Public Bathrooms and a Loved One With Alzheimer’s Disease

Just as with a toddler, it seems that the second you step into the car or a restaurant, it is time to go to the bathroom when you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. While it has gotten a little easier with more locations offering “Family Restrooms” that are bigger and allow either or both sexes in the room at the same time plus they are more private, you will not encounter this luxury everywhere you go. It is essential to plan ahead and to be prepared.

Try to select places to visit that have quiet, well-lit bathrooms. Wandering down a dark hallway and into a darker restroom with blaring music can set life into a swirl of angst. It will only take one visit to such a restroom to have you commit yourself to not making the same mistake again.

Avoid locals with just one or two stalls. Often the trip to the restroom is an emergency and although many kind individuals will permit you to cut into line, others just don’t understand why it is impossible to wait. You know that with a victim of Alzheimer’s, many things no longer make sense, especially standing in a long, often odorous line.

When possible, select the handicap stall. It is wider so you will have more room for navigation and there is often a shelf for hanging your bag and for removing essentials like wipes and clean clothes if the restroom journey develops into wet or soiled pants. This is one reason to always carry a change of clothes and wipes along in your backpack. Backpacks are roomy so you can toss in the necessities and since they sling over the shoulder temporary handicap placard or over both shoulders, your hands are free. Those with Alzheimer’s disease often present trying situations and you need every tool available to assist you.

Easy, pull-down pants with elastic rather than snaps, zippers, and belts simplify the next step. Remember you and your loved one are out, in a strange place and even if you have visited here a hundred times before, it may all seem new to someone with dementia. As you turn her around to be able to sit down on the toilet, you have induced a semi-confrontational position. Face-to-face and up close can feel pushy and scary. Worse you now must tug down pants while often the victim senses invasion of privacy – and it is. You’ll tug down while she wrestles the pants up in a mini-tug-of-war. Once you get them down, try to push them close to the floor and out of reach of your loved one. This prevents some of the on-going reaching to snap the pants and yank them upward. There are more struggles on the horizon so you want to solve and/or eliminate as many as you can.

When you have won the pants pushing match, it is time to coax your loved one to lower herself onto the seat.

Remember: strange place, strange events; possibly strange noises and now, with your loved one may be nervous and touch distraught, you are forced to shove her down onto a cold, hard, unfamiliar toilet seat. Maybe you have a liner down but often this placement has been the last of your worries or it has slipped into the toilet or onto the floor. At this point those with Alzheimer’s tend to buckle their knees and the rigidity adds to the seating tussle. Plead, ask kindly, try nudging gently, and never lose patience. Anger never works for the best results. With enough time and ample persistence and fortitude, you will succeed. Nine times out of ten she will now wonder what is going on and say, “I don’t have to go.” She may or may not, but as with a child, murmur, “Please try.” Although I find adult diapers humiliating, you now understand why sometimes they become fundamental apparel.

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