How Accessibility Plumbing for the Elderly Can Make Life Easier
In the U.S. the average life expectancy of a woman has grown to 80 years and a man to 75. People are living longer and that is both a source of joy and frustration. We all naturally do not want to lose our loved ones but time is not kind to our bodies.
Often, as we age we become weak and infirm or our minds wander off in dementia. By the time most of us reach middle age we have seen the effects of aging on someone close to us and have had to make difficult choices. Should we care for our loved one at home or should we turn that responsibility over to a permanent care facility?
Home care may seem daunting. When someone has trouble getting around and needs a strong arm or a walker to find their way, how can you make your home more livable for you and your loved one? Since the ADA law came into effect in July of 1990, comfort height water closets (toilets) with grab rails, barrier free showers with handheld shower heads and fold up seats, walk in tubs, and hands-free faucets have been created to help those who have trouble helping themselves. Knowing about your options in the world of plumbing fixtures might help you make your decision about home care versus a care facility.
A comfort height toilet that is 18″ high instead of the standard 14″ to 16″ height of a normal toilet, can make a big difference. The more our bodies weaken the less we are able to bend and for this reason the higher water closet helps make our more frequent bathroom trips less painful for us and stressful for the caregiver. Grab rails are placed around the toilet in such a way as to make the entire experience safe and as painless as possible. Properly spaced grab bars help to provide the best leverage for sitting down and rising from the fixture.
Continence generally becomes a problem with advanced age. Bidets, a stand-alone plumbing fixture, are commonly found in most parts of the world but are rare in the United States. Bidet fixtures are used after using the toilet; they conveniently provide warm water from below the toilet seat to clean up. (You can learn more about bidets by referring to my article here.) Adding a new fixture to your bathroom can be an expensive proposition but there is no need to install a separate bidet. You can have this important cleanliness feature added to your existing comfort height toilet by having the Toto Washlet installed. This toilet seat provides the features of a stand alone bidet without the expense of jackhammering up your bathroom to install new plumbing.
Our hands often become weak as we age. Installing a motion-sensing hands-free faucet such as those made by Moen solves this problem nicely. The infrared sensor detects hands as they are placed where the stream of water should be and the faucet turns on. When you withdraw your hands the water turns off. The temperature of the water is preset and no adjustment is necessary for daily use. Not only does this make washing hands easier it also protects against the possibility of scalding while cutting down on your water bill.
A handicapped shower makes daily showering much easier for the elderly and infirm. Many such units have been designed to retrofit into the same spot where a standard shower now exists. These units come with installed grab bars, handheld shower heads that attach to slide bars for convenient placement of the spray head, and fold out seats. They are also barrier-free, which means that they are wheelchair accessible. Since many of these fixtures are available in sectional, also called multipart units, they can be installed in most cases without the need for extensive demolition work; the shower is assembled in the home.
Water temperature is an important consideration. Two issues clash and make the situation confusing: hot water may scald and lukewarm water may breed bacteria. 131 degree water (fahrenheit) is considered scalding and anything below 140 degrees may breed legionnaire’s disease. The best solution is to set the water heater at 140 degrees and use one or more tempering valves to drop the hot water temperature from the heater as it travels into the house to 130 degrees. This works unless your dishwasher has no booster heater. Dishwashers require water between 134.6 degrees and 140 degrees to ensure that bacteria are killed and your dishes are disinfected. If your dishwater has a booster heater then a single tempering valve serving the whole house may do the job. Do not consider setting the temperature above 140 degrees because that can cause excessive lime and scale accumulation and bacteria again becomes a problem.
Walk in tubs are another innovation that can make caregiving much easier. These tubs allow you to walk directly into them and then sit down. There is a waterproof door on the side where you can enter at floor level. Once inside, the tub is filled and you can comfortably soak.
In summary, the combination of comfort height toilets and grab rails, bidet toilet seats, handicapped retrofit showers, hands free faucets, and walk in tubs, gives us a wide range of solutions that can help us effectively care for our loved ones when they are having difficulty in caring for themselves.
Gary R. Tanner
Owner – Town and Country Plumbing