Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Visiting the Bathroom Is Risky Business

Photo by J. Star.
People of all ages risk falling in the bathroom.  It's an oft-used room, filled with hard surfaces from floor to tub to toilet to sink.  Then add water to the mix! And soap. Also loose rugs, flimsy towel racks and sliding shower doors decrease stability.

Injuries range from abrasions to lacerations to concussions to fractures.

According to a summary of a CDC report on non-fatal bathroom injuries for persons 15 and older,

"Almost one-third (30 percent) of adults 65 and above who were injured in bathrooms were diagnosed with fractures. Among adults aged 85 and older, 38 percent were hospitalized as a result of their injuries."

After reading the full CDC report (issued June 10, 2011), I learned the following:
  • The riskiest activities (nearly 2/3 of bathroom injuries) are showering, bathing, or exiting afterwards.
  • Falls can occur when entering the tub--but just 2% of bathroom injuries.
  • Women (64.3%) were more likely to be injured than men (35.7%).
  • 14% of reported bathroom injuries occurred when rising from the toilet or descending onto it. But when persons 65 and older were isolated, the rate of toilet-related injury was between 19% and 37% of bathroom injuries.
Slipping was the largest cause for injury. A small portion of falls were due to fainting / loss of consciousness, called "syncope" by medical professionals. For older adults, fainting can happen while urinating or defecating. A temporary stress on the body which includes but is not limited to straining is called "vasovagal syncope."

Or fainting can happen when standing after sitting on the toilet or sitting in the tub. This is called "postural hypotension" and can be caused by dehydration.  Also, some medications can cause dizziness, leading to falls with or without fainting.

The  report includes two tables.  The CDC summarizes the data from these tables:

"Falls were the most common primary cause of injury (81.1%), and the most frequent diagnosis was contusions or abrasions (29.3%). The head or neck was the most common primary part of the body injured (31.2%).  Most patients (84.9%) were treated and released from the ED [Emergency Department]. 13.7% were treated in the ED and subsequently hospitalized."

In order to prevent injuries, consider the following:
  • Stay hydrated
  • Exercise to improves strength and stability
  • Monitor medications
  • Remove loose rugs
  • Add non-skid tape to tubs or showers
  • Install a taller toilet
  • Add grab bars near shower/tub and toilet 
How to improve the safety of a bathroom is an extensive topic itself.  Here is just one guide, but consider hiring a professional who specializes in aging-in-place upgrades. 



  1. The statistics are a little scary. Even when we take cautions there is a risk of falling.

    1. Bonnie: I need to write a follow-up post on modifications to emphasize that we can reduce the risk of injury. But I first wanted to take a close look at the hazards. I have a friend who fell in the shower two years ago (at age 75) and broke her hip. She was supposed to shower with assistance due to a broken knee and neuropathy in her feet, so she increased her risk by going against doctor's instructions. But a grab bar might have helped. She lived alone and had to wait for hours before someone found her. She's back to walking but with a walker now.

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  3. Many smart suggestions here. (And I'm glad I have a grab bar in my tub/shower! Anyone can slip and so easily, especially when we're tired.)

  4. Scary but also good to know. Nice tips too!

  5. Nice post, this is all very true. I provide home care for seniors in Auburn NH, and this is something we have to deal with regularly. As a caregiver, we prefer to assist seniors with tasks such as this. There are always those seniors who believe they can do it themselves though, and this is where it gets dangerous. Thanks for sharing!