Ask the Expert: Mom Is Throwing Things in the Toilet

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Question:

My mother has Alzheimer’s and is throwing things in the toilet, causing a lot of plumber bills. It there an insert that can be put under the toilet seat, like a potty chair insert?

–KA

Answer:

Dear KA,
 
One approach to decreasing this behavior is to try to prevent it from happening.  If you haven’t already done so, try to find out why your mother might be throwing things into the toilet.  If she is restless or bored, perhaps it would help to occupy her hands with less destructive activities, such as going through a rummaging box or assembling a puzzle.  If she is trying to dispose of certain items that are causing her distress, removing those items from her surroundings might help.  Perhaps there is a pattern to the items that she is throwing into the toilet based on memories, color, or shape, which she finds distressing.  If she simply enjoys putting things into water or watching things swirl around, you might consider getting her some water toys or a toy fountain (or even a pet drinking fountain) that she can throw things into as a substitute for the toilet. 
 
Here are a few options to curb this frustrating behavior if she continues to throw things into the toilet:

1. Consider placing toilet lid locks on all of the toilets.  Toilet locks come in a variety of designs and can be found at most suppliers of child safety items and online.  Some toilet locks require pressing buttons to unlock while others are simple latch systems.  Depending on your mother’s abilities, some of these locks may be able to prevent your mother from opening the toilet seat.
 
2. Cover the toilet bowl so that items cannot be dropped into it.  A very simple way to do this is to cover the opening with a clear plastic wrap, such as Saran or Reynolds Wrap.  You can apply a piece of plastic wrap directly over the opening of the toilet bowl and, if necessary, tape down the edges to the bowl to secure it more firmly.  Whether this approach is effective or not will partly depend upon whether your mother has the ability to remove the plastic wrap. 
 
3. Use specimen catchers that are inserted into the toilet bowl. These specimen catchers are usually containers with wide lips that fit over the opening of the toilet bowel to collect a person’s urine. They cover most of the toilet bowl opening but are fairly easy to remove, so securing them to the bowl with tape might make it more difficult for your mother to remove. You may be able to find such specimen catchers at a medical supply store. 
 
4. Place a lock on the outside of the bathroom door to prevent your mother from accessing the bathroom without supervision.  Depending on your mother’s abilities, a deadbolt or a key lock might be an option.

What’s next? Find more tips for using communication to manage difficult behaviors.

Join our Facebook group where caregivers and family can discuss the challenges and joys of caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Dr. Mindy Kim-Miller is a trained medical physician who provides useful, but general answers to questions provided by online visitors. While Dr. Mindy cannot provide specific medical advice or services, we hope you find her responses useful in your personal education. All information is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect you have an illness or disease, or a health related condition of any kind, seek professional medical care with an appropriate health care professional immediately. Do not postpone or delay seeking treatment or disregard professional advice based upon the general answers provided by Dr. Mindy. Dr. Mindy’s advice is not intended to substitute for a visit to your personal physician or other qualified health provider. Any specific medical concerns or questions you may have should be directed to your personal physician or other qualified health provider.

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