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Bath Design: Aging Gracefully

•Create a bathroom with features that go the distance.
•Learn about bathroom design that is suitable for all ages.

A growing number of healthy, active couples nearing retirement are making smart plans for their future—and they have the blueprints to prove it.

Savvy seniors and aging baby boomers are remodeling the baths in their current homes with the goal of "aging in place"--as opposed to moving to a retirement home or other facility--well into their advanced years.

"Active older adults are beginning to decide to stay in their homes for the long term," says Susan Duncan, RN, president of The ABCs of Accessibility Inc., an interior design firm specializing in universal design. "They're looking ahead, and planting the seeds, to figure out how to stay at home."

The last thing health-conscious active adults want, however, are bathrooms that suggest old age or anything remotely institutional. Fortunately, it's possible to add features that can both help you stay comfortable in the future and enhance your bathroom's beauty and elegance.

According to a recent survey by the American Association of Retired Persons, 86 percent agreed with the statement that they would like to stay in their current residence as long as possible. Here are some ideas that can help ensure you do so in style.


Designers from across the country agree that bath products must be able to adapt to changing health care needs, yet be suitable for people of all ages.

Aging Gracefully 1
A spacious, curbless shower with a handshower may be a luxury item for an active senior today, but can become a necessity for an older adult using a mobility device or needing assistance, says Louis Tenenbaum, a consultant on aging in place in Potomac, MD. Handshowers with slidebars are even more versatile, as they can be mounted low enough to accommodate both seated and standing users.

Or, consider adjustable or removable cabinets. A vanity cabinet with a removable base or pocket doors can easily allow for a wheelchair. The same holds true for cabinets and counters that are wall-mounted on shelf brackets. They can be adjusted for height or removed to add space for mobility, says Cynthia Leibrock of Easy Access to Health in Livermore, CO.

Another option is a wall-mounted sink. The current trend toward an open space beneath the sink is a bonus for aging seniors, since the space can accommodate a wheelchair or other mobility device.

Invisible integration

Other features that aid in mobility can be seamlessly integrated into the bathroom. Consider accentuating open space under and around the vanity area with elegant glass countertops, floating drawers and under-sink lighting. Or, you can visually soften an imposing blank wall near the toilet that aids with balance by incorporating a recessed sink.

Bath Design: Aging Gracefully
Thinking ahead and integrating hidden structural changes made during renovation can give you the option of adding features later, when you need them.

For instance, adding plywood reinforcements in bathroom walls gives you the option of installing grab bars anywhere in the room at any time. Another welcome new wrinkle is the introduction of subtle, in-tile grab bars that can be artfully incorporated into the overall design of the bath.

Universal appeal

Meanwhile, products designed to be easy to use for everyone can offer specific benefits to seniors, particularly those who have problems with their joints or balance.

Mary Jo Peterson, a design consultant in Brookfield, Connecticut, and a strong advocate of universal design, points to KOHLER Comfort Height™ toilets as a prime example. She says that seniors often opt for toilets with this chair-height feature, which helps avoid excessive bending and is generally comfortable for most average-height adults.

"Over and over again, older people have this 'aha!' experience with Comfort Height toilets," notes Peterson. "They say, 'Oh, much better. Much easier!'"

Faucets are another important consideration. Older adults--especially those with arthritis or reduced hand dexterity--may find a smooth, round faucet knob difficult to use, Peterson says. Kohler has a large selection of faucets, including the Purist® bathroom sink faucet with its low gooseneck spout and low-lever handles, that are easy to maneuver. What's more, they're beautiful--an essential requirement for aging baby boomers.

Access for all

Some of us need just a little more help in the bath. The innovative Elevance™ Rising Wall bath closes that gap, offering a greater degree of accessibility than ever before, and allowing for a fully immersive authentic bathing experience. Yet unlike other, more institutional options, Elevance makes for a stylish addition to the bathroom.

Even better, the Elevance Rising Wall bath's user-friendliness extends well beyond its ground-breaking design. Kohler has assembled their Bold Independence Customer Service team (1-888-9-BOLD-4U) to provide white-glove assistance that guides you throughout the entire process, from your first questions to final installation.

Visual cues, safe surfaces

Colors and textures in the bath take on special importance for older adults facing visual and mobility impairment.

To aid with the diminished depth perception and general deterioration of eyesight that comes with age, use contrasting colors in all areas of the bath, including countertops, showers and toilets, Duncan says. Too many neutrals near the sink, for example, can camouflage smaller items like toothbrushes.

Non-slip surfaces also are a must. Designers agree that matte-finish tile and honed stone are better choices for floors than polished surfaces, thanks to their traction, easy maintenance and good looks.

Bath Design: Aging Gracefully
Designing bathrooms with an eye toward the future is a trend that looks likely to grow, as homeowners plan for the needs of their elderly parents and younger people consider remodeling to increase their home's resale value.

"If your house can meet older people's needs without the stigma, you've vastly expanded your resale market," says Leibrock.

Why wait?

While universal design does offer helpful solutions to seniors and those with limited mobility, its broader focus is improving the quality of life for people of all ages. So even if you're in the prime of life and retirement is decades away, you could begin reaping the benefits of a thoughtful remodel sooner rather than later.

Incorporating ergonomic designs into your bath now will help reduce wear and tear on your body over time and pay dividends later in life, helping to keep you healthier and more mobile for many years to come.

See designer Cynthia Leibrock discuss universal design. Watch video.

See how the Elevance Rising Wall bath works. Watch video.

Learn more about aging-in-place products and room solutions.



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