Inclusive bathroom design for stroke rehabilitation

Here, Stuart Reynolds, UK Marketing & Product Management Director at AKW, a leading provider of inclusive solutions, discusses the increasing need for inclusive bathrooms that are designed to not only accommodate the needs of stroke survivors but help, not hinder their rehabilitation.

According to the Stroke Association there are 1.3 million stroke survivors in the UK and this number looks set to double in the next 20 years. Almost two thirds (65%) of stroke survivors leave hospital with a disability that impacts how they move around and use their home. And, as anyone with a family member or friend who has had a stroke will know, the long term consequences of strokes can be many and varied. They range from the physical, such as arm or leg weakness, visual problems or other issues such as swallowing and loss of bladder control, to social and psychological issues.

Public Health England data shows that while 59% of strokes occur in the older generation, more first-time strokes are now occurring at an earlier age (38%), compared to a decade ago. However, thanks to improved NHS care, stroke survival is now higher than at any previous time, and this means that there are more people than ever living with the after-effects of a stroke. With only 12% of stroke survivors discharged to care homes, a significant proportion are left to return to ill suited homes.

What does all of this have to do with social housing and private landlords? Well, according to a guide written by Terri Grant, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of Worcester’s Institute of Health and Society and produced in conjunction with AKW, the bathroom and bedroom in particular are complex spaces to negotiate for stroke survivors. However, some simple adaptations can significantly improve the experience of those living with the affects of having a stroke, particularly when it comes to the bathroom.

Three design principles for a safe bathroom

Typical issues for stroke survivors when using the bathroom can include difficulty in transferring on and off the toilet, or getting in and out of baths and showers, as well as altered visual perception and feeling overwhelmed or psychologically confused. While each stroke survivor’s challenges will be different, there are three basic design principles that can help create a safe, cost-effective bathroom adaptation that will work for them and others they share their home with.

The key to creating bathrooms that aid storke rehabilitation is the adoption of bathroom design that provides physical support, puts products in the most logical places – for instance, keeping shower gel in the shower Etc. – and that minimises clutter. It is worth noting that making the environment a user-friendly space for someone who is post-stroke – that encompasses these three design principles – also makes it user-friendly for people with arthritis, dementia and other neurological conditions, for example.

Wash basins – these should always be fixed securely to a wall and not freestanding. Similarly, towel rails need to be strong and fixed to the wall for the same reason.

Fold up grab rails – these, combined with toilet roll holders, are an ideal way to maximise space, whilst offering even more stability aids for a stroke survivor. The grab rails should be installed on both sides of any furniture and need to be of the type that they can be put away against the wall if needed, allowing greater access around the space.

Taps – the needs of the individual will dictate the choice of taps. For example, for a stroke survivor with paralysis on one side, a mixer tap would be a better choice as this can be operated with one hand, however for someone with significant cognitive damage, a mixer tap is more confusing than two separate taps.

Underfloor heating – to avoid exposed pipework and radiators, underfloor heating is ideal. Opt for low surface temperature radiators if underfloor heating is not possible however, so that burn injuries are prevented.

Flooring – non-slip flooring is essential and patterns or flecks should be avoided, as these can be visually challenging for those with cognitive damage or visual impairments.

Tiling – muted colours and patterned tiles are best avoided as these can cause visual confusion. Contrast can be used however to distinguish between different surfaces.

Showers – the controls need to be simple to understand and easy to use with one hand operation. There should also be obvious up and down buttons for temperature and flow control. AKW SmartCare Plus Electric Care Shower is BEAB CARE approved and RNIB accredited and offers these features.

With a well-designed inclusive bathroom, care homes can ensure the stroke survivor has maximum accessibility, giving them the best possible space to adjust to their changing needs and to promote their recovery.

For inclusive bathroom ideas for stroke survivors, visit