Serving as a caregiver to an elderly loved one can often mean taking on tasks that may make you somewhat uncomfortable — including helping your loved one with “bathroom issues.” Many seniors have difficulties with toileting as they get older, for any number of reasons. This is a sensitive and delicate topic, and can be a tricky one to address for caregivers and seniors alike.
For caregivers, there may be some initial discomfort with helping seniors deal with such intimate concerns. For seniors, bathroom-related challenges can be embarrassing to deal with, and difficult to talk about. Many seniors may also be reluctant to bring up their concerns with using the bathroom out of a fear that they will no longer be able to live independently or continue aging in place once people know about their challenges.
If a senior in your life is having troubles in the bathroom, it’s important to know that this is incredibly common, and there are many steps you can take to help — while respecting your loved one’s privacy, making them feel comfortable, and preserving your own boundaries as a family caregiver.
What Bathroom Issues Might Seniors Face At Home?
As we get older, it can be harder to keep up with some of the routine activities of daily living (ADLs) that we once took for granted, including using the restroom. Seniors may face bathroom challenges due to natural changes that come with aging, like frailty or a loss of some mobility. For others, medication side effects can cause issues with going to the bathroom, as can lifestyle factors like diet and exercise.
Some of the common toileting challenges that seniors face include:
According to geriatrician Leslie Kernisan, MD MPH, it is estimated that more than 65% of people over age 65 experience constipation, which can be caused by any number of factors, including poor diet, lack of exercise, effects of medication, or an underlying medical condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Most commonly, constipation includes symptoms such as straining during bowel movements and fewer than three bowel movements per week. As Dr. Kernisan points out, beyond discomfort, constipation can lead to other challenges, including abdominal pain, hemorrhoids, and stress — which can manifest as irritability, agitation, aggression, or even delirium.
Urinary incontinence refers to a lack of bladder control; some seniors may also deal with fecal incontinence, which is the inability to control bowel movements. This can make it difficult to get to the bathroom in time, and can lead to accidents.
Slipping and Falling
Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall. One out of every four Americans 65 and older experiences a fall each year, and research suggests that up to 80% of household falls may occur in the bathroom. For older adults, a fear of falling can make the prospect of going to the bathroom seem daunting.
Over time, many older adults lose a little bit of flexibility and strength, which can make it harder to complete routine ADLs, like walking to the bathroom, sitting and standing from the toilet, and cleaning up.
Facing Challenges In the Bathroom: What Family Caregivers Can Do to Help
As a loving family member to an aging adult, it can be frustrating and scary to watch your loved one struggle with bathroom issues. It can also be intimidating to have to help a senior loved one with deeply personal activities like grooming, bathing, and toileting, especially if you’ve never done so before.
So, how can you be there to help — while keeping things discreet, showing respect to your loved one’s needs, and still maintaining a healthy relationship with the senior in your life?
Ultimately, it all comes down to taking some simple actions that will benefit your senior loved one based on their needs, and your own preferences as a family caregiver. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
Make the Bathroom Easier to Use
Studies have suggested that as many as 30–50% of falls are due to environmental causes in a senior’s home. If your loved one has trouble using the bathroom, or is paralyzed with fear of suffering a slip or fall, you can take some simple actions to make their bathroom safer. You can help make a bathroom more senior-friendly by installing new lighting, adding non-slip floor mats, installing a raised toilet seat, adding grab bars and handles, and installing an alert button near the toilet.
Be on the Lookout for Yellow Flags
Talking about going to the bathroom can be uncomfortable, even in the best of circumstances. As a result, it may be too much to expect that your senior loved ones will be upfront and share their concerns with you directly. Instead, it may fall to you to keep an eye on them, and look out for warning signs that they may need extra assistance. Be proactive about helping to monitor your loved one’s medications (including supplements and over-the-counter drugs); watch out for signs of limited mobility, discomfort, or pain; and be on the lookout for common symptoms of incontinence and constipation.
Be Open, Honest, and Compassionate
If you need to talk about bathroom issues with your loved one, remember to be patient and empathetic if you meet resistance. Try to see things from your loved one’s point of view, and come ready to the discussion with solutions to try, ideas to explore, or a timeline that can help the two of you move forward. Keep things light, and remind your loved one that all of your concerns are coming from a place of love. This is about helping the senior to live independently and remain at home, not taking any of their freedoms away.
At the same time, remember to give yourself grace as a caregiver. Remember that it may take time to adjust to finding a process that works for you and your loved one. Be patient with yourself, cut yourself some slack when things go wrong, and don’t be afraid to look for moments to connect with humor or stories. Finally, remember that there is no shame or guilt in asking for help. In fact, it’s one of the strongest things you can do, and one of the best ways to make sure your loved one gets the care they deserve, while preserving your own peace of mind.
Work With a Medical Professional to Help Find a Solution
If your loved one has medical issues that need to be addressed, encourage them to get help from their healthcare team. This might include one or more specialists as needed, such as a urologist or a gastroenterologist. Whether your loved one is dealing with a form of incontinence, constipation, or digestive issues, a doctor can help identify the source of your loved one’s troubles and work toward finding solutions that may help, like changing up their diet, making lifestyle adjustments, or prescribing a new medication.
Get Help from a Senior Companion or Caregiver
A senior loved one who needs consistent help with using the bathroom can be a lot to deal with alone — especially for busy “Sandwich Generation” caregivers who may have work and kids of their own to manage every day.
For seniors who need a hand to live independently, including using the bathroom and handling other ADLs, a professional caregiver may be able to help.
Non-medical home care — also known as companion care and respite care — can help give your loved one the support they need to live life to the fullest.
Available on a flexible schedule that suits your needs, as well as your senior loved one’s, a companion can provide hands-on help with ADLs — from lending a supportive arm to seniors as they sit or stand, to assisting with personal matters like bathing, grooming, using the restroom, and dressing. A companion can also provide assistance with housekeeping, laundry, and meal preparation, to help minimize the risks to seniors while still encouraging their independence.
With a companion assisting your loved one on a regular schedule, you can be sure that they’ll always have a helpful and supportive presence in their life, even when you can’t be there in person. This can be a flexible and effective way to make using the bathroom safer and more comfortable for seniors, while protecting their privacy and giving you back some time and space as a family caregiver.
We Are Here to Help
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.
Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one remain in the comfort and safety of their own home. Companions are available for full-time or part-time care, and can help your senior loved one keep up with grooming, bathing, running errands, attending appointments, cooking meals, doing housework, and so much more.
Have any more questions? Interested in seeing what sets our home care services apart? Give us a call at 866-910-9020 or get in touch online today to get the conversation started.