Every stroke survivor's journey is unique, but a common goal is regaining independence. One of the most personal spaces we interact with is our bathroom, particularly the toilet area. Making it safe is paramount. This article shows you some toilet modifications for stroke survivors, ensuring safety, confidence, and comfort.
Many stroke survivors struggle with getting on and off the toilet. These challenges typically are due to poor leg strength and standing balance. But the proper home modifications can help improve safety and independence with getting on and off the toilet.
Here are 6 different toilet modifications for stroke survivors at home.
Installing grab bars is a significant step toward enhancing bathroom safety. They provide the necessary support during sitting and standing, ensuring users have something sturdy to hold onto. Many of the bathrooms I assess are small and have little or no space for a walking device to help support the person. Installing grab bars helps give the survivor something to stabilize on and even bear weight through if needed to get to and from the toilet.
Types and Positioning:
Basic grab bars are mostly the same, with the biggest difference in the length of the bar. Ideally, position one bar beside the toilet and another in front, ensuring easy reach. Be sure to have the survivor simulate reaching for the grab bar before installing it to ensure it is at a good spot where they can pull up safely.
Tub transfer rails can be used as a grab bar in situations where the toilet is close to the tub. These rails clamp onto the side of the tub and are sturdy. You must check the tightness occasionally to ensure it doesn't loosen over time. But these are great ways to add a handhold in tight spaces.
I can never recommend using suction cup grab bars because they are unreliable when bearing weight. They are only suitable for stabilization when standing, and even then, their suction needs to be checked daily before using them.
When installing, ensure bars are anchored securely to wall studs. If unsure, seeking professional installation can guarantee safety.
Toilet Safety Frames:
These are portable frames placed around the toilet, offering additional support when sitting or standing from the toilet. They're especially useful if wall grab bar installations are not an option. These frames come in a few options, either bolted into the back of the toilet seat or free-standing frames that sit under the toilet. Both are useful.
When picking a frame, try to find one that is adjustable, made of corrosion-resistant materials for longevity, and has padding on the armrest for comfort.
Raised Toilet Seats:
For those with weak legs, the height of a toilet seat can make all the difference. A low seat demands more strength and balance to rise from, making transfers significantly more challenging. Raised toilet seats are thick 4-inch or taller toilet seats that replace your current toilet seat. Adding a few inches can simplify the transfer process. These seats can be attached to the existing toilet, reducing the distance one needs to move. There are more and more options for different toilet seats these days. Many now also have handles to help push up from.
High-rise toilets, also known as 'comfort height' toilets, are closer to chair height. This type of modification is like that of the raised toilet seat. It adds a few inches reducing the distance one needs to move, making it easier. The benefit to these is that the seat depth is shallow compared to the raised toilet seat, making toileting less messy.
3-in-1 commodes can be placed over the top of your toilet, acting like a high-rise toilet and a toilet safety frame. These can also be used as a bedside commode to reduce the distance needed to travel to do toileting tasks. But they should only be used this way if it is unsafe to get into the bathroom to do toileting tasks.
Not all bathrooms can fit a 3-in-1 commode, though check the distance from your shower to the vanity and compare it with the width of the 3-in-1 commode before purchasing one.
Additional Safety Features:
Many people have throw rugs in their bathroom. These should be moved out of the walkway or removed entirely to prevent tripping over them.
Well-lit spaces reduce the risk of trips and falls. Install bright, glare-free lights in the bathroom. Or better yet, install motion-activated or Google Alexa-controlled lighting.
Emergency Call Devices:
Always have a call device or your cell phone within reach. If an unfortunate event occurs, it's crucial to get help promptly.
Training and Practice:
Strength & Balance Training
Continue working towards improving the strength of your legs and standing balance through your daily exercise program. Over time, the goal is to improve the survivor's leg strength and standing balance to the point where they don't need the equipment. We can help with this through our online coaching program to help you get the right exercises for your stage of stroke recovery.
Practice Makes Perfect:
Always practice transfers with a caregiver or therapist until confident. Some bathrooms require side-stepping or specific hand placement when getting to the toilet due to being unable to bring the assistive device in. Their supervision ensures that safety and correct techniques are used.
Which One is Best?
That all depends on your situation. Some people rent and can't drill into the wall to install a grab bar or a new high-rise toilet. Some people's bathrooms don't have a good place to install a grab bar. Some people dislike the tallness of a raised toilet seat.
Ideally, installing a high-rise toilet and grab bars in front of and to the side of the toilet is likely the least invasive and optimal modification. But if you can't do that in your bathroom, then mix and match from the above.
The most important thing I recommend when mixing and matching is to increase the surface height of the toilet and add something to push up or pull up from the toilet. It will be unique to the layout and spacing in your bathroom as well as the needs of the survivor.
Bathroom safety post-stroke is non-negotiable as the toilet is a high fall-risk area. By integrating the above modifications, stroke survivors can reclaim their independence, ensuring each toilet transfer is safe and secure. Always consult professionals when unsure and prioritize safety above all.