Rub a Dub Dub, Devices for the Tub

More household accidents occur in the bathroom than in any other room in the house. Hard porcelain surfaces and soapy water make bathrooms slippery places where falling can be dangerous. Getting in and out of bathtubs is especially hazardous for older persons or persons with disabilities. Older persons may have balance problems, or weak joints or muscles, which make bathing difficult. If you need help from another person, bathing can be dangerous for both you and your caregiver. Many caregivers develop back problems from lifting a person out of a bathtub.

For people to bathe safely, the bathroom needs to be accessible. Many products exist to help make bathing easier and safer. Bathing devices can provide support in the bathtub or shower and prevent slipping and falling. In many cases, people who previously could not bathe without help from another person can bathe safely on their own with bath devices.

Considerations for Safe Bathing

When bathing in a tub, turn the cold water on first, and turn it off last. This will prevent burns from the hot water.

If you use a wheelchair or special equipment like lifts, or need help bathing from another person, make sure your bathroom is large enough to accommodate. Many older homes have small bathrooms with narrow doors. You may be able to create more space by widening the door, and changing a vanity cabinet to a wall-hung cabinet and a pedestal sink.

If you are having difficulty bathing, please consult with a professional before ordering bathing devices. A professional, such as an occupational therapist, can assess your particular needs, recommend the best devices, and teach you how to properly use the devices.

Bath Seats

Bath seats are one of the most common types of bathing devices. Bath seats are good for people who have difficulty standing in the shower or sitting on the bottom of the tub. Some people prefer them simply because a seat provides a more comfortable bathing experience.

There are a variety of types of bath seats available. Most have suction cups or rubber feet that keep the chair stable in the tub and prevent scratching of the tub surface. Some seats have hand-grips, which give support to people with balance problems. Hand-grips increase safety and make it easier to remove the seat from the tub. Since most bath seats are not permanently fixed in the tub, they are easy to remove when others want to use the bathtub normally.

Bath Stools

Because bath stools are lightweight and small, they work well in narrow tubs and can be stored easily, leaving the tub empty for others to use. Stools are practical if you are able to get in and out of the tub, but have trouble sitting on the tub floor. Because stools are backless, washing your back is easy. However, they are not suitable for people who need back support. Because of the small base, stools are not very stable. Very heavy persons should not use bath stools. Stool seats come in different shapes and styles. A round-shaped bath stool is a very common design. A horseshoe shape allows people to easily clean their intimate areas. A rectangular-shaped stool gives a wide seat surface.

Bath Chairs

Unlike stools, bath chairs have a back. Some also have arm rests or side rails. These features give you additional support, helpful for heavy persons or persons with poor back strength. However, the added back does make it more difficult to wash your back and other parts of the body. Some bath chairs have padded seats, which make bathing more relaxing. Be careful of seats covered with vinyl. Although vinyl is waterproof and durable, it can become slippery when covered with soap and water. It may not be suitable for people who have poor balance.

Reclining Bath Seats

People with more serious mobility and positioning problems may need the additional support offered by reclining bath seats. Standard bath chairs have a seat fixed at a 90 degree angle to the back. Reclining bath seats let you adjust the angle and height of the back and seat to fit your needs. Caregivers often find it easier to bathe people who use a reclining bath seat. For example, you can adjust the seat to the same height as the edge of the bathtub, which makes transfers easier.

Tub Boards

Tub boards, which rest on the side of the tub, provide a simple, lightweight, and portable seat. Tub boards are easy to remove and store, making them useful to bring along when traveling. With a tub board, you do not have to get all the way down into the tub. Transferring is also easier and can be done from a seated position. However, tub boards offer no back support, and may be unstable since they merely rest on the side of the tub.

Transfer Benches

Transfer benches can help if you find it extremely difficult to get into and out of the tub. Part of the seat on a transfer bench is outside the tub. Sit on the seat outside the tub, then hold the handrest and slide across the seat into the tub.

Bath Lifts

For people with very severe mobility problems, a bath lift is one method for transferring into the bath tub. Many lifts require help from a caregiver to operate.

