Forty-one-year-old Rashmi Karki, who works for an NGO, lost her grandfather six months ago. He slipped and fell in the bathroom at their home in Kalanki, Kathmandu. He was 85. “My brother found him unconscious in the bathroom. We rushed him to hospital where the doctors declared him dead. They said he had suffered a head injury,” says Karki.
Karki’s family had meant to ‘age-proof’ the bathroom. A relative had fractured her leg, after slipping in the shower, and Karki’s family was concerned about their safety as well. They were planning to install some handrails along the wall to hold on to, as well as buy some grip mats for the shower area.
According to a report by the World Health Organization, fall is the leading cause of morbidity and the second biggest cause of unintentional injury-related mortality globally. Every year, 172 million people are injured, leading to short- and long-term disabilities, and 646,000 people die from fall-related injuries.
Almost 80 percent of fall-related deaths and disabilities occur in low- and middle-income countries. A study by Nepal Surgeons Overseas Assessment of Surgical Need (SOSAS) has estimated that there are 16,600 deaths annually due to falls in Nepal. The study also found that fall injuries are the most common type of injury in Nepali people, accounting for 37.5 percent of all accidents.
The risk of falling increases with age, says Dr Santosh Bhusal, medical officer at Civil Service Hospital in Minbhawan, Kathmandu. It could be because of poor eyesight, side effects of medicines that cause drowsiness, or the body becoming weak due to various underlying medical conditions.
Bathroom falls are more common as tiles become slippery when wet. This past October, CPN-UML leader Balkrishna Dhungel died after falling in the bathroom of his residence in Gothatar, Kathmandu. Fatal injuries aside, falling in bathrooms often lead to hip joint dislocation and other compound fractures that take a long time to heal, especially in elderly people, says Dr Bhusal.
Prakash Duggar, CEO, Kajaria Tiles Nepal, says safety should be the priority when designing bathrooms. Earlier, people opted for glossy tiles for their shiny and smooth finish. These days, matt tiles are preferred for their anti-skid properties. “Wholesalers and designers should also make their customers and clients aware about the kind of materials that should be used in bathrooms,” he says.
He also suggests installing grab bars near commodes and in the bath. These are basically just steel rods, pretty much like a towel rack but stronger, that you can hold on to while getting up. Bars bolted to the walls are better than suction cup bars that can easily shift or get dislodged. They should also have a slip-resistant surface rather than a glossy finish. This, Duggar says, can significantly reduce the number of falls in elderly people as most bathroom accidents happen in the shower or while trying to get up from the commode.
Most people ApEx spoke to said they were aware of the risks of bathroom accidents. They said they often told their grandparents, parents, or children to be careful. But accidents might happen despite being cautious. Duggar insists on matt tiles that aren’t slippery even when laced with soap or shampoo.
You can apparently even install these in an old bathroom, on top of the flooring already there. At Kajaria, they have a tile option that can go on top of tiles, marble, or granite. “Your bathroom won’t have to be torn down and redesigned, if that’s what you fear,” says Duggar, adding most traders these days recommend matt tiles over glossy ones but there are plenty of sellers who don’t bother informing their customers.
Kunal Thapa, director of Yarpa Traders, says a lot of focus goes on designing aesthetically pleasing bathrooms. But there are plenty of ways to make it safe without compromising on the looks. “I believe it’s the construction companies’ and material suppliers’ duty to make people aware about how their bathrooms should be designed to prevent accidents,” he says.
Besides that, there are many simple ways to minimize the risk of slips and falls in bathrooms. One could be fixing a shower chair with non-slip rubber tips on the legs. Thapa suggests considering the lighting as well. Sometimes, accidents happen because of poor visibility. Karki, on the other hand, prefers a walk-in bath to a traditional tub that you have to climb over to get into. She says her family has also taken to storing essential items within easy reach to avoid falling while stretching or bending for the shampoo or loofah.
“There’s nothing worse than losing a loved one or seeing them suffer because you failed to take simple precautions,” says Karki.