shower. The number of injuries remained consistently high over the 18-year study period from 1990-2007
Pediatrics: Injuries Associated With Bathtubs and Showers Among Children in the United States
There were an estimated 791,200 bathtub- and shower-related injuries among children 18 years of age who were treated in US emergency departments in 1990–2007, with an average of 43,600 cases per year or 5.9 injuries per 10,000 US children per year. The largest number of injuries involved children 2 years of age; children 4 years accounted for 54.3% of injuries.
Abir Mullick – State University of New York at Buffalo: Bathing for Older People with Disabilities
According to the National Safety Council, one person dies everyday from using bathtub/shower in the United States. Of the 24,000 accidental deaths of people over the age of 65 every year, many are bathing related (Burdman, 1986). The National Safety Council reported that 345 people of all ages died in bathtubs in 1989, 364 in 1988, and 348 in 1987.
After the swimming pool, the bathtub is the second major site of drowning in the home. Budnick and Ross (1985) studied bathtub-related drownings from 1979-1981. They concluded that those with least control over their environments – young and the elderly -have the greatest risk of drowning. Children less than 5 years old accounted for 25 percent, and those over the age of 75, 15.5 percent of the bathtub-related deaths. Drowning deaths, for those over the age of 60, were primarily due to having fallen in the tub.
On an average, 370 persons of all ages sustain injuries from bathtub/shower daily in the United States. The dangerous aspect of bathing is evident from the injury data reported by the Consumer Product Safety Commission: 117,230 bathtub/shower injuries in 1989; 136,616 in 1990; and 139,434 in 1991.Those between the ages of 25-64 accounted for 37 percent of all bathtub/shower injuries; the most vulnerable being those closer to the upper age limit. The elderly accounted for 17 percent of bathtub/shower injuries in 1989, 22 percent in 1990, and 20 percent in 1991.
Bathing is a difficult task for a large number of the America’s elderly. Another study by the NIDRR indicated that in 1987, “a total of 3.6 million persons (12 percent in the community of over 65) had difficulty with at least one Activity of Daily Living or mobility(walking) . . . ADL and mobility difficulties affecting the greatest number of elderly were bathing (2.5 million or 8.9 percent)” .