Behind closed doors: Safe personal grooming and toileting

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In a previous article for Caregiver Solutions, I wrote about maintaining independence and safety in the bathroom during bathing. In this issue, I take a look at personal grooming and toileting.

Personal grooming includes activities such as combing your hair, shaving and brushing your teeth. Painful joints in your hands or difficulties moving your arms or fingers can make these activities difficult. Fortunately, a number of devices are available to make these daily activities easier.

Nifty gadgets

One approach is large-handled tools. These are easier to hold and take some of the pressure off the joints as you grasp the object. Many of the tools you currently use, such as brushes and combs, can also be adapted with a larger handle rather than having to purchase a new device.

If you have difficulty doing up buttons, one of the best inventions is a buttonhook. This device has a wire form attached to a handle that allows you to fasten a button one handed. The wire form is passed through the buttonhole, and then around the button. As you pull the form back through the buttonhole, the button pulls through and is fastened.

Long-handled implements can be helpful if you have limited arm movement and find it difficult to get your hand up to your head. Long-handled combs and brushes extend your reach, and allow you to brush your hair with minimal effort. Shoehorns, bath sponges and a number of other devices also come with easier-to-use long handles.

Bowel and bladder

Managing toileting is fundamental to being able to live in your home with or without assistance. If you have incontinence or urgency, talk to your doctor. There may be treatments that will help with these issues. Once any medical issues have been resolved, the issue becomes one of safely managing your bowel and bladder functions. In many cases, this involves transferring on and off the toilet or commode.

Grab bars should be installed to help you safety transfer. Grab bars are solid and can be used to help you get from sitting to standing safely. Remember that towel bars, vanities, toilet paper holders and so on should never be used for this purpose as they have not been designed to take you weight. If you do not have space to mount a grab bar or are in a more temporary situation then a toilet safety rail may be another option. These rails attach to the toilet seat hinge bolts and create a frame with arms to help you push off the seat.

If you find the toilet too low then a raised seat may be helpful. These devices fit on top of the toilet bowl to increase its height. There are various designs—some fit on top of the toilet and you sit directly on them, while others fit between the bowl and the current toilet set. Some raised toilet seats even have armrests. The armrests can be used in place of a grab bar to help with the transfer. Regardless of the design, it’s important that you know whether you have an elongated toilet bowl, because not all raised toilet seats fit all toilet bowls.

It is also critically important to ensure your toilet is firmly seated and does not wobble. Using a raised toilet seat on top of a wobbly toilet may create enough movement to throw you off balance and cause a fall. Make sure you carefully read the mounting instructions, and check the raised toilet regularly to ensure it remains secure.

Commodes and incontinence products

If getting to the washroom is an issue, especially at night, a bedside commode may be helpful. Many of these bedside commodes can be adjusted in height to make transfers easier. Although a commode is not the most decorative piece of furniture for your bedroom, if it prevents a fall and helps you successfully manage your bowel and bladder functions then it is an essential piece of equipment.

One final thing to consider is the use of incontinence products. Approximately 3.3 million Canadians (roughly 10% of the population) experience some form of urinary incontinence. Don’t let embarrassment get in the way; if you experience incontinence, taking the time to look at these products can make you far more comfortable. The best approach is to speak to your healthcare provider or a product specialist to discuss your needs and options available.

Preserving safety in the bathroom and as much independence as possible is important. The good news is, there are many devices available to assist you. As always, consult with your healthcare provider for more information regarding what will best suit your needs.

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About Linda Norton, MSCH, BSc OT, OT Reg (Ont)

Linda Norton, BSc OT, OT Reg (Ont), is the Rehabilitation Education Co-ordinator with Shoppers Home Health Care.

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