Nowhere in what we do as aging-in-place professionals, consultants, and providers do we see such a disparity in what is suggested as trendy and what we perceive as useful as in the bath areas. Many designs might make it big in the arenas of renovations and remodels on TV shows or magazines. They might grace the webpages of architects and designers. Still, much of what is available and labeled as trending is not something we want to recommend to our clients. It might be aesthetically pleasing, attractive, and well designed for what it is, but we must step back and consider it in light of its general usefulness for the majority of people and especially those who are designing for long-term aging-in-place needs.
In the bathroom, and in the kitchen to an extent, safety as well as function are paramount. There are so many ways to become injured in the bath because we often are in wet areas, we aren't wearing shoes many times, and we aren't always vigilant about maintaining our balance.
One of the main functions in the bathroom is showering or bathing, so this is where our safety diligence has to begin. People can easily slip and fall because of the water on the tub or shower surface making their footing less secure. They might have soap or shampoo in their eyes. They might come in contact with soapy residue on the shower or tub floor. If they have a folding shower bench, transfer bench, or built-in seat, it might be slippery from soap or water and cause a slip in sitting or rising from it.
Knowing that these potential slipping hazards exist, we come to a few of the trending features that cause us to wonder about the safety aspects of them - at least from an aging-in-place or universal design standpoint. Again, they may be aesthetically appealing and have good lines and form. It's the function and general safety to use them or have them present that we are noting.
Consider sunken tubs that are shown where one has to climb down into them and then somehow get back out - often with no assist bars or other support devices available. Often there are multiple cascading or waterfall-type running water sources to fill them that are difficult to adjust or control from inside the tub.
There are large free-standing tubs that can present challenges for shorter people or ones with mobility issues. Again, most of these are designed without any grab or assist bars attached to them - or anywhere near them. The floor plumbing that rises near the tubs can present a tripping issue when one is not careful while walking near the tub - even when not getting in or out of the bath.
Then, there is the issue of glass. It can make showers appear larger and create a more open look to the bathroom, but it can become a issue to keep clean, it is prone to creating glare and reflections that can affect vision, depth perception, and footing, and it offers little support should someone lose their balance and fall against it. It may not break, but there is nothing to grab to stop a fall.
Let's remember to look for the safety aspects in selecting or recommending bathroom tile, fixtures, showers, tubs, and wall accessories for our clients. If something is trendy and safe, fine. If not, go for safety.