You may not want to face it, but we all know you’re not getting any younger. And study after study shows that as you reach the golden years, you’d really like to live in your current home as long as you can.

Bathroom-product manufacturers are waking up to the reality that our aging population — 14 percent of the U.S. population is expected to be 65 or older by 2015 — could stand a little help in making their homes more elder-friendly.

Especially needy of attention are our bathrooms, which need to be more accommodating for bodies that move with less agility and eyes that are less reliable.

Such "universal design" products — intended to improve mobility for all — have been around for decades, but many consumers have turned up their noses at them because they gave off an institutional quality. Consumers said they wanted their homes to look like homes, not like hospitals.

A stroll around the recent Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Chicago showed that some of the manufacturers are starting to get the message. Five "universal design" products that do the job and look good at the same time:

1. Safety Tubs‘ new Seated Safety Shower looks like, well, a shower. But it’s designed to make bathing a surer experience for people with reduced mobility. The 60-by-30-by-37-inch acrylic shower has a wide seating area and built-in armrest.

The 3-inch threshold doesn’t impede access; perhaps most important, it contains a built-in grab bar that’s firmly anchored. It’s also available with a clear glass door. Suggested retail price: $2,500.

2. Perhaps you’d rather sit down while bathing. But if you look at the typical bathtub, it’s not only difficult to access if you can’t raise your leg high enough, but it doesn’t offer a lot of comfort for an aching back. These days, there are many bathtubs on the market designed to simplify the process for sit-down bathers.

Typically, bathtubs in this category have water-tight doors that swing in so that the user just walks in and sits down on a built-in bench; often, these tubs also have grab bars. Such comfort is not cheap, as the tub costs may run into the thousands of dollars.

At the top of the line, Aquatic‘s new Ava Bath, at $12,000, is a more elaborate example. Instead of a swinging door, the Ava’s automated door lowers to open and rises to close for easy entry and exit. The deep tub can empty in 30 seconds, the manufacturer says.

3. For hands that hurt, Moen has developed a line of aging-in-place products called Home Care by Moen.

The faucet company’s hand-held shower looks like just about any you’d find in America’s bathrooms. But this version ($41.85) has a removable handle that converts the device into an easily grippable and lighter-weight palm shower.

4. Grab bars may be used to hold up towels, but they’re intended to hold up people. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act rules, they must be able to support 250 pounds.

But many able-bodied persons don’t like them because they tend to look heavy and institutional-ish.

You can, however, camouflage them. HealthCraft Products‘ Invisia line has a towel bar/grab bar that would blend into the most stylish bathroom. It also has created a support-giving grab bar disguised as a toilet-paper holder.

5. Or maybe you want to flaunt your grab bars. Ponte Giulio, an Italian firm with offices in Waukesha, Wis., makes grab bars (and matching accessories, such as framed mirrors, toothbrush holders, etc.) in crayon-box contemporary colors.

In addition to style, there’s another motive behind the colors: The company says the bright colors create a contrast with the wall so that bathroom-users who are visually impaired can locate them better.

Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.


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