In Search of Charlotte’s Bathroom

Momma has had trouble for a number of years now finding the bathroom. Even the last year or so that she lived in her own home (since 1962), it was often “invisible” even though it was located right across the hall from her bedroom. She had a little better success finding the necessary-room when we moved into her senior apartment, but was still perplexed in finding it if she happened to get up on the side of the bed that was not facing her bathroom. With her back to the door, she could not see the bathroom, so it stood to reason that it just didn’t exist.

Later on, when we moved Momma in with us, our tiny half-bath became her bathroom. Even though she passed it oodles of times per day in her trek between the bedroom and kitchen, its location still eluded her. We came up with a very helpful solution by placing a sign above the bathroom door which could be read no matter whether she was seated in the kitchen at her usual spot at the table, or seated on the edge of her bed. [I wrote about that sign here.]

Momma now has a beautiful ensuite bathroom and shower combination at BeeHive, her home over the past several months. Even though her bathroom is just steps away from her bed, she oftentimes still does not “see” it. It’s understandable that she might be confused because the toilet itself is tucked away in the corner and all she can really see from her vantage point on the other side of the door is the walk-in shower and sink. So, I decided to try painting another sign that she could read from just about anywhere in her bedroom.

Wayne cut an appropriate length of board, primed it for me, then put some little hangers on it. I got out my paintbrushes and acrylic paints and had a little fun decorating a “Charlotte’s Bathroom” sign to hang over her bathroom door. I borrowed a ladder from the staff at her assisted living and hung it up for Momma just after lunch today. Mom sat on her bed watching me. As I “tap-tap-tapped” with my little pink hammer driving in the first nail, she read the sign over and over again. “Charlotte’s Bathroom.” She said it was a pretty sign, so I told her that I made it especially for her and was glad she liked it. She thanked me for making it for her and again read the sign as I reached for the second nail.

As I was pounding the second nail into the wall, Momma made me laugh when she said (with great urgency), “Now, where’s the bathroom?”

Well…I tried.

Signs Along the Alzheimer Way

Every night it’s the same question.

“Where’s my toothbrush?”

My answer is always the same.

“Your toothbrush is in the bathroom. Would you like me to get it ready for you?”

Her response is always the same.

“Yes, please, but where’s the bathroom?”

It’s especially sad because, for the most part, her world is two rooms of our house connected by a short hallway. She passes that bathroom multiple times a day, but still has to ask where it is.

Alzheimer’s makes it nearly impossible for her to store new information.

As many Alzheimer caregivers have observed, signs and labels can help. Whether it’s labels on cabinet doors and drawers, Post-It notes with names on photographs, how-to or directional signs, or little 3×5 card reminder notes on the bathroom mirror. These can be very helpful tools to help those who are memory challenged navigate their living space, especially in the earlier stages of the disease. In some cases, as with my mom, it can also help in the later stages.

There are four doors in that little hallway of Momma’s world. Doors can be very confusing to someone challenged in their ability to remember. Here’s a taste of how we tried to help bring sense and order to my mother’s world.

Door #1
Door #1 is a door leading to the basement stairway; we have a flip-lock on that door to keep her from taking an inadvertent middle of the night tumble. We also made a simple “Basement Playroom” label for the door, so she is less disturbed when her great-grandkids go down there to play.

Door #2
Door #2 leads to the attached garage. She has no need to be in there, but I created a little sign on a Post-It note that helps her identify this mystery door and satisfy her curiosity. The note on that door also tells her that her gardening tools are stored in there, as this answers one of her most often asked questions as to where all of her gardening tools are located.

Door #3
Door #3 is a storage closet with bi-fold doors which housed my brooms, vacuum cleaner, dustmops, and cleaning supplies on one half, and oversize kitchen-y stuff and cookbooks on the other half. The first half of that closet is now Momma’s clothes closet, and has been labeled “Charlotte’s Clothes”…which sometimes helps her find her stuff.

Door #4
Door #4 is the most often needed room; the bathroom we have fixed up as best we can to meet her mobility needs. To help Momma with her daily “where’s the bathroom” dilemma, I asked my wonderful friend Jo to paint a special order sign for me. She calls her business (and herself) the White Hen. Jo’s artistic specialty is painting lovely hand-lettered signs on reclaimed wood. Right now she is swamped with work painting cute signs for a growing restaurant that’s popping up all over the south. (If you ever find yourself having a delicious lunch at a Maple Street Biscuit Company, look around, you’ll see Jo’s handiwork all around you.) Busy as Jo has been, I’m grateful she took the time to bless me with this sign to place over the bathroom door.

Door #4
Whenever nature calls, Momma still asks, “Where’s the bathroom?” But, now, she’ll often look up at the sign and exclaim, “Oh, yes. There it is!”

As I’ve said before (and I’ll say again), it’s little things like this that help our loved ones find certainty in the very uncertain world of memory loss.