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What to Do When Your Aging Parent Needs Help in the Bathroom

Aging can eventually make even the most routine tasks difficult. Our muscles weaken, our dexterity worsens and in some cases, we deteriorate mentally. Adult children with aging parents may experience this first-hand as their parent begins needing additional help with everyday tasks around the home. And when you’re around, maybe you don't mind helping for now – so what if Dad needs help cleaning, cooking or getting dressed. However, what about when he needs help in an area more intimate? What happens when your aging parent needs help in the bathroom?

The Dangers Posed by the Smallest Room in the Home

First, it’s important to understand why help in the bathroom is so critical. Per Nicholas Bakalar’s report for The New York Times, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that approximately 235,000 people over the age of 15 visit emergency rooms because of injuries they suffered in the bathroom and about 14 percent of them are hospitalized.

Of course, routine activities like bathing or showering and getting in and out of the tub can cause slips and injuries, for anyone, but people over 85 are more likely to injure themselves on or near the toilet, especially if suffering from any incontinence. Per Dr. Amy Ehrlich of U.S. News & World Report on Health.USNews.com :

“Older adults with some degree of incontinence, which is common in Alzheimer’s patients, often have to rush to get in the bathroom, placing them at greater risk for falls.”

And sadly, the consequences of senior falls can be severe. Over 27,000 seniors in the USA die as a result of falls every year. If Dad is getting unsteady on his feet it may be that bathing unsupervised is no longer an option. If you’re the only one capable of helping out, you may need to prepare yourself to enter the bathroom with your aging parent.

Overcoming Embarrassment

Going to the bathroom is a personal, private experience, so helping a friend or family member use the toilet can be embarrassing for both you and your loved one. Some seniors may be ashamed to appear so vulnerable in front of a loved one, and it may be hard for you to see the person who raised you in such a state. However, overcoming the embarrassment can lead to positive outcomes. Studies have shown that seniors who feel supported by family members to achieve daily activities, such as using the toilet, feel more independent and in control of their lives, which in turn offers health benefits. Your loved one may come to realize that receiving bathroom help is better than the alternative, which could include leaving  home for a nursing home or assisted living facility and losing independence.

Make it as Easy as Possible

If using the bathroom is difficult for Dad it may be possible to remodel his bathroom to make it easier to use. Installing grab bars could help him to get on and off the toilet, nonslip decals are easy to apply to tubs and tiles to minimize slip risk. Senior-friendly walk-in tubs with doors can provide easy access, although they can be expensive. In general, ensuring that everything is within his reach and there are minimal obstacles will be a great start.

Offering Physical Help

Unfortunately, sometimes even a remodel might not be enough to allow every senior to use the bathroom alone, some will need a person there to help. The Family Caregiver Alliance offers tips on how to help a senior loved one in the bathroom:

  • If the senior needs help removing clothes move slowly and encourage him to help.
  • Don’t rush the senior; if it takes a little time, it may be better to sit him down, walk away and come back when he is finished. This can also offer your loved one more dignity.
  • If your loved one needs help to wipe, wet wipes may be easier than toilet paper.
  • Assist with pulling up pants as pants that are not all the way up can become a trip hazard.
  • Provide as much privacy and modesty as possible.

According to some caregivers, a sense of humor can be an essential tool in helping a senior loved one to use the toilet – laughter (not at the person, but with the person) can help to release the tension of the situation for both of you. After all, you both know what's going on, and there is no harm in merely acknowledging it.

Consider Professional Help

It’s possible that through no fault of your own, helping your loved one use the toilet may not be something that either of you is ever comfortable with, and in this case, you could consider professional home care. A professional caregiver can visit your loved one and help with personal care. A professional caregiver could assist with most of your loved one’s needs including helping walk to the toilet, getting undressed, getting into the tub, washing and even using the toilet.

Even if you are both comfortable with you helping in the bathroom a professional caregiver could offer another crucial point of assistance. Although some seniors may keep to a fairly regular bathroom schedule, most could need to use the bathroom at any point of the day or night, which means you could be on call 24/7. Having a professional caregiver visit would allow you some time off while ensuring that your loved one's bathroom needs are adequately addressed.

For more information on personal care, read this article.  

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