For seniors who are aging in place, the bathroom can be an especially challenging space to navigate. There are several elderly bathroom issues that are caused by reduced mobility.
Reduced mobility and balance can make routine activities like going to the toilet or taking a shower difficult and even dangerous.
That’s why it is important to adapt the bathroom to meet their needs be it installing shower rails or a raised toilet seat.
As they age, it is also essential to have a caregiver around to offer support when necessary.
Bathroom Challenges for Seniors (and the Best Solutions)
Challenge #1: Walking to the Bathroom
This is the first problem you need to address.
Even seniors who can still walk on their own might still find the bathroom to be too far. It’s easy to get injured in the rush to get to the bathroom when they are pressed.
Reaching the bathroom can also be a big problem for seniors with dementia.
- Provide mobility aids such as a bathroom wheel chair with a cutout at the bottom (they don’t have to get off the wheelchair), a walking stick, a Zimmer frame or a rollator.
- Help them walk to the bathroom. You should only help with balancing . If they cannot walk on their own, explore other mobility options such as a wheelchair.
- Remove furniture and other trip hazards from the path. Also make sure the way to the bathroom is well lit at all times.
- Make the bathroom easier to access. This may require some retrofitting to make the door wider and remove any steps.
- For those with dementia, make it easy for them to identify the way to the bathroom using bright signs.
Challenge #2: Using the toilet
Ordinary toilets are often too low even for seniors who are still in relatively good health.
Sitting and standing up from the toilet strains the back and feet and can easily cause or worsen an injury.
Seniors with dementia may have trouble locating the toilet and using it properly.
- Replace the current toilet with a comfort height toilet. This type of toilet is higher, requiring less effort when sitting or standing.
- A cheaper alternative to replacing the entire toilet is buying a raised toilet seat. Some raised toilet seats attach to the existing toilet while others are frames that stand over the toilet.
- Install handrails near the toilet to make it easier for your loved one to raise and lower themselves. If you’ve bought a raised toilet seat with armrests, they can also function as handrails.
- For dementia patients and seniors with deteriorating vision, make sure the toilet is in a contrasting colour from the rest of the room.
- Make sure tissues or wipes are within easy reach.
- For seniors with poor balance and mobility, it’s safest to help them sit and stand from the toilet. You may also need to help them wipe and clean up.
- Place a non-slip mat around the toilet area to prevent slipping. Even if the floor is not wet, it can still be slippery enough to cause a fall.
- Make sure their clothing is easy to remove.
- Lower the sink to make it easier for them to wash their hands.
Challenge #3: Taking a shower
It’s not just the wetness that is a problem; standing up when showering, operating the faucet and properly scrubbing their bodies can be challenges too.
The first thing to consider is whether you need to get a shower chair. For most seniors, a shower chair is necessary.
Even healthy seniors may not be able to stand up for long when showing.
You also need to address the wetness to reduce the risk of falling.
If your loved one takes a bath in the tub, you’ll need to find a way to make it easier to get in and out of it.
- Get a shower chair. It should, obviously, be resistant to any kind of water damage. I highly recommend getting a height-adjustable chair to guarantee comfort.
- Install handrails for support when getting in and moving around the shower area.
- Place a non-slip bath mat in the shower area and immediately outside it to prevent slipping. A bath mat also protects the caregiver from falling especially if they need to provide support and balancing.
- Get a sprayer attachment for the shower. This makes it easier to reach all parts of the body and eliminates the need for standing when showering.
- Get a senior-friendly bathtub. A walk-in bathtub is the best. It’ll often have extra safety features such as a non-slip surface and handrails for support.
- Install lever faucets. Traditional faucets can be difficult to twist and turn especially for seniors with arthritic fingers. Lever faucets are much easier to operate.
- In some cases, you may need to help them scrub their body or find a caregiver to do it.
As with toileting, there comes a point where it is no longer safe to use the bathroom. A bed bath will be safer and easier.
We’ve certainly not covered all the bathroom challenges seniors face and how to deal with them. The above are just the main ones and the most common.
Depending on your situation, you may face unique challenges.
So keep an eye out for any challenged we may have left out and find solutions that work for you situation.
If you need professional help with a challenge, talk to your primary healthcare provider or an aging help centre near you.
You can ask what tools and aids you need to buy, how to properly do certain tasks like bathing and wiping and how to help your loved one cope emotionally with the new challenges they are facing.