I was talking to a dear friend the other day. (Yes. I’m a Letterkenny fan.) She and her family are facing the inevitable decline in her mother-in-law’s 25-year challenge living with Parkinson’s. The good news is her mother-in-law has had the money and resources to hire in-home caregivers for the past several years, but now she not only needs more medical around-the-care help, she has developed some paranoia and fear about the people who care for her and wishes her family could be with her more regularly.
My friend does not work outside the home, but her husband has two jobs and is going to school. They also live more than three hours away from her husband’s mother. My friend was struggling with the guilt of wanting to be able to do more to care for her mother-in-law, but logistically, providing the ideal level of care of having the mother-in-law move in with them, is hardly possible. One of the biggest challenges, which also presents a challenge for the mother-in-law continuing to age in place in her own home, is the bathroom.
The less mobile someone becomes the more challenging the activities of daily living become – feeding, clothing, toileting and bathing. Our modern homes, as a general rule, were not designed to accommodate people with mobility and strength challenges. If you’ve ever sprained an ankle or have arthritic knees like I do, you’ll understand how challenging climbing into a bathtub can be. We had to replace our tub/shower a year after moving into our 1906 home, and we installed a much bigger, deeper tub, which I love to soak in, especially on sore days. We did install grab bars everywhere, but to get up and over that thing when my knee is throbbing presents a challenge.
Now imagine you can’t walk steadily without the assistance of a walker. Or if you have to use a wheelchair to get around. Not only is getting into a bathtub difficult, getting into the bathroom can be challenging. Weird, narrow angles in the hallway, narrow doors, tiny bathrooms with not enough space to move with wheelchair or walker between vanities and bath, or vanities and toilet, or toilets and walls. Many newer homes and people who have invested in remodeling bathrooms have upgraded with walk-in showers, which definitely help if a person can reach them easily with a walker, wheelchair or assistance.
Even if a person can reach a walk-in shower, if they have trouble with the mobility and flexibility to reach and clean their body without help, showers require assistance, too. I imagine the thought of having to take a shower fully naked with your mother, father, sibling or in-law is horrific. So if you have a walk-in shower, be sure to add a hand-held shower head, and enough room for a shower/bathing stool and enough space and room for another person to assist the bather to ensure some dignity for the bather and some dry clothes for the assistant.
After all this talk about how to make a home more accommodating for a senior, finding out this month was National Bath Safety month gave me a bit of a chuckle. While hot, jetted baths with oils or salts or bubbles while listening to music and drinking a beverage in candlelight may be the epitome of sexy self care, there is zero sexiness about bath safety. But, the truth of the matter is the bathroom, and the tub in particular, have many safety hazards that we all need to think about, especially if we want to continue to age at home. Renovating to make your bathroom more accessible and eliminating the bathtub completely before you need to would be best, but those kind of changes are expensive and aren’t practical in some small older homes. Some practical and relatively inexpensive things nearly everyone can do will help make bathrooms safer and more accommodating right now.
- Grab bars. When we renovated our tub we installed grab bars at each end of the tub and the back. We are losing some tile around our toilet, and when we decide to have it replaced, we’ll install a grab bar there too.
- Suction mats for the tub and shower floor. Soap and water make for super slick surfaces.
- Bath chairs. These can even be used in the shower. Sitting is safer and less physically taxing when bathing.
- Monitor water temperature. This is good advice for all of us, but especially if you are caring for infants or seniors whose skin is thinner and more sensitive. Some water faucets and fixtures have safety features to prevent someone from scalding or burning themselves. We installed a new water heater recently.I I forgot just how quickly and just how hot the water can get and scalded myself when rinsing dishes once. Adjusting the temperature on the water heater is a good first step. And besides the risk of scalding or burning, too hot or too warm water dries out skin causing scaling and cracking, which could make seniors more susceptible to infections.
- Install a modified toilet. Standard toilets are low and cause muscle and joint strain and can be painful for anyone experiencing soreness, but especially in seniors. Trying to lower onto a low toilet and getting back up increases the chance of injury and falls. Put in a higher toilet, with a grab bar, and if your’e upgrading anyway, consider adding a bidet. The yoga required to wipe well taxes my flexibility more and more on good days. Add a day when my sciatic nerve is on fire or I pulled something trying to wrestle a greyhound into pajamas, and it’s agonizing.
So, while it may not be sexy, this month is a reminder to think about how you can make your home or the home of your parents or aging loved ones more accommodating and accessible. It’s never too early to think about what features are/will be needed to allow us to remain at home as we age. If the thought of all the challenges and expenses you need to consider are overwhelming, contact me about an Aging Well Plan. As a certified care consultant, I can help you come up with different plans and price points that can help you obtain some peace of mind about your future plans for living well while aging.