Making life easier…in the bathroom – bathroom tips for people with multiple sclerosis

Shelley Peterman Schwarz

The bathroom is the smallest room in the house, and for many of us with MS it presents accessibility problems we can’t ignore. Over the years, I’ve discovered ways to make my bathroom safer and more comfortable. In fact, identifying problems and eliminating them has given me more freedom and a greater sense of security.

Making the bathroom safer…

After losing my balance and falling down in the bathroom a number of times, I took stock of the situation. Try these ideas:

* Remove throw rugs.

* Use decorative non-slip tape or decals in the tub or shower. If you use a rubber mat, periodically toss it in the washing machine with soap and a little bleach to remove that slippery soap-film buildup.

* Never grab on to towel racks or soap dish holders for support. Install grab bars near the commode and in the shower and bathtub. Everyone in the family will probably use them. Grab bars must be securely anchored to wall studs. Get professional advice on the proper placement and hire a professional if you can’t do the installation yourself.

* Nothing is as frustrating as having the soap slip out of your hand–and skid out of reach. Try “Soap-on-a-Rope,” a liquid soap dispenser, or the SoapHandle, which has a soap tray and a comfortable hand strap. (It’s available from Bathroom Accessories, 134 W. 58th Street, Suite 304, New York, NY 10019. Tel: 212-315-2911.) Or–secure a bar of soap in the middle of an old nylon stocking with knots on each side. This is a great way to wash your back! Tie the stocking on a towel rack when you’re done.

* Wring out a washcloth and use it to grasp the edge of the tub when getting out.

* Lower the setting of your hot water heater to prevent accidental scalding. You may be a poor judge of temperature.

…more accessible

* Turning water on and off is easier with a lever tap. Kitchen faucets generally have longer levers than bathroom models–and they are even easier to use. Install the longest lever if need be.

* Place an inexpensive resin or webbed outdoor chair in the tub or shower and have a seat while you bathe.

* Raised toilet seats make it much easier to get on and off. Also consider purchasing an adjustable portable toilet seat with a tote bag, so you can safely use bathrooms away from home. You can find these items where medical equipment is sold.

* If the bathroom doorway is too narrow to accommodate a scooter or wheelchair, remove the door. Replace it with a tension rod and opaque shower curtains. If you just need 2 extra inches in the doorway, offset hinges might do the trick.

* You can get a professional evaluation of your bathroom if you ask your doctor to prescribe a home visit from an OT (occupational therapist).

…more efficient

Since space is at a premium in my bathroom, I’ve had to look for ways to keep things I need in easy-to-reach places.

* To save counter space, hang ceramic pots at useful levels. I have one in a macrame holder. I use it to stash brushes, razors, the curling iron.

* Turntables on the counter or in bathroom closets make items easy to retrieve.

* Keep a measuring spoon in one of the toothbrush holder slots for taking any liquid medications. Or hang spoons from an adhesive-backed hook inside the medicine cabinet door.

* Organize drawers using divided cutlery trays.

…more comfortable

* Personal grooming is more comfortable if you are sitting down. Keep a stool or chair near a good mirror to do your hair, shave, or apply makeup.

* Substitute lightweight cotton dish towels for terry-cloth washcloths. They’re easier to wring out if your hands are numb.

* Putting on a terry-cloth bathrobe after showering is a shortcut to drying yourself. And it feels luxurious.

* Dental floss “swords” look like the letter “C” at the end of a plastic toothpick with floss stretched tightly across the opening. They let you floss with one hand and are available in drug stores.

* If a regular toothbrush is a struggle, try an electric model. Some have long easily-grasped handles, some are cordless, and some feature dual motion (up and down, side to side). All do a good job of cleaning teeth and gums.

* Bathing or showering in cool water is recommended for people with MS to keep body temperature down. But the idea is chilling! Start with warm or tepid water, and gradually increase the coolness, giving your body time to adjust.

* There are many other devices and products for the bathroom. Check out disability products catalogs. Smith & Nephew, Inc. offers a free one. Write or call S & N, Rehabilitation Division, One Quality Drive, P.O. Box 1005, Germantown, WI 53022-8205; Tel.: 1-800-558-8633; Fax: 1-800-545-7758.

That other issue…

There is nothing more embarrassing than losing bladder or bowel control. Just remember–you are not the first (or the last) person to have to deal with this. Contact your doctor and discuss the problems. Don’t suffer in silence! There are medications, techniques, devices, and exercises that can help. And:

* Keep a drawer or basket in the bathroom with a supply of fresh underwear.

* For more information call: National Association for Continence at 1-800-252-3337, or The Simon Foundation for Incontinence at 1-800-237-4666.

Shelley Peterman Schwarz’s new book, 250 Tips for Making Life with Arthritis Easier, is available from Longstreet Press. Call 608-274-4380 or order by fax at 608-274-6993.

COPYRIGHT 1998 National Multiple Sclerosis Society

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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