What Can Seniors Use If They Can’t Walk To The Toilet?

Occupational Therapist
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It is part of the natural aging process when some seniors experience severe mobility problems. So read further for a detailed list of toileting alternatives for seniors who can't walk to the toilet.

Seniors Use If They Can’t Walk To The Toilet
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The natural aging process, neurological disorders, physical trauma, and cognitive deficits are some of the reasons seniors may incur severe mobility problems in their lifetime.

Losing the capacity to walk independently to the bathroom means that seniors and their caregivers must seek alternative options to safely carry out toileting tasks with as much care and dignity as possible.

In this article, we will provide a helpful list of toileting alternatives for seniors with restricted mobility and the pros and cons of each option so that seniors and their caregivers can better make educated decisions regarding toileting routines.

Toileting Alternatives for Seniors with Restricted Mobility

Wheelchair

Seniors may opt to use a wheelchair to transfer from the bed (or recliner, couch, etc.) to the bathroom. Wheelchairs may include standard manual chairs or powered chairs with all the bells and whistles.

Pros: 

  • Helpful for seniors with limited mobility in the legs but who still have the core strength to sit up relatively straight and unsupported on a toilet.
  • Easy and safe option for seniors who are terrified to watch while using a walker.
  • Can be lined up well with both a bed and a toilet for ease of transfer.
  • Easy to keep clean or to line with incontinence pads.

Cons:

  • Seniors may be entirely dependent on caregivers for transfers in and out of the chair, which can be hard on the caregiver’s body and a little scary for the senior if the caregiver is not well-trained.
  • The bathroom needs to be large enough to fit the wheelchair.
  • It takes some prep work (locking the brakes, setting the armrests, removing or installing the leg rests, etc.). Sometimes this process is too long for folks with urge incontinence or loose bowel movements.
seniors use if they can’t walk to the toilet commode
A 3-in-1 commode can be wheeled for easy transfer and extra safety.

3-in-1 Commode

A 3-in-1 commode can be wheeled up to the bed for the senior to transfer to (with their pants already pulled down). Then the commode is carefully pushed over the toilet. 

Pros: 

  • It eliminates an extra transfer you would see with a wheelchair, which means the senior may not tire out as quickly.
  • Easy to clean since most are made of plastics or fiberglass material.
  • Comes with wheels and brakes for easy transfer and added safety.

Cons:

  • Some of the higher seated 3-in-1 commodes have the propensity for tipping over, especially for seniors with a heavier weight capacity.
  • The wheels don’t comfortably make it overall bathroom door thresholds.
  • The armrests are usually rigid and not removable, making it hard for seniors to transfer to and from the commode with ease. 

Bedside Commode

Bedside commodes are convenient for seniors who can’t muster the strength for any safe trip to the bathroom. When this happens, You can set up a commode right at the side of the bed, and a caregiver (or two) helps complete a single transfer over to the seat.

Pros: 

  • Eliminates the need for any trip to the bathroom, which is helpful for seniors with severely restricted mobility.
  • Beneficial for seniors who can still sit up unsupported for a time but with limited mobility in the legs.
  • All equipment is easy to sanitize.
  • Often comes with adjustable and removable armrests for ease of transfer.

Cons:

  • Having a bedside commode means a severe lack of privacy. You must make alternative efforts to help seniors maintain their dignity.
  • Since there’s no flusher on the commode, the bucket needs to be emptied manually regularly, which can be uncomfortable and gross.
  • Someone who needs a bedside commode will have obvious mobility problems, which means caregivers are at greater risk for injury if a transfer goes wrong to and from the commode. 
seniors use if they can’t walk to the toilet bedpan
Bedpans and urinals are easy to clean after use.

Bedpan or Urinal

A bedpan or urinal bottle are options for seniors who are primarily bed-bound and lack both upper body and lower body strength and stamina for functional transfers. 

Pros:

  • Both a bedpan and urinal can be easily sanitized after use.
  • Using either a bedpan or a urinal eliminates the need for transferring out of bed. The most a senior would need to do is roll from side to side for bedpan placement and removal.
  • Bedpans and urinals potentially save caregivers from injury due to less need for physical transfers to the bathroom. 

Cons:

  • Both the bedpan and urinal need to be placed in precisely the correct position, or there will be spillage.
  • Bedpans and urinals need to be dumped in the toilet and sanitized regularly, which can be uncomfortable for some caregivers.
  • You lose all privacy when it comes to bedpans and urinals. This means that the senior needs to be comfortable with the caregiver working with them and their toileting needs. 

Briefs or Disposable Diapers

Briefs or disposable diapers are usually the last resort for seniors with limited mobility because they depend completely on others for assistance with toileting tasks. 

Pros:

  • Briefs eliminate the need for all transfers in and out of bed and to the bathroom. The senior will need to be rolled side-to-side for removal and placement only.
  • Caregivers are at less risk for injury from transferring a senior to and from the toilet. 

Cons:

  • There is absolutely no privacy for the senior, which means there needs to be an established, trusting relationship with the primary caregiver to help maintain their dignity.
  • Seniors are at greater risk of developing bed sores and skin infections.
  • Changing briefs is a regular process that takes time and can be uncomfortable and gross for some caregivers. 

Summary and Final Recommendations

Mobility can be impacted by trauma, neurological disease, and age-related conditions. Seniors with severely restricted mobility have alternatives to traditional toileting when a regular trip to the bathroom is no longer a safe option.

If a senior and their caregiver are unsure where to start, consult with your primary physician and a rehabilitative specialist such as a physical or occupational therapist.

Evaluate your needs, preferences, and physical capacity before selecting the suitable toileting alternative for yourself.

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Meredith Chandler, OTR/L

Meredith has worked as an occupational therapist for 9 years and as a content writer for 6 years. She primarily works with the geriatric population, focusing on their rehabilitative needs and instructing caregivers and family members for home care. Her specialties include ADL training, neurological re-education, functional mobility training, adaptive equipment education, and wheelchair assessment and mobility training. She is a painter, a musician, and a mother of 4 who loves spending time with her family,

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