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Solving the riddles of a dangerous room

Here’s a riddle for you. What’s black and white and read all over?

I’m sure you know the answer to that one. It’s a newspaper, of course.

What about this one: The more you take, the more you leave behind. Answer: Footsteps.

Or this one; it’s a little trickier: A man is trapped in a bathroom, and the room has only two possible exits: two doors. Through the first door is a room constructed from magnifying glass. The blazing hot sun immediately fries anything or anyone that enters. Through the second door is a fire-breathing dragon. How does the man escape?

I recognize that riddle is a bit over the top. But stay with me here, I’m trying to make a point you will remember forever. The answer to that last riddle is, the man waits until nighttime and then he goes through the first door. It’s common sense — with a twist and a fire-breathing dragon. But perhaps the better riddle is this: How does one get trapped in a bathroom?

It can happen in a number of ways. In real life, let’s say you’re in a bathroom and you experience a stroke or heart attack, or maybe you just have a fainting spell. You’re incapacitated and you drop down and slump against the door with a thud. When help arrives, your frame pressed against the door from the inside prevents a family member or paramedic from easily entering to attend to you. You are trapped.

But you don’t need to be. Check the direction your bathroom door opens and consider a simple turn-around to ensure it opens outward; reverse the hinges and turn the door around. Voila! That’s just one way to create a safer home — I have loads of them.

The smallest room in the house can be a dangerous place. Bathrooms are hard-surfaced environments where sudsy water on the floor and soap in your eyes can lead to falls and fractures. The National Institute on Aging says “more than one in three seniors over age 65 fall each year and 80 percent of those falls occur in the bathroom.” Bathrooms have a “multitude of unforgiving and slippery surfaces.”

This is not a riddle; it’s a reality, and simple bathroom modifications hold the answer. Consider installing plenty of well secured grab bars. Every bathroom needs vertical, horizontal or angled bars positioned to ensure restroom trips don't end in a mishap.

Most bathrooms could benefit from replacing the standard 16-inch toilet with a comfort-height toilet — that’s 17 to 19 inches high. A toilet riser is another approach. (Great Britain’s’ King George II is said to have fallen off the toilet and died as a result).

Dual-head showers are available that glide down a vertical bar to make them easier to reach while showering or bathing. Consider a shower chair, lights above the shower, well secured scatter rugs, and levered door handles and faucets. My personal favorite is a one-handed toilet paper holder.

The bathroom is filled with ways for you to hurt yourself. Don’t let that happen. This is not a joke.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.