Lifts are large and heavy and take up much space, so you must be sure that your bathroom can accommodate one. Many lifts also take up space in the bathtub and do not leave much leg room for the user.

Water Hydraulic Lift

Water hydraulic bath lifts operate using water pressure from the tub faucet or shower head. A person sits on a seat, either inside or outside the tub. The water pressure raises and lowers the seat in and out of the tub.

Oil Hydraulic Lift

An oil hydraulic lift is raised and lowered by a lever on an oil hydraulic cylinder attached to the frame. In this type of lift, a person is lifted out of the wheelchair using slings. The lift is then positioned over the tub and lowers the person into the water.

Mechanical Lift

Mechanical lifts operate using a hand crank to raise and lower the lift. The most common type of mechanical lift is the Hoyer lift. In a hoyer lift, the person sits on a suspended cloth sling, which rotates into and out of the tub.

Some lifts use a harness on chain that rides along a track on the bathroom ceiling. Using a remote control, the person is lowered and raised in and out of the tub.

Bath and Shower Units

Personal spas or whirlpools provide a therapeutic, comfortable and relaxing bathing atmosphere. Many come equipped with contoured seats. Many also have swing-away doors, which are useful for people who have difficulty stepping in and out of the tub.

For people unable to use a bathtub, a shower unit is an option. They have low thresholds for safe and easy entrance or exit, especially for people in wheelchairs. Most units include molded, non-slip seats or fold down seats.

Simple Tools for Easier Bathing

These simple devices can make bathing safer, easier and more comfortable. Most are inexpensive, and can be purchased in ordinary department stores.

Bath Mats and Safety Treads

Slipping in the bathroom can cause serious problems in older adults, such as broken bones or a fractured hip. Simple, inexpensive devices like bath mats and safety treads help prevent slipping and falling. They provide traction while getting in and out of or standing in the tub. Everyone should use bath mats or safety treads, but they are especially important for older persons and persons with disabilities.

Long Handled Bath Brushes and Sponges

If you have limited reach or difficulty bending, try brushes and sponges with extra-long handles. They help you get hard-to-reach places without bending. Some handles can be reshaped or bent for individual preferences.

No-rinse Soap

If you are totally unable to access the bathtub or shower, you can still stay clean using no-rinse soaps and shampoos. These products leave no residue, so no rinsing is necessary. Apply the soap with a wet wash cloth, and lightly towel-dry. No-rinse shampoos and conditioners require no water at all. Simply apply directly to the hair, lather, and wipe off.

Hand-held Shower

If you prefer to sit while showering, a hand-held shower is a necessary device. They are also helpful in the bathtub for washing certain areas, such as shampooing your hair.

Hand-held showers can be installed on the shower head, tub faucet, or on a bar at mid-level. Installing the shower at a lower level allows hands-free operation when you use a shower or bath chair.

Many hand-held showers have special features, such as massage settings, pause buttons, anti-scalding, and water flow control. Long hoses help you or a caregiver easily reach different areas of the body.

Grab Bars and Safety Rails

Many people hang on to curtain rods or soap dishes to help them keep their balance while bathing. This is a dangerous practice. Most grab bars are not mounted securely enough and cannot hold the weight of a person to sufficiently prevent a fall.

Securely mounted grab bars in strategic positions, combined with non-slip bath mats or treads, are best for fall prevention. When getting into the tub, you can grab a bar that is placed vertically over the outside of the tub. Grab bars inside the tub give support to people while standing, sitting, or transferring. For proper installation and placement of grab bars, consult a professional, such as an occupational therapist.

Further Information

If you are having difficulty bathing, please consult with a professional before ordering bathing devices. A professional, such as an occupational therapist, can assess your particular needs, recommend the best devices, and teach you how to properly use the devices.

The following companies carry a selection of bath seats. Write or call for a free catalog:

Flaghouse Rehab
150 N. MacQuesten Pkwy, Ste. 92049
Mt. Vernon, NY 10550

Dept. 2236, P.O. Box 515
Colchester, CT 06415-0515

2325 Parklawn Drive, Suite J
Waukesha, WI 53186