Summary & Highlights
- Products that can help older adults maintain cleanliness and hygiene include pre-moistened wipes, soft cloths or washcloths, a bidet or peri-bottle, a shower sprayer or handheld shower hose, flushable wipes, disposable underpads, moist towelettes, and baby wipes.
- Reaching and toileting aids that help seniors wipe after a bowel movement include long-handled toilet tissue holders, toilet tissue wands, and bidet attachments.
Leaving things untidy after toileting can lead to skin problems, discomfort, infection, and even non-healing sores. And bathroom hygiene is an important part of toilet safety for seniors and the elderly.
Here’s how to make bathroom hygiene easier for older adults with some alternatives to toilet paper and standard wiping techniques.
Alternatives to Toilet Paper and Standard Hygiene
Traditional toilet paper can be rough on the skin and difficult to manage for seniors with poor dexterity. However, toileting hygiene must still get done somehow.
Here are a few ways to keep up with toileting hygiene without toilet paper:
Pre-moistened wipes (sometimes called “wet wipes”) are an alternative to toilet paper that is gaining popularity.
They are pre-moistened with a gentle cleanser and offer a few advantages, such as being softer and more pleasant to use than traditional toilet paper.
They are also more hygienic, keeping the skin clean and free of bacteria.
However, there are a few drawbacks as well. Pre-moistened wipes are more expensive than traditional toilet paper and are difficult to dispose of.
Most wipes are not biodegradable and should never be flushed down the toilet. Even “flushable wipes” can cause clogs in the plumbing or end up in the environment. Dispose of them in the trash instead.
Portable Travel Bidet or Peri-Bottles
A portable travel bidet is a device that uses water to clean up after toileting. They are more common in countries where toilet paper is not available. Portable travel bidets are small and easy to carry, making them perfect for travel or everyday use.
Portable bidets are much more hygienic than toilet paper because they thoroughly clean the area, which helps prevent infection and irritation. The squirting sensation is more comfortable than rubbing a wipe – especially for sensitive skin.
However, there are some drawbacks to using a portable travel bidet.
First, they require fresh water, so it may not be practical if you travel to a remote location, but they are an excellent option for home use. Some skill is also needed to use them properly, so it may take a few tries to get the job done.
A peri-bottle is a squirt-bottle device that applies water directly to sensitive areas after using the restroom. It is also portable but more straightforward than a portable travel bidet. However, it is smaller and may need to be filled multiple times to provide a thorough cleansing.
Get a Bidet or Bidet Attachment
Bidets are generally more hygienic than toilet paper because they can reach all body parts and help reduce skin irritation and infection.
The main advantage of a bidet is that it helps to reduce the amount of toilet paper used – sometoilet paper may still be needed for drying.
This is both better for the environment and can help to save money. Bidets are often more comfortable than toilet paper and reduce the risk of chafing, rashes, and other skin irritations.
A bidet costs about $500, and installation requires a separate connection to a plumbing system and plumber too!
Adding a bidet attachment to an existing toilet is a relatively straightforward process.
Most attachments are designed to work with any standard toilet and are connected to the existing toilet water supply.
After minimal installation, most bidet attachments are controlled with a simple push button. This makes them convenient and easy to use.
Showering After Toileting With a Handheld Shower Head
For several reasons, showering after toileting with a handheld shower head is an excellent alternative to toilet paper.
First, a shower is more hygienic and prevents the spread of germs because it uses water to thoroughly cleanse and remove residual waste. Many have adjustable spray patterns on them to get just the right amount of pressure.
Additionally, it is more environmentally friendly than using toilet paper, and it eliminates the need to buy and store large quantities of toilet paper.
The main drawback of using a handheld shower head is that you have to get into the shower to use it, which requires multiple steps. Using the shower head is tricky and may require some practice, too.
Soft Cloths or Washcloths
Soft washcloths are another alternative but wet the cloths first – do not use them dry. The cloth can be washed in a washing machine with hot water and laundry detergent.
The advantage of using a soft washcloth as an alternative to toilet paper is that it provides a more thorough cleaning without using chemicals.
The drawback is that cleaning up after using the toilet requires more effort and time, and you must launder the cloths frequently, if not daily.
You’ll need an airtight, odor-free place to store the dirty ones between launderings.
