Bathing Solutions For The Elderly & Disabled

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For a person with any sort of mobility limitations, the bathroom can be the most challenging room in the house. Often too small for easy maneuvering, and with wet, slippery surfaces that can cause a fall, your bathroom will require a makeover if you are caring for an elderly parent, someone with an injury or surgery that limits mobility, or a person using a wheelchair.

While creating bathroom solutions for the elderly might require moderate bathroom remodeling, you can easily update what you have with products that work to make life easier for anyone hampered by difficulty with standing, walking or balance.

Bathing Solutions For The Elderly: Bathroom Basics

There are several basic steps you can take to add to the safety and accessibility of your bathroom.

  • If your bathroom door is just an inch or two too narrow for wheelchair or walker passage, switch to offset hinges to hold the bathroom door completely flush with the wall. These hinges are found at most home improvement centers, and install easily with the same screws used in the existing hinges.
  • A cordless phone or call button should be installed in the bathroom in case of a fall or other emergency.
  • Make sure your bathroom is well lit, and keep a nightlight on if you have an elderly parent who might need to use the facilities after hours.
  • Remove bathroom mats or rugs that can cause a fall or tangle with a walker or wheelchair.
  • A pedestal sink makes it easy for a wheelchair user to roll right up with no barriers to his or her legs.
  • Install a faucet that has a single, long handle, rather than the small, double handles common on bathroom sinks. A kitchen faucet often works better than a bathroom fixture, as it will be longer and easier to reach.
  • Keep items that are used daily out on the counter where they are easy to reach. Conversely, put away anything that isn’t often used to cut down on bathroom clutter. Select attractive organizers and containers to hold items like cotton balls, Q-Tips, toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • A plastic rolling cabinet with drawers or bins makes it easy for a wheelchair user to store and access grooming products.
  • No-touch soap dispensers found in most bath and kitchen shops are a welcome relief for anyone suffering from arthritis or other painful hand conditions.
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Handicapped Accessible Toilet Design

An accessible toilet is important for independence and pride. If you are caring for an elderly parent or someone in the home has had hip or leg surgery, an elevated toilet seat will make it much easier for the user to sit and stand. Elevated toilet seats are available in any large drugstore or medical supply shop. There are several styles.

  • Simple raised seats take the place of your regular toilet seat, adding 2 to 3 inches of height. Many have strong arms attached for extra leverage while rising.
  • Raised frames fit over the entire toilet, holding the user up above the regular commode. Some have spring-powered or electrical lifts, making it even easier for the user to sit and rise.
  • Toilet Risers require removing the toilet, placing the riser underneath, and then reinstalling the toilet on top of the riser. These add several inches of height to the toilet while being very unobtrusive.
  • For a wheelchair user, a toilet transfer bench bridges the gap between wheelchair and toilet. The user swivels onto the bench, then uses upper body strength to maneuver across the bench to the opening over the commode. There are also sliding versions available for users with limited dexterity.
  • Grab bars should be placed both behind and on the side of the toilet for safety and for using as a transfer aid while lowering or standing from the toilet.
  • Hygiene aids, such as extended wiping handles and water sprayers, make it easier for anyone with limited upper body dexterity to keep themselves clean.

Handicapped Bath & Shower Ideas

Getting in and out of the bath or shower is one of the most dangerous functions performed in a bathroom. The danger of a fall is high for anyone with impaired balance, limited mobility or lower body weakness.

  • Grab bars are a must for inside the tub or shower, on the edge of the tub, and on the wall right outside the shower stall. Grab bars that screw into the wall are strongest, but you can also find clamp-on models that attach to the edge of the bathtub for extra stability when stepping in or out.
  • A transfer bench makes it easy for a wheelchair user to slide into the tub. Simple benches allow the user to sit on the edge, and then swing legs over and into the tub, using upper body strength to move into position. Or for a person with limited upper body strength, a sliding transfer bench rolls on a short track to move the user into the tub.
  • For those with weak legs or poor balance, a bath chair is a safe solution. These plastic or wooden chairs offer a place to sit while bathing, and some have raised arms to assist with sitting and rising in the tub.
  • Install a hand-held shower sprayer in your bath or tub to make it easy to wash while sitting on a bench or chair.
  • Soap-on-a-rope hangs in easy reach, and eliminates the problem of not being able to pick up dropped soap.
  • Shampoo/conditioner/bath gel dispensers make it easy for anyone with arthritis or hand weakness to access these bath essentials. Regular bottles of shampoo or conditioner can be difficult for an elderly or handicapped person to use.
  • See Walk In Tubs & Showers.

Whether you need a more accessible bathroom for a short time while someone in the home recovers from surgery or you need long term accessibility, there are many products available to make your bathroom safer and easier to use.

Last Updated: March 21, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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