One of the smartest choices I have made in caregiving was the early remodeling of the bathroom. My caregiving friends all told me the bathroom was a crucial point of stress for them. Once again I was choosing to invest in home improvement proactively to postpone the need for possible earlier nursing home support.
We had a traditional bathroom with a combination tub/shower and floor-mounted toilet that was not going to work with movement issues for John or for me as I aged with back problems.
I decided to gut the old bathroom and start from scratch in order to get what we needed. LBD presented two major problems in the bathroom—how to bathe if a walker or wheelchair was in our future and how to deal with inevitable messes around the toilet.
The key to solving both these issues was to use the back half of our bathroom as a “wet zone” and remove all obstacles to cleaning and stepping into the bath area. I designed a tile floor that gently sloped toward a single drain in the shower area, using a European model of shower design. It is also like an American commercial bathroom floor.
Floor tiles are the one-inch size, so the floor is not slippery. There is no raised lip that separates the shower from the rest of the bathroom. Instead, the back half of our bathroom floor gently slopes toward the drain from any point, so that any water on the floor moves into the drain. This also makes it easy to bring in a shower chair when it is needed—there are no barriers on the floor and there is the feeling of having a lot more space. The caregiver can easily maneuver all around the chair in this setting to help with bathing. The showerhead faces toward the wet zone and away from the dry zone of the whole room.
The toilet, which is placed in the “wet zone,” is a wall hung type by American Standard, so that cleaning under it is a matter of reaching for the handheld showerhead with a seven-foot hose, turning on the hottest water to rinse the floor and the undersides of the toilet, spraying antibacterial cleaner, and rinsing everything into the drain at that end of the bathroom. Let the hot water, the floor design, and the cleanser do the work for you. There is no getting on the hands and knees to scrub around the base of a toilet involved, so stress levels and back issues stay low.
I selected attractive oval-shaped handholds for the shower and toilet areas. They do the job with a sense of style. Another addition was a motion-sensitive overhead light, which turns on automatically when you step in or near the bathroom door.
Besides these upgrades, the other item that has been a blessing to us is the toilet bidet seat. It is an expensive item, but has been worth it. We chose the top-of-the line bidet seat by Toto that has a remote that I mounted onto the wall next to the toilet with heavy-duty Velcro.
A bidet seat acts like a bidet, in that it washes you after going to the bathroom, but it takes the place of a normal toilet seat on top of a regular toilet. This is helpful for back issues and any movement problems because the work is done mostly by the seat’s cleaning sprays, and all you have to do is dry yourself with a few sheets of toilet paper without the usual twisting and turning needed with regular toilet cleaning.
After we started to use the bidet seat, we realized that it also helps with issues of constipation because the warm sprays actually help to relax that part of the body to make going to the bathroom easier. My husband, who was a skeptic, is now a believer in bidet seats. For me as a caregiver, this will help in the future when assisting John with cleaning will be more of an issue. I think that this item alone can keep John at home for extra months because it reduces both the stress and some of the physical labor involved with toileting.
Not long after remodeling, the new bathroom was put to the test when the toilet overflowed. What would have taken two hours to clean with significant back stress took me about twenty minutes with no back stress. It was not hard or stressful thanks to the new room design. Both of us were glad that we had changed the space to be more user-friendly, sooner rather than later.
Pat Snyder is caregiver to her husband, John, and author of Treasures in the Darkness: Extending the Early Stage of Lewy Body Dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Pat's mission is to help her husband and promote awareness of Lewy Body Dementia, which affects up to 40% of people with Parkinson's.