05 May 2015

Bathrooms: Inclusive design

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Barbara Osborne, Product Manager at Methven UK, looks at the creation of useable bathrooms for the ageing population and what this means for installers.

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For the first time in history, there are more than 11 million people in the UK aged 65 or over, making it paramount for the industry to offer a diverse range of bathroom designs that considers the needs of all areas of society. Older consumers may not see or feel the need to change their lifestyle, so it is important that bathroom products provide technology which improves accessibility and safety without compromising the style or luxury of the product.

Members of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) have established the Designing for Life Committee, tackling the challenges facing the ageing population and using this information to aid members in making their own commercial decisions. There is, however, much more to be done.

The pressure to improve bathrooms in existing properties to meet the specific requirements of the elderly is increasing. Over half of the elderly respondents to a recent survey, conducted by Shelter, believed their current bathrooms required modification or re-planning to make them more accessible and easy to use. Whilst design is a key factor, the development of new technologies which enable the future-proofing of bathrooms is equally important.

Manufacturers are continuing to develop products that aid accessibility and safety. The industry has seen a rise in specifically designed products that improve the bathroom experience for all users. Innovative product enhancements such as longer, more ergonomically designed lever handles, can improve the overall bathroom experience by making showers and taps easier to operate.

Understanding the individual requirements of customers is key to ensuring that all needs are catered for. For example, showers with a softer flow, such as Satinjet, are ideal for customers with sensitive skin. Satinjet utilises twin jets of water that collide and turn into thousands of tiny droplets, creating a soft, yet stimulating shower with a sense of warmth and luxury.

The focus is now shifting onto installers, who are being encouraged to know up-to-date information in order to make sure consumers know the choices available. Equipping customers with the knowledge they need to make the right choice for their individual requirements is vital. A thorough understanding of how the latest products and technologies apply to their consumers’ needs is also essential.

In some cases, the needs of the elderly are as simple as mobility challenges, which can be resolved with the creation of walk-in showers or baths. Whilst these methods do provide some assistance, showering can provide much wider issues for the ageing population. For example, temperature, flow and spray pattern are all things that can impact upon an older person. These aspects have helped to shape recent technological advancements that are incorporated into showering products to suit the wider needs of the ageing population.

Reducing the risk of scalding

For developers and installers, safety should always be an important consideration. As the second most common cause of household injuries, hot water can cause a serious scald injury within a matter of seconds, with the degree of scalding depending on the temperature and volume of hot water and the length of time the body is exposed to it. However, it can take only seconds for a severe scald to occur.

There are over 20 deaths each year in the UK as a result of scald injuries from hot baths, so it is important to minimise risk of injury. Adults above the age of 65 are amongst those at highest risk as elderly customers may have thinner skin, and therefore could be more susceptible to burns. Products which include cool-to-touch bar technology may be particularly helpful. The product ensures that the temperature of the bar shower never exceeds that of the mixed water, so elderly users can be assured that they won’t scald themselves if they accidently touch the shower body. Technology like this ensures that consumers can feel safe and comfortable with their bathroom products.

If you are over 65 you will find it helpful to refer to products conforming to BuildCert’s TMV2 scheme that minimise the risk of scalding. Methven UK offers an extensive portfolio of thermostatic showering products which conform to TMV2.

There is undoubted pressure on the industry to improve bathrooms in existing properties to suit individual needs and requirements. This pressure is only going to increase in demand over the years, with the population aged 75 and over expected to double in the next 30 years .

The bathroom industry is working hard to ensure that every element of design innovation is prepared to meet the needs of the elderly. Inclusivity, versatility and, most importantly, safety, is vital and adaptations need to be made in the home as a first priority.

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