Updated 18 January 2017

Arthritis: Being comfortable and safe in the bathroom

Your bathroom can easily be converted to suit your needs if you have arthritis. The aim is to make it as safe as possible and to minimise the stress on your joints.

The average person uses the bathroom 8 - 10 times in a 24-hour period, according to Arthritis Self-Management. Unfortunately, many people with arthritis experience a loss of strength, grip and mobility – all of which can be problematic in the bathroom. 

Slips and falls in the bathroom account for an incidence rate of 30 percent in persons age 65+, and increases to 50 percent in persons age 80 and over, according to the WHO Global Report on Falls among Older Persons. But these injuries are not the only dangers that bathrooms pose.

Read: Tips on coping with arthritis

Here are some tips on using the bathroom safely from Arthritis Research UK and Healthmonitor.

-   Make sure the bathroom is well-lit and has an easy-to-reach switch. Never use the bathroom in the dark as you might not notice possible obstacles on the floor, or wet patches. Also make sure there are no shoes, clothes and electric cords on the way to the bathroom that could trip you up in the dark.
-   Non-slip surfaces are essential. Ceramic tiles, especially when wet, can be extremely slippery. Non-slip bathroom mats, and non-slip mats in the shower and the bath and in front of the toilet, are essential for all people who have even slight mobility issues. These are cheap to buy and can help to prevent sprains and fractures, which could immobilise you for weeks.
-   A raised toilet seat will make it easier to sit down on the toilet and to get up from it again. These devices raise the toilet seat by about 10cm and can usually just be clipped onto the existing toilet seat. Alternatively, you can install a higher-than-usual toilet seat.
-   Safety rails or grab bars next to the toilet can make it much easier for you to use your arms to lower yourself onto the toilet seat and up off it again. These can be wall-mounted and will give you something secure to hold onto. Toilet levers are also easier to operate than push-buttons for flushing.
-   Safety rails and grab bars next to the shower and the bath are essential.
-   A long-handled toilet paper aid can help you to wipe yourself after a bowel movement.  Weak or painful hands can make this a difficult task. Alternatively, you could install a bidet, which sprays warm water on difficult-to-reach areas that need cleaning.
-   Taps with levers are easier to open if you have pain in your hands and wrists.
-   Install a seat in the bath of the shower. It’s easier to get up off a seat than out of a bath that’s level with the floor. If standing is a problem for you, a seat in the shower could be the solution. A hand-held shower might also be easier to use.
-   A weighted shower curtain will minimise water spillage onto the bathroom floor. Wet floors in bathrooms are dangerous to all people, not just those with arthritis.
-   Clean the bath and shower after use to avoid the build-up of slippery soap or scum. A long-handled mop with an attached squeezing device will make this easy to do.
-   Use soaps and shampoos in dispenser bottles that can be operated using a flat hand. It’s simply easier than struggling with bars of soap or bottle caps that could be difficult to open.
-   Consider installing an easy-to-reach alarm button in the bathroom in case you fall or need help in any other way.
-   When buying or renting a new house or flat, single-storey homes are preferable if you suffer from joint pain. A situation that you definitely want to avoid is where the bathroom is on a different floor to your bedroom.

Read More:

Arthritis... How to choose the right furniture

Arthritis: how to keep safe in the kitchen. 


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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