What is the difference? A Shower Seat is generally a stationery seat like a plastic stool or teak shower chair. Confused? A Shower Chair is best described as a mobile chair, a Shower Chair on wheels.
When we find our mobility reduced from illness, aging or an accident we come across all manner of “issues” that confront and confound our normal daily living activities. Not withstanding all other issues, our daily bathing routine is possibly the most difficult to manage in a dignified manner.
While we might suffer from some reduced mobility for a while and be able to cope using a standard shower seat and grab rails, in my experience it is best to acknowledge the difficulty we are having from an early stage and to prepare for a gradual worsening of our condition. It is far easier to manage the situation from a position of relative strength than to wait until we become critical.
Most of us live in a home or apartment; often we rent, without a handicap accessible bathroom. Great. But when we suffer from some mobility restrictions the bathroom we have been accustomed to, hinders our ability to bathe freely. Most bathrooms are not designed for the disabled.
The options are to either do a bathroom remodel or to overcome the barriers that the current bathroom has by finding a shower bench system that suits us and the room layout. A bathroom remodel is obviously the best long term option but this will cost somewhere up to $10,000 and unfortunately cannot be undertaken quickly. Most bathroom remodels will take between 7-10 days and be reasonably disruptive to the household during this time. This in itself may not necessarily be a problem, especially if you have the funds available and you have a second bathroom that you can use satisfactorily while the bathroom remodel work is undertaken. Failing this it can be problematic.
Now assuming you chose the bathroom remodel you should end up with a nice handicap accessible bathroom and wheel in shower. Just make sure you check all the design parameters with the designer to ensure the new floor gradient is designed to drain correctly to the shower drain and not out into the passageway carpet. Don’t laugh; this issue is more common than you might think. Another design step is to ensure that if not the whole room, then as large an area of the handicap accessible bathroom as possible is graded to slope to the drain. A slope of 1″ to the drain is sufficient. This will allow you plenty of room in your shower chair without water running off ‘outside the drainage sloping area’. You should also ensure that a non-slip flooring surface is installed. While granite and tile may look good these surfaces can be very slippery when wet and are best avoided.
If you do manage to do a bathroom remodel into a handicap accessible bathroom design, or perhaps you purchased a home with this already in-built then you need to choose the best mobile shower chair for you. There is a wide selection of mobile shower chairs available on the market today. My best advice is to buy a quality product, one that will offer you years of service rather than one that is cheap today but may not be the safest or best value for money over the longer term. I recommend that you select a mobile shower chair that offers you as a minimum the following features:
-Value for money, i.e. is built from durable, high strength materials such as aluminum and stainless steel. There are numerous shower chairs available constructed from steel with epoxy paint coatings. Anything constructed of steel and used in wet environments will break down and show signs of rusting over time. Rust is also a structural weakening problem on steel frames, so safety will be compromised.
-The shower chair must have safety features like all 4 castors locking, to allow safe transfers from the bed to chair. Castors should be 5″ (125mm) not smaller as smaller castors do not run as well and can make manoeuvring over thresholds etc difficult. Check that the shower chair runs smoothly without the castors wobbling.
-Caregivers and users should ‘like’ the shower chair. It must be easy to use for the carer and comfortable for the user, after all they are going to spend some time in that shower chair each day.
-By ‘liking’ the shower chair I refer to the overall impression, first impression of the shower chair by the carer and user. I personally find that too many shower chairs are hospital like in color and appearance. I would not want a black, grey, totally white or chrome chair. Some color brightens the day and removes that clinical look while still performing the same functions. An example of using color can be seen in the Showerbuddy shower chairs that contain splashes of orange color with the orange parts also generally being adjustable.
-A commode system must be incorporated and the shower chair must be able to roll over the toilet.
-The shower chair should be fully adjustable in seat height to suit the user, the footrests should fold away and be removable and be height adjustable. Armrests should be lockable when in the down position to allow the user to balance and anchor against if they need to – plus be able to be folded out of the way or removed totally if required during side transfers.
-If you chose a tilting shower chair (and I thoroughly recommend this) the tilt option should be infinitely variable from a minimum of zero degrees to 30 degrees. The tilt option is best controlled by locking struts rather than mechanical adjustment pins etc. Also, make sure that any tilt option is smooth in operation and includes a safety stop, in the event of a failure the user will only go back to the safety stop, not topple right back.
-Any shower chair with a tilt function must have a fully adjustable neck rest to support the user’s neck and head.
If you are unable to remodel your bathroom because of the cost, or because of time constraints and disruption, then you will need to consider how you can get into the shower stall (and over that threshold step) or how you can continue to get yourself over the bathtub, if you currently shower over the tub.
There are several systems to transfer you in a mobile bath chair from bed to bathroom, to then slide over the tub to have a shower. There is only one patented system available that is designed to transfer you into the shower stall. Again, my advice is to buy a quality, sturdy product because you are going to be applying all your weight and trust onto that bath chair and shower chair as it slides you over the tub or into the shower. You can refer to the web site below for some research into the types of bath chairs and shower chairs available.
For transfer systems I also recommend that you select a chair that offers you as a minimum the following features:
-All of the above features of a mobile shower chair.
-With transfer systems it is imperative that the structural design of the rolling chair base, the transfer tracks and tub base unit are of the highest specification. There are numerous systems available today that have been designed around cost, not safety of the user. The user must be safe during the transfer and some systems look and feel less than secure, having vertical leg supports without transverse or horizontal bars to stabilize the units during transfers. I don’t see these units as offering safety or security or a long term economic viability.
-The system should also have a tilt function to lift the user’s legs as they transfer / slide over the tub.
-A safe and sturdy base unit that fits into the tub, with a side stabiliser system to suit any width tub, yet easy to remove and store allowing the tub to be used by able bodied users.
-A fully height adjustable tub base unit.
-There are satisfactory non-tilting transfer systems available. The only issue being the carer has to lift the user’s legs over the tub as they slide over. Make sure that the user has a foot rest in the tub after they have been transferred. Not all systems include this feature and it can be very uncomfortable for the user without foot support in the tub.
I hope this assists those of you considering your bathroom options.