Helping Persons with Dementia Use the Toilet Safely

Last Updated: August 30, 2018

You may find that your loved one has trouble getting to the bathroom and using the toilet as their dementia progresses. At first, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may be able to make trips to the bathroom without any problems. However, in the later stages of dementia, there may be incontinence issues (loss of control of the bladder and bowels), and the individual with dementia may require help remembering where the bathroom is, how to get to it, and even when and how to use the toilet.


Suggestions and Tips for Caregivers

Caregivers can do several things around the household to make it easier for a loved one with dementia to get to the bathroom and use the toilet. Make sure that the bathroom and the toilet are:

Easy to Reach
Make sure that there is a bathroom nearby for your loved one, especially for nighttime visits. As your loved one’s coordination, memory, and pace slow down, it is important that he or she has access to a toilet that is on the same floor as close to his or her bedroom as possible. In addition, make the pathway to the bathroom more easily accessible by making sure there is adequate lighting. Motion sensor lights can be helpful.

If it is not possible for your loved one to be near a bathroom, try placing a commode chair, chamber pot, or bedpan in his or her bedroom. These items will become essential in the later stages of dementia when he or she is not able to move from the bed as frequently.

Easy to Identify
Even if there is a bathroom nearby, your loved one might not be able to identify it. If there is a hallway or space between his or her room and the bathroom, it can be helpful to place reflective tape and nightlights to mark the pathway. Bright, contrasting colors for the bathroom door is a simple way to make sure that your loved one remembers or at least notices the bathroom. You can also label the door with a picture of a toilet and large block letters displaying TOILET or BATHROOM as an additional memory aid. It must easily be seen by your loved one, so make sure to place it in his or her line of vision. Another suggestion is to leave the door partially open so that your loved one has another way of understanding what is inside. Be aware of the location of bathroom mirrors, as you’re loved one may see their reflection in the mirror and think the bathroom is already occupied.

People with dementia can get confused when trying to find the toilet or may not remember what it is. You may find that your loved one will instead urinate or pass bowels in objects that look like toilets, such as trash cans, flowerpots, and vases. If such problems arise, try moving these items to other areas of the home so as not to create this confusion.

Easy to Use
Just as with bathing, you should make sure that your bathroom is safe and easy to use for your loved one. Especially as your loved one loses coordination, it will be important to have bathroom aids, such as elevated seats and guardrails, for the toilet to make it easier for him or her to sit down and get up safely. You can make this process easier by making sure that your loved one is dressed so that he or she can easily get clothing on and off. An example is pants with an elasticized waist rather than a zipper and button. Clothing that can easily be removed to use the bathroom also helps to prevent incontinence.


Bathroom Reminders

Part of preventing incontinence may be as simple as reminding your loved one with dementia to use the bathroom. With bladder issues, ask your loved one approximately every two to four hours if he or she needs to urinate. Also, check to ensure the individual has used the toilet, rather than becoming distracted and forgetting.


Time and Control Liquid Intake

Limiting the amount of liquids that your loved one consumes for a couple of hours before bedtime may reduce the need for nighttime trips to the bathroom. However, be careful to make sure that your loved one does not become dehydrated. Also, discourage your loved one from drinking alcohol or beverages that contain caffeine close to bedtime, as these drinks are diuretics that could increase bathroom trips in the night.