2014-01-24 / News

You are at risk in your bathroom

By Warren Hughes

Recently, an older Shandon resident slipped on a slick bathroom floor, dislocating her shoulder. Across town in Forest Acres, a preschooler bumped his head on the bathtub, requiring careful observation in the aftermath.

Since January is National Bath Safety Month, it is worth noting the bathroom is considered the most dangerous room in the house for accidents. Everyone regardless of health or age, is at risk. An average of 370 people of all ages are injured in bathtub or shower accidents every day. The Consumer Product Safety Commission notes that one- third of falls occurring at home take place in the bathroom. Falls are the second leading cause of accidental death and disability, according to the CPSC.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children ages one to four years-old, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). More than 80 percent of the incidents involved bathtubs or bath- related products. After pools, bathtubs are the second leading location for juvenile drowning deaths. Almost 30 percent involved a lapse in supervision, such as a parent or caregiver leaving the bathroom while the child was in the bathtub. In almost 25 percent of the cases, the victim was left with another child, usually older.

For older people, one out of three people over age 60 have trouble getting out of the shower or tub, according to a University of Michigan study. Nearly 200,000 bathroom accidents a year occur among those age 72 or older. The average health care cost of a fall injury was almost $ 20,000, although many of them were considered preventable, the Centers of Disease Control reported.

Professor Sandra Brotherton, PT, PhD, in the College of Health Professions at the Medical University of South Carolina, notes, “Falls can occur in the bathroom as well as other areas of the home and in the community. With older adults, falls may be related to changes in one or more body systems that occur with normal aging and/or disease or to the hazards in the home environment.

“An older adult who has two or more falls within six months would benefit from an evaluation by a physical therapist to determine why he/ she is falling. This evaluation is usually paid for in part by insurance with a physician referral. The evaluation should include tests of strength, range of motion, posture, cognition, sensory systems important for balance (vision, proprioception, and vestibular senses), adaptive responses to a disturbance of balance, ability to anticipate balance responses in different situations, and ability to activate the correct muscles.”

She added, “A review of the medications that the individual is taking and a home safety assessment are also important. Based on the findings from these assessments, recommendations can be provided. These recommendations often include an exercise program, education about preventative measures, and modification of the home environment to make it safer.”

She said, “Modifications to the bathroom to increase the safety and reduce fall risk may include grab bars to provide a sturdy support for accessing the toilet and tub, a hand-held shower nozzle, and use of a tub bench to allow bathing in a seated position. These modifications cost about $20 for grab bars and $27 for tub bench. If bath mats are used, they must have a rubber backing and caution should be exercised to avoid water on the bathroom floor.

“A fall in the bathroom can happen with anyone at any age,” she emphasized. “With children, falls may be related to their development. For example, a child who has recently learned to walk may be more likely to have a fall. Children also enjoy playing in the tub, which can possibly lead to an accident. For young and middle aged adults, falls are less common and can be attributed to factors such as inattention or carelessness. Older adults are at the greatest risk for falling with about one-third of healthy older adults who live in the community experiencing a fall annually,” she noted.

Regarding other safety advice, she said, “To avoid burns, always check water temperature before getting into a tub. If the individual has sensory loss affecting the feet, for example, check temperature with the hand to make sure it is not too hot. The temperature to the water can also be adjusted at the hot water heater.”

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