New study identifies top safety risks in bathrooms

New research has revealed the extent to which bathroom design can impact quality of life and safety for older Australians.

A study by UNSW Built Environment, funded by the Australian Research Council and Caroma, offers detailed insight from consumers and breaks down common assumptions about what people want and need in their homes, independent living units and aged care facilities.

Key findings from The Livable Bathrooms for Older People project incorporated into the range include:

  • Over half (51%) of participants had bathrooms where showers had raised perimeters (hobs) making them inaccessible to wheelchairs and a potential trip hazard.
  • A large number (62%) said that they rarely or never used their bathroom to take baths.
  • Over a third (37%) indicated that they went to the toilet, 2-3 times during the night and increased frequency (3-4 times a night) was weakly correlated to medication usage.
  • Safety concerns included not being able to call for help in an emergency (18%), not being able to get up after a fall (15%), slipping in the shower or on wet floors (11%).
  • 25% rated bathroom size being as poor and just under a half (48%) specifically mentioned insufficient space to dress/undress in the bathroom.
  • 20% rated winter temperature in bathrooms as poor.

In response to the project findings, Caroma has launched a new Wellbeing Aged Care product range, that includes better product design to reduce the barriers to adopting more supportive features.

Some design approaches that were developed through the co-design process were:

• Adaptable – products that could be easily changed as the individuals needs changed for example toilet armrests that could be added when recovering from knee surgery but removed if no longer needed.

• Multi-functional – when a product has a purpose in addition to the support function then there is an additional reason to install it other than physical need, an attractive grab rail can function as a sturdy convenient towel rail.

• Integrated design – where many assistive products look like bolted on after thoughts products that include supportive elements that are aesthetically integrated into the whole bathroom design appear more attractive and harmonious.

• Safety for everyone – design that can make the bathroom safer for all people not just people with reduced mobility is appealing to everyone. Concern for children, pregnant women and people with injuries helped justify more functional design.

Professor Catherine Bridge, International expert on inclusive design at UNSW, said a co-design approach to home and aged care design is the best way to ensure people’s needs are met.

“Until now, research hasn’t considered the diversity of the older population, their capabilities and the domestic environments they use and current bathroom design in aged-care is hallmarked by uncertainty about the safety and aesthetic preferences of older people,” Prof Bridge said.

“Our co-design study has pulled together the best minds in industrial design, construction, aged care and the elderly population to address the future of aged care wellbeing and challenge the status quo, increasing independence for aged care residents in Australia.”

Dr. Peter Sweatman, Industrial Designer at Caroma, said it was not surprising that older people want modern and attractive bathrooms as much as the next person, “instead of the institutional aesthetic currently common across the industry.”

“After years of development and research, I am proud our Aged Care range has taken on board the wants and needs of our older population and is pioneering a new approach to inclusive aged care design,” Dr Sweatman said.

“The new solutions are designed to be functional and stylish – creating bathrooms which look good as well as being supportive for those with functional issues.”

“The Co-Design collaboration has helped Caroma designers challenge existing assumptions and provide more understanding into the behaviour and needs of older people, and as a result, design resident-centric bathroom products.”


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