Fall Prevention for Older Adults

Bathroom Safety for Older People

Home bathrooms often need adaptation if an elderly person wants to stay at home and remain independent. Ensuring bathroom access and safety may require room adaptations.



Falls often occur as people get in or out of the tub. Non-slip, suction mats (Figure 1) or rubber silicone appliqués (Figure 2) in the tub will help prevent falls.

A non-skid, latex-coated bath mat on the floor beside the tub provides firm footing.

graphic - Fig. 1 Suction bathtub matgraphic - Fig. 2 Bathtub appliques

Safety Bars

Grab bars around the bathtub are required for the safety of older persons. These bars should be institutional-grade stainless steel and installed according to the manufacturer’s directions for firm, solid support. These bars are expensive, but under no circumstance should towel rods or improperly installed grab bars be used as bathtub aids. They will not support a person who loses balance.

Different types of bars and poles are available from plumbing supply companies. The type, number, and positioning of supports depend on:

  • the wall space around the tub;
  • the wall structure;
  • the plumbing arrangements; and
  • the disability, if any, of the person(s) using the tub.

Two types of grab bars usually are needed at the tub for the ambulant older person:

  • for use in getting in and out of the tub from a standing position;
  • for use when lowering or raising the body to or from a seated position in the tub.

“U” shaped bars are available in 12- to 14-inch lengths. They may be secured vertically or horizontally to a wall.

A vertically placed “U” bar, attached to the side wall at the foot of the tub, allows safe entry and exit. (The foot of the tub is the end where the water faucets and drain are located.) This vertical bar should be about 32-inches long, and placed near the outer tub edge.

Horizontally placed support bars (Figure 3) are best for lowering or raising the body to or from the seated position in the tub. A 12- to 15-inch bar may be placed at the foot end of the tub and a longer one along the back wall.

Diagonally placed grab bars (Figure 4) are not recommended because the hand may slide and if footing is not secure, falls are more likely.

graphic - Figure 3, Horizontal barsgraphic - Figure 4, Diagonal bars

If the tub is free-standing at both ends (as in many older homes) and the end wall is too far for grab bar placement, a vertically placed pole (Figure 5) on the access side of the tub may be used. This pole should be about 1 1/2-inch diameter, and extend from floor to ceiling. Position it between 1-foot 3-inches to 1-foot 6-inches in from the end of the tub, and close enough to the access side to reach from a seated position. It also can be used to grasp with one hand while operating the water controls.

Angle bars (Figure 6) from the back wall (behind the tub) to the floor, with wall posts, may be used when one or both tub ends are enclosed by a wall. This is useful for persons needing to use both hands to enter or exit the tub, or if other people with varying dysfunctions also use the tub.

graphic - Figure, 5 Vertical barsgraphic - Figure 6, Angle bars

Tub Seats

graphic - Figure 7, Tub chairA variety of portable seats, chairs, and benches are available, if sitting on the bathtub floor is difficult or impossible.

One seat has side flanges that adjust to fit any shape and size tub.

Inside-the-tub chairs (Figure 7) with backs for greater comfort are available.

An inside/outside transfer bench (Figure 8) with adjustable legs allows the bather to sit on the bench that extends outside the tub, then slide to the inside of the tub.

Any chair or bench must have non-slip rubber tips on the legs, and be safe and comfortable.

When using these seats in the tub, a hand-held shower head (Figure 9) is almost a necessity to direct the water where needed.

graphic - Figure 8 Transfer benchFigure 9 Flexible shower arm


graphic - Figure 10 Angle bar

An angle bar (Figure 10) attached to two walls provides support while standing to shower, or as an aid to sitting and rising if using a bath bench or chair.

If the shower floor is slippery, nonslip suction mats or rubber silicone treads (Figures 1, 2) should be used.

A non-skid bath mat on the floor outside the shower is a necessity.


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Source: University of Missouri Extension Guide #7060.

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Last updated: 31 October, 2013

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