Living With Polio
Safety in the Bathroom
Sit down for showering. Difficulty with transfers, poor balance, and fear of falling affects people’s ability to bathe safely. For those who need to access a bathtub to bathe or shower, a bathtub transfer bench which rests partly inside and partly outside the tub enables one to sit down outside the tub and gradually slide over to the inside. Some models come with a backrest, adjustable height legs, and various seat sizes and types.
As leg strength declines, it may be necessary to change from tub baths to showers. With minimal leg weakness you might get by with a little assist from a safety rail which mounts onto the bathtub with suction cups or a clamp. If getting out is still difficult, protect your safety by switching to a shower bench and a hand-held shower head. Shower benches also come with a choice of features including armrests for pushing yourself up. Portable bathtub and shower benches are available which fold down compactly for use away from home. Check that the bench you choose has rubber tips on the legs.
A flexible hand-held shower head is a necessity for directing the water where needed. Attach it to the wall where you can reach it easily while seated. Make sure that all your bath accessories are also within easy reach without standing. Bathing aids such as bath brushes and long-handled sponges greatly increase access to parts of the body without over-reaching.
Purchase liquid soaps which hook onto a faucet or make your own soap-on-a-rope. Do not use a bare bar of soap which could fall and create a slippery area on the tile. Just insert a bar of soap into a woman’s sheer knee-high stocking and make a loop with the rest of the length, then hang the loop on your wrist while holding the bar of soap in one hand. It won’t fall and create a slippery hazard.
Use hooks on the shower wall to hang bathing and safety items. Apply a self-adhesive plastic hook to the shower wall and hang the soap by the loop when not using it. You can also hang a reacher, which can be helpful for closing the shower door or picking up any items that might be dropped. Also consider a shower caddy which hooks over the shower head to keep bathing items off the floor.
Consider hanging a cordless phone or a cell phone on a shower wall where it will not get wet. When you are totally alone you’ll have your phone handy in case of an emergency or an important call.
Prevent slipping on wet floors. Place non-skid strips or a rubber mat with suction cups on the bottom of the tub or shower.
Mount grab bars on the wall inside the shower which are attached to studs. If you have a fiberglass shower you’ll need a portable grab bar which suctions onto the wall. (Caution; suction mounts are not ideal. Various methods can be used to locate studs to attach grab bar mounts. Drill a small hole and insert a screw after squirting in moderately expanding foam. Before it sets, screw in the grab bar mounts.)
If you have an over-tub shower, replace bathtub sliding doors with a shower curtain. Sliding doors don’t afford enough room for easy entry to the shower bench. (Caution: It is extremely important to replace the conventional shower rod with a stainless steel rod securely mounted. The most common thing to grab during a tub or shower slip is the shower curtain and the curtain rod itself.) Get rid of glass containers and replace them with plastic.
Low toilets may be “decorator chic” but they present problems for people with weak legs. For safety and ease, put a raised toilet seat and/or a safety frame around the toilet. Pushing yourself up with the frame is much easier than pulling yourself up with grab bars. A commode over the toilet gives you a raised seat and safety frame together. Another option is a hand rail 2-3 feet long attached to the wall which folds up when not in use. Some hand rails come with a folding floor console for added stability.
Personal bidets are helpful for personal hygiene. A portable bidet may be attached to any standard toilet bowl and improves independence for people with limited hand function or poor balance. It is electrically powered and allows the perineal area to be spray washed with warm water and dried with a current of warm air.
Turn the temperature of water heaters to low or 120 degrees to prevent accidental scalding, and always check the water temperature by hand before entering the bath or shower.
Getting dressed. For some people, the chore of getting ready in the morning can be equal to a day’s work. Bathing, dressing, shaving, hair styling, eye makeup. They may need rest periods after bathing and/or getting dressed, and have little energy left for enjoying the rest of the day. Here are some ideas to help minimize energy output in hygiene and grooming.
An alternative to a bath or shower is the use of no-rinse bathing wipes which contain a formula which cleanses, deodorizes, and moisturizes the skin. No rinsing is needed, just use and throw away.
Women have the additional effort of styling the hair and applying makeup. Consider wearing a wig, which can be obtained inexpensively through catalogs. Applying eye make-up is another energy drainer, which can be eliminated by having permanent eye makeup applied. One precaution here: Ask reliable people for referrals to people who specialize in eye makeup and are licensed to do this type of tattooing. Linda J., a 45 year old polio survivor who still works full time, estimates that she saves 20 minutes and a lot of arm fatigue by going the wig-and-permanent make-up route.
ReadyBath® products replace the numerous products needed for soap and water bathing with one, easy-to-use package of pre-moistened, pH balanced and hypoallergenic washcloths. ReadyBath® improves skin care by eliminating harsh soaps, washcloths and towels that are known to damage the skin. It contains special moisturizers that improve skin condition.