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6 ways to make the bathroom safe

Find out how to create a comfortable dementia-friendly bathroom

Don’t Panic

Bathrooms – like kitchens – can be filled with hazards for people with dementia. After all, hot water and wet floors are a dangerous combination if you’re frail and confused. But with a little forward planning, there are plenty of ways to improve safety and ensure bathing remains as stress-free as possible

Your three biggest fears – and how to fight them

1. Scalding water
2. Flooding
3. Falls

Fear: They’ll burn themselves with scalding water

Why: People with dementia may not notice when water has become too hot, or they might struggle to understand modern temperature controls on bathroom fittings. Similarly, if they reach out to grab a heated towel rail – understandable if you’re unsteady on your feet – they’re at risk of a nasty burn.

Fight it: Choose a thermostatic care shower, which makes it easier to control temperature. You can pick ones with simple, clear buttons that are easy to press. Avoid using showers that provide a heavy flow of water as it can be overwhelming for someone with dementia. Look into low surface temperature (LST) radiators and avoid leaving pipework exposed as it can get hot.

Fear: They’ll leave taps on and cause a flood

Why: Forgetting about running taps can be a common problem if you have dementia. Flooding doesn’t only lead to slips and falls, it can cause expensive damage and involve major upheaval to fix.

Fight it: Choose showers that automatically shut down after a certain amount of time to prevent flooding. You can also get flood-proof plugs for baths and basins. These open up when a certain pressure is reached, allowing the water to drain away until the pressure is reduced, at which point it will then close up again.

Fear: They’ll fall over and hurt themselves

Why: Sadly, it’s easy for people with dementia to fall in the bathroom. Slippery floors, bathmats, or baths that need to be stepped into, are the major culprits

Fight it: Chose shower cubicle materials made from special plastic that won’t shatter if fallen against. Install anti-slip flooring within the shower and ensure that the bathroom floor is all one colour. Any change in colour can be seen as a step, which could then cause them to stumble. If bathroom floor tiles are very shiny, they can give the appearance of being wet, which again can confuse, hesitation and falls.
Grab rails can be installed next to the toilet, in the shower and in the bath to help them pull themselves up or down.

Three challenges and how to solve them

Challenge: Difficulty washing

Why: Everyone wants to feel clean and fresh, but if you’re struggling to stand up in the shower, or get in and out of the bath this might not be easy. So if the person you’re caring for is finding bathing and washing, increasingly difficult, creating an environment which is calming and comfortable will make the whole process much easier.

Solve it: There’s a massive range of bath equipment available, from bath steps to help them get into the bath, to hoists, lifts or seats to help them lower themselves into the bath.
Try installing a shower seat into shower cubicles as it can help to reduce the risk of falling while showering. Electronic bath seats will help to lower people up and down into the bath. If they struggle to reach round to apply shampoo or wash themselves, there are long-handled bathing aids which can help.

Challenge: Trouble with toilets

Why: This can be a particularly distressing problem for anyone with dementia who fears losing their dignity As well as dealing with practical issues related to ageing, such as difficulty standing up or siting down, dementia can also affect vision, making it harder to see the seat or the toilet paper if the colours don’t have enough contrast.
A complicated flush mechanism or cistern that’s hidden from sight may also cause confusion.

Solve it: Thankfully there are plenty ways to make using the loo an easier experience. For example, installing a raised toilet seat will mean they don’t have to sit down as far, making it easier if bending is a problem. It’s a good idea to use a seat that is a different colour to the pan and cistern so the user can easily locate it. This goes for the toilet roll holder and paper, too, so that it doesn’t blend into the colour of the bathroom wall.

Challenge: Visual confusion

Why: Seeing your reflection in a bathroom mirror or shiny surface can be very stressful if you have dementia and don’t recognise the face staring back as your own. Imagine the fright you might get if you thought another person was in the bathroom with you? This can also cause frustration and agitation.

Solve it: Use a roller blind to cover the bathroom mirror, it can be easily pulled up if other people need to use it.
Avoid using a dark coloured floor surface, such as a bath mat which can look like a large hole, and might make the person you’re caring for very reluctant to go into the bathroom. If there’s a shower, use plastic screening which is frosted so it won’t show any reflection.
Make sure the bathroom is well lit and ensure the light switch is clear and easily accessible. If not, look into whether you can install automatic lights or night lights that remain on – which are especially useful for trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.