Bathroom modifications for people living with MS

Consider simple bathroom modifications that may help when living with MS


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Hi, I’m Tamar Kalina. I’m an occupational therapist specializing in multiple sclerosis. Some of the tips I’ll be discussing are quick-and-easy, do-it-yourself tips. Others are more useful if you’re looking to buy a new home or renovate your current home.

Bathrooms can be one of the most dangerous rooms in a home. However, there are many simple modifications that could be made. One of the first recommendations is the installation of grab bars. Grab bars can be installed in many different areas—on the tub, by the towel rack, even by the toilet—and there are proper installation guides available for installing them in each area. One of the reasons these are most important is because of the risk of falls, or preventing the risk of falls. If someone feels that they’re about to trip, fall down, or lose their balance, they’ll naturally grab onto whatever is protruding from their wall. In this case, without grab bars, someone might grab a soap dish or a towel rack, and these items are not meant to carry a person’s body weight.

In terms of the tub, it’s important to have on the inside of the tub or on the floor, decals of some sort, or a bathmat with a non-buckling surface. Here is a good example of one with a buckling surface that could cause a trip. That would not be a good bathmat—but one that’s securely placed onto the bathtub could prevent slips.

There are many different seating devices that could go inside a bathtub. There’s something called a transfer tub bench, which extends beyond the leg of the tub here, and that’s for someone who would have difficulty stepping over the leg of the tub. You would sit at the edge of the tub bench and slide across into the tub without having to step over the leg of the tub. A nice do-it-yourself project—the shower curtain, in that case, would protrude out, so it would come out over the tub bench to cover it over here. Water could spill out of the tub, and also it wouldn’t allow for privacy. However, by cutting a shower curtain into three strips, it could fit around the tub bench more securely and lead to greater privacy and less water spillage. For those who need something to sit on but could step over into the tub, there are seating devices such as shower chairs. These have rubber covers on the legs to prevent them from sliding within the tub. And they’re really beneficial for anyone who has difficulty with balance, or those who have difficulty standing for long periods of time.

When using a tub or shower bench, it’s helpful to have a handheld shower, allowing you to control the stream of water. Here’s an example of a handheld shower that you could use from a seated position, along with a long-handled sponge to reach different parts of your body when washing. A little bit more of an expensive endeavor would be to install roll-in showers that someone in a wheelchair or a scooter could roll right into without having to step over the leg of a tub.

In terms of water control, lever controls on showers are easier to use than knobs. This is not the best—these are actually hard to use, these kind of faucets—but levers are easier to lift up and use. They eliminate wrist rotation. There are knobs with high color contrast and with large words for anyone who might have a visual impairment. It may be helpful to mark the desired settings with colored stickers or bump dots to ensure you can set controls to the correct temperature.

Some tips for washing and drying: bar soap can be slippery and drop out of your hands, so soap with a pump may be easier. Also, squeeze bottles and pumps are easier to use than unscrewing the tops of bottles. Another do-it-yourself task could be securing bottles right into the wall with suction pads. Once they’re secure, they could be dispensed using only one hand if that would be helpful. Towels could be stored either on a towel rack that’s at a lower position than a standard-height one, or right on the counter.

There are certain changes that could be made to make toileting easier. One of the first recommendations would be the installation of grab bars, so one could be installed right on the side of the toilet, moving the toilet paper dispenser. However, if you notice, from a seated position, this is actually the left side, so for those who are right-hand dominant, there are grab bars that are secured to the floor, and stand-up grab bars to help with transferring. A raised toilet seat, or placing a commode with arms over a toilet, could help with transferring by reducing the distance from sitting to standing, or standing to sitting (which could be difficult for some). And for many people who have any sort of problem with decreased sensation, trunk rotation, decreased spine-motor coordination, or dexterity, there are many toileting products available to help with wiping and proper cleaning.

In terms of the sink, a lever handle would be easier than a knob handle, or a knob faucet like this, which is difficult to pull out, push in, and turn. You can make a do-it-yourself faucet to extend the stream of water. Cabinets can be removed and countertops can be lowered to allow access for someone in a wheelchair to use. However, it’s important to make sure that pipes are covered to avoid leg burns. Cabinets with sliding drawers are easier to use to access products. When it comes to light switches, push pads are much easier than switches such as these, and there are also glow-in-the-dark wall templates that could help with nighttime use.

As you can see, there are many different ways of making your bathroom safer—from different grab bar placements throughout the bathroom to different seating options in the bathtub and on the toilet—and different ways of making it more accessible through the do-it-yourself faucet, cabinetry changes, and so forth. Again, bathrooms could be inherently dangerous rooms, so it’s probably one of the most important rooms to start with certain changes or modifications.


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