Toilet Tissue Wands With Long Handles
Toilet tissue wands with long handles assist elderly people with personal hygiene by allowing the user to reach between the legs and wipe themselves without bending over. This is especially helpful for those with limited mobility when bending over is difficult and uncomfortable.
A toilet tissue wand helps older adults maintain their independence and dignity by allowing them to clean themselves without assistance. It also reduces the risk of straining or injuring their back or neck from having to bend over.
The drawback, though, is there is a learning curve to using one properly. Reaching certain areas is difficult, and the tool becomes uncomfortable to hold for extended periods.
Some people with arthritis or limited mobility find the wand challenging to use effectively.
Disposable underpads are an alternative to the toilet for people with limited mobility.
These absorbent, waterproof pads have an adhesive backing placed underneath the person to provide a barrier. Disposable underpads are convenient, easy to use, and cost-effective.
They are an excellent tool for quickly dealing with and cleaning urinary and fecal incontinence and can help reduce odors.
However, there are some drawbacks to using disposable underpads.
The main disadvantage of disposable underpads is that they need the assistance of a second person. But, they are also noisy and tend to move and shift around, making them less effective potentially.
They aren’t a good long-term solution and should be replaced regularly. Some disposable underpads are not eco-friendly and may contain chemicals or plastics that harm the environment and sensitive skin.
Reasons Elderly People May Struggle With Bathroom Hygiene
Elsa is a 67-year-old woman who recently underwent total shoulder surgery on her right arm. Unfortunately, she is right-handed in every sense of the word. She also has multiple sclerosis, which compromises her standing balance.
So, while she’s in her bathroom at home, she religiously keeps her left hand on the grab bar while using her right hand to manage her toileting hygiene. Now that her right arm is in a sling for the next six weeks, she’s at a loss for how she will manage on her own.
Sound familiar to some? Here are a few other reasons that seniors and elderly folks may struggle with completing toileting hygiene practices, including wiping after bowel movements:
- Obesity or a large pannus, making it difficult to reach or see
- Limited range in the spine, or lack of twisting and turning
- Shoulder injuries or surgery
- Little fine motor coordination or grip of the fingers and hands
- Limited sensation or dexterity
- Limited cognition, attention, judgment, or awareness
- Lack of standing strength or stamina to complete the wiping routine
How to Make Bathroom Hygiene Easier for Older Adults
If the usual methods of toileting hygiene are more of an impediment than a help, it’s time to think outside the box and incorporate alternative techniques to get the job done.
Here are a few ways to make that happen:
- Use one of the toilet aids above: Toilet aids are pieces of adaptive equipment with long handles that can hold pieces of wipes or toilet paper for wiping purposes. This helps seniors who struggle with reaching around effectively.
- Provide a place to hold on: Use toilet grab bars, raised toilet seats with handles, or toilet safety frames to give the person a secure place to hold onto while performing their hygiene tasks.
- Get comfortable: If this is generally a lengthy process, use a padded toilet seat that prevents soreness and numb extremities.
- Switch the grab bars around: If your situation is similar to Elsa’s, find a way to provide support on the other side of the body (i.e., switching the toilet grab bar to the other wall).
- Allow the senior to sit: Even though many people are taught to stand during toileting hygiene, allow a senior to sit and complete it while on the toilet to save muscle strength and stamina.
- Torso binder: Find an orthopedic corset or pannus binder for an overweight senior to wear during toileting to bind the belly, so it’s easier to see and reach over the gut.
- Take your time: This job is best not rushed, so don’t push yourself or your loved one to be faster or set a time limit.
- Sometimes a shower is easier: Often, just getting in the shower is easier than contorting yourself at the toilet. You are in the bathroom anyway and usually get the job done more efficiently with water.
- Check your diet. A diet rich in fiber with proper hydration results in softer bowel movements which are easier to clean up!
Infographic: Easier Toileting Hygiene for Older Adults
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Summary and Final Recommendations
Toileting hygiene tasks can become tricky to complete as we age, significantly if health-related issues impact our ability to reach and grasp.
Inadequate toileting hygiene, especially after bowel movements, can lead to skin irritation and infection. Consult your primary physician or a rehabilitative specialist, such as an occupational therapist, to discuss your toileting hygiene options.
Research and trial-run toileting hygiene adaptive equipment to see if there is a right fit for you so that you can complete toileting hygiene tasks safely and efficiently at home.