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  Making the Most of the Smallest Room in the House
by Rachel Adelson
 
     
     
 

Consider the humble bathroom. At its most basic: a toilet, a sink, and a tub. Most people put out some pretty soap, hang up a shower curtain, and consider the job done. If you deal with the symptoms of MS, however, a bare-bones bathroom can be a big barrier to a clean, convenient, and comfortable daily routine that you can manage on your own. Making matters worse (at least in most older homes), it's often a small space, not designed for wheelchair access or any special equipment you may need. To ease your journey through the john, here is a roundup of products and alterations that can give you a less troubling toilette.

General bath aids
Any well-stocked bath shop offers all kinds of ordinary equipment that can be especially handy for people with disabling conditions. As you browse, keep in mind that anything that helps people who are clumsy, can't see well, tire easily, or tend to wilt in high heat and humidity will probably be good for you.

  • To aid vision, try magnifying mirrors, non-glare lighting and a night light.
  • To wash more easily, use bath mitts and soap-on-a-rope, along with bath, hair, and tooth-care products in pump dispensers; for teeth, try large-handled electric toothbrushes and flossing swords.
  • To prevent falls, put down non-slip tub decals and rubber-bottomed bath mats.
  • To spare your muscles, slip into a terrycloth bathrobe, saving the need to towel off.
  • To keep your cool, install a window fan and/or make sure your built-in ventilator works properly.

Disability aids
Some products are designed especially to help people with disabilities. You may have a handy family member or friend who can help install special equipment, or you may hire a local contractor. To find products, you can consult a variety of sources, ranging from your doctor and physical and occupational therapists to online resources. Try ABLEDATA (http://www.abledata.com/), the master assistive technology Web site, which has information on more than 17,000 products, or Project LINK (http://www.phhp.ufl.edu/ot/projectlink/), a free nationwide information service that mails catalogs and brochures about assistive devices. (See "Helpful Resources" below.)

Let's look at some of the ways you can improve your bathroom with your needs in mind.

First, to accommodate mobility aids, you may need to widen the doorway to 32 to 36 inches. If that's not feasible, special offset hinges can change the way the door opens, adding a critical two or three inches to the doorway. Make sure it opens out into the hall so that if you fall against the door, helpers can get in. Pocket doors are another option; they slide into the wall, either all to one side, or split between the two sides. Look for high-quality ball bearings on the tracks, and add a large U-shaped door pull.

Once inside the bathroom, you need to get around. First, a raised toilet can mean less exertion when you sit down and get up. These come in many varieties, from mounts that raise the whole bowl, to thickly padded seats that add a few inches. If you use a wheelchair, you may be helped by a special toilet transfer bench. Grab bars by the toilet can help you push off, and there are wall units that swing out of the way if you use a walker.

While we're on the subject, a "Bottom Buddy" can hold paper for you if it's hard to reach, while alcohol-free premoistened wipes can be a soothing alternative to paper. Fancier, non-paper options include devices that squirt warm water followed by warm air. Ask your nurse about special cleansing and moisturizing products if you are prone to irritation or skin breakdown.

Pedestal sinks allow you to wheel underneath the basin or to sit on a chair while washing up. To prevent burns, make sure the pipes are insulated or have a protective panel. Just as they aid in opening doors, lever handles for faucets (especially an all-in-one) are easier to use than other types of controls.

If your current storage is hard to reach, perhaps you can install drawers or caddies on the sides of your sink, or lower down on the wall.

Grab bars help anywhere you need a handhold, and they now come in fashion colors as well as stainless steel. Be sure they are made of non-slip material and are not just screwed into the wall, but are also bolted to wall studs or otherwise securely attached. In the bathtub, many people find grab bars useful when installed from the floor. Vertical bars help you move in and out of the tub or shower more safely, too. If poor vision plagues you, install grab bars that contrast with the wall color.

For ultimate access ease, you may consider a roll-in shower, either as a new installation or by modifying the flooring between your shower stall and the rest of the room. A bathtub transfer bench with suction feet will help you ease into the tub, or even sit there during a shower. Once you're in, a hand-held shower--ideally with the water controls in the showerhead itself- -adds convenience. You can use a folddown seat or a freestanding plastic stool with non-skid feet. Shower curtains will be easier to slide than heavy glass doors. And to make sure you can see in a sometimes-dark shower area, you can install a recessed vapor-proof light fixture. Have an electrician install ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to any bathroom (and kitchen) outlet, to prevent shocks.

Finally, install an emergency call button or phone in the bathroom, or set up a dry area to park your mobile phone.

The space chase
Despite the advent of modern minimansions with grand spa-appointed bathrooms, most regular folks live in apartments or houses adorned with more utilitarian bath spaces. These tidy toilet areas are mighty efficient-until you need special equipment and extra space to get yourself clean and presentable. To conquer the challenge of limited space, we have a few ideas. "

"Sit to work" is a basic fatigue fighter. If you organize your bath and cosmetic aids, you may free up space for sitting while grooming and/or dressing in the bathroom. If that's impossible, create a space in your bedroom. As long as you're at it, organize your drawers to keep medicines orderly. To aid your vision and memory, keep a magnifying glass near your prescriptions to help you read the labels. Remember, a warm, moist environment is not the best place to store medications. You may also want to keep a list of required pills handy, perhaps taped inside your medicine cabinet or near wherever you store your meds. Make sure to cluster your grooming items where you use them, to spare your memory and minimize bending and reaching. And keep extra sets of clean underclothes in the bathroom.

Above all, pamper yourself! Today's bath products and grooming aids are more luxurious and pleasing to the senses than ever. Buy what makes you feel good!

Helpful Resources

Project LINK
To obtain a Project LINK brochure, write to:
Department of Occupational Therapy
University of Florida
Box 100164
Gainesville, FL 32610-0164
www.phhp.ufl.edu/ot/projectlink/

ABLEDATA
http://www.abledata.com/
The AbleData's Personal Care section is of particular interest.

Online Catalogs
http://www.dynamic-living.com/
http://www.sammonspreston.com/
http://www.momscatalog.com/--MOMS Mail Order Medical Supply
http://www.amerimark.com/--Healthy Living
http://www.medichair.com/
http://www.hollandrails.com/
http://www.danadouglas.com/

 

 
     
 
For additional information
 At Home with MS: Adapting Your Environment
 Bowel Problems: The Basic Facts
 Controlling Bladder Problems in Multiple Sclerosis
 Urinary Dysfunction and MS
 
     
  Rachel Adelson is a science and technology writer based in Raleigh, N.C.  
     
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  © National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Last updated February 2006
 
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