How to help a loved one maintain bathroom independence during physical – Showerbuddy

How to help a loved one maintain bathroom independence during physical rehab

How to help a loved one maintain bathroom independence during physical rehab

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Supporting someone you love to get through a lengthy physical recovery is far from easy. Many families, parents, partners and friends sacrifice and dedicate their time to making daily life a bit easier for that person. In talking with our mobility impaired community, one recurring theme we hear from families and friends is just how much they want to empower their loved one to regain independence in the bathroom.
No matter how accommodating a family member might be, there’s no replacement for feeling in control of what is a private moment in the day – bathing or using the toilet.
In this article, we offer some insights into what we’ve seen occupational therapists and families do to make their loved one feel like they’ve got at least some decision making and control over their bathroom use.

1 – Listen to what they want

The most important thing you can do as a trusted friend or family member is to keep listening to your loved one.
Recovering from a serious injury affects our physical and mental wellbeing. Having to deal with pain and being incapacitated is a tremendous burden to carry. If decisions start being made around them, where they are capable and willing to decide for themselves, the feelings of loss of control can grow.


No matter the degree of mobility impairment, your loved one deserves to have input into how they use the bathroom each day. While the occupational therapist will provide the guidelines and plan based on what’s possible, there are many finer details that can be left up to the individual – do they take their own shirt off or does someone else? Do they face towards or away from the shower head? The elements of bathroom use that can be left up to them will depend on their injury and mobility level. The idea is that you are enabling them to voice their wishes or concerns and making plans accordingly.

2. Make use of equipment to allow self bathing if possible

Self bathing is such a big deal for someone who has to rely on others for parts of their bathroom routine. Not only is this process very tactile and personal, it’s actually quite possible for individuals with upper body control and strength to conduct themselves.
We provide equipment to thousands of users who harness the body positioning support of a shower chair to allow them to shower themselves just as anyone else would.
Relying on a piece of equipment over another person takes the load off the support person as well as creates more opportunity for the mobility impaired individual to feel in control of their bathing activities. While some injuries may start out requiring more carer input, rehabilitation and recovery can start to allow more autonomy to be introduced into the routine. Equipment like a shower transfer chair is just one example, although in your situation it could be the inclusion of grab bars or a bench.

3. Create moments of alone time in the bathroom

Even if your loved one does need you or a professional home carer to get through the day, an OT will no doubt be able to identify tasks that can be carried out alone.

The bathroom is the last place any of us want company when we’re going about our routine, so even small breaks from a carer can improve the experience for someone going through injury rehabilitation. What these moments are depends entirely on your loved ones own care plan and OT or PT’s direction. Some of the following may not be applicable, but some common examples are:

  • Your loved one is left to use the toilet in between preparing and cleaning up.
  • They have the upper body strength and control to bathe themselves without help once inside the shower.
  • Brushing teeth.
  • Drying off their top half.
  • Relaxing in the shower, even if not actively cleaning themselves.
  • Brushing or styling hair.

Always make sure that any change to a bathroom routine is made with the help of your Occupational Therapist. They’ll be able to keep everyone safe and will provide alternative suggestions if it’s not yet safe to leave your loved one alone to conduct bathroom activities.

4. Introduce more independence during stages of recovery

Putting the control back in your loved one’s hands doesn’t need to be a sudden, jarring change of plan.
As rehabilitation is undertaken and mobility improves, there will be key movements that enable more independence and decision making for your loved one. Through the course of a rehabilitation process, the physical therapist may have some key movements they’re working on building up. Some bathroom activities will be good times to practice this – just speak with the PT and get some tips on how the introduction of added capability can be lined up with bathroom activities.

5. Stick to rehabilitation plans

Independence in the bathroom comes from the plan an injured person’s occupational or physical therapist puts together.
These plans are specifically designed to make progress without putting undue stress or pressure on their client. If you or your loved one goes off the set plan, this could inadvertently set back any milestones of personal independence.


Improvements are usually made in small amounts across longer periods. Prioritise the therapist’s rehabilitation plan, and make sure they know what bathroom independence is most important to your loved one.

Further reading on the topic

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, you can find useful information via the following resources:

The information in this article is intended as general information only and is not a replacement for official health guidance by your local medical providers. Please always consult an occupational therapist and/or local healthcare for more specific guidance.