Clean living - how bathroom hygiene is still our top priority
Despite our penchant for bathroom style, hygiene remains the top priority
Did you ever walk into an unfamiliar bathroom and take fright at your own reflection? In most bathrooms, the mirror and wash basin are the first things you see when you come into the room. For people with advanced dementia, this can cause problems. They fail to recognise their own reflection and think somebody else is using the bathroom.
There has been a growing awareness of the issues of looking after aged and disabled parents of late and some manufacturers are starting to take note. If, for example, you're redesigning a bathroom and someone in the family has dementia, there are a few simple things you can do to help. One option is to do without a mirror or conceal it within a cabinet. Another is to arrange the bathroom so the mirror and wash basin aren't noticeable when you come into the room.
Instead, lay out the room so the toilet is as obvious as possible. Aesthetically, this goes against the grain. Most bathroom design models try to hide the loo. But imagine a person with dementia entering a bathroom - the sight of the toilet will remind them to use it. Ultimately, this can increase their independence.
As people grow older, their vision deteriorates and their spatial awareness decreases. It becomes more difficult for them to orientate themselves in a bathroom, especially when the sanitary ware is white. Colour can help in this context but, as people age, their perception of colour changes. Blue and green, for example, become harder to differentiate. Red is the colour people can perceive for longest.
The trouble is that nobody really wants a red bathroom. The German company Hewi has come up with a range of sanitary ware that uses contrasting colours in a subtle way. The unfortunately-named dementia wash basin has an inbuilt handle on each side, defined in ruby red. These handles can be used as supports and also as towel holders. The bowl is defined by a thin red line.
"If we can create the conditions so the user does not have the impression they are like a skier in the fog and are able to recognise the wash basin, they will more easily find their way around," says Dr Birgit Dietz, an architect who helped to design the wash basin.
The dementia wash basin can be co-ordinated with Hewi's System 800 K range of sanitary ware. In the range, a standard white bathroom is made easier to navigate with functional elements designed in colour. These include toilet seats, grab rails, soap dispensers and flush buttons (from €40), and come in ruby red, orange, apple green, or anthracite grey.
The range is part of a move away from depressingly orthopaedic-looking accessibility products. "A grab rail in the shower is never a bad plan, whatever age you are," says Tony Murphy of Tile Style. The store, which stocks the Hewi ranges, was recently announced the winner of the Best Home/Interior Store 2017 at the Retail Excellence Ireland Awards. "The majority of our customers are future-proofing their bathroom."
Jim Coffey, Chairman of Halo Tiles & Bathrooms, is a big fan of future-proofing. He has just downsized from a large family home to a former council house in Dalkey. "The house needed a lot of work so we put in two wet rooms - one upstairs and one downstairs. That means we can live downstairs if the knees give way!" Each of the bathrooms includes a rain shower. "It's easily maintained and feels wonderful when the old bones are getting a bit stiff."
He feels it's much better to future-proof the bathroom for your own old age while you are still in good health and before you have cause to need it. "Don't hang around until you're old and have to make a difficult decision. Do it when you're in your 60s so it becomes an adventure rather than a consequence of growing old."
Halo Tiles & Bathrooms has just opened a new showroom in Camolin, Co Wexford, and undertakes bathroom projects up and down the east coast of the country, offering an all-in service with most customers spending between €8,000 and €9,000, including fitting. "Future-proofing is an awkward topic to talk to people about," says Patrick Doyle of Halo Tiles & Bathrooms. "It doesn't mean you'll have to live with something that looks like a hospital bathroom."
A future-proofed bathroom usually involves a wet room or level access shower, with nothing to trip over. It may also involve an accessible toilet. "We just install a wall-hung toilet a little higher than is standard," Doyle explains. "Grab rails can be added later if they are needed." Wall-hung toilets and wash basins not only look better (nobody really loves a U-bend) but they're also easier to keep clean.
According to the recent Ireland Houzz Bathroom Trends Survey, our top functional priority is hygiene. The survey didn't deal with future-proofing - the respondents were Irish homeowners who renovated their bathrooms in 2016. Of these, 70pc prioritised a bathroom that was easy to clean and disinfect. The simplest way to do this is to bring everything up off the floor.
A bog standard toilet costs around €200, but you'll pay at least €450 for a wall-hung loo, which is not only cleaner but can be placed at any height. When people haven't grown up with these, they sometimes wonder what happens if there's a horrible blockage. Actually, it's quite straightforward - the push button plate lifts up so that a plumber can access the internal fittings. And, if you have fears of that the whole thing will collapse under your weight, the manufacturers assure us they can carry up to 63 stone.
See tilestyle.ie, halotiles.ie, houzz.ie, littlewoodsireland.ie, cuckooland.com.