Adapting one’s bathroom for use in later life requires planning and an awareness of the options. Losing flexibility, strength or balance can all lead to issues. High quality equipment is now available which improves both safety and mobility. Sustaining independence in the bathroom is important to many people and selecting the correct aids can help.
Sitting Down in the Shower
A folding shower seat fits to the walls of your wet room or shower cubicle. They are stable when in use and save space by folding back against the wall when not required. It is important to fix the seat at the correct height, so make sure you think carefully before installation. In the UK, your occupational therapist should guide you in terms of its best position.
An OT should also be able to advise you on the positioning of any bathroom grab rails. Locate these at points which complement the folding shower seat. For safety reasons, it is crucial that a qualified tradesperson installs both the seat and grab rails. They need to understand the materials of the wall and the appropriate fixings. A poorly fitted seat or rail can easily lead to a fall and serious injury.
While less stable than a fixed folding seat, freestanding shower stools and chairs are also available. If this is your choice, make sure the floor of the shower is flat enough. Many shower trays have quite deep grooves or undulations, making them unsuitable for a freestanding shower seat. Again, your OT should be able to help you.
For people who still like a soak in the bath, special bathtubs are available. Many elderly people find it hard or even dangerous to climb in and out of a normal bath. Walk-in baths have a door cut into the side. One factor against this type of bath is that they require filling while the person is already in and the door sealed shut.
For many people making a conventional bath more accessible is a more practical solution. Stable bath steps can make it easier to make the step into the bath. These have non-slip stepping surfaces, reducing the chance of slipping in the wet.
A bath seat sits within the bathtub itself. These effectively raise the height of the bath’s floor, meaning less distance of travel for the user. Most seats have suckers on their feet which stop them slipping. A grab rail fitted to the wall immediately next to the bath may provide a valuable point of support when using either bath steps or a bath seat.
Some baths are available with an integral moulded seat at one end. While these do require more installation budget, they work in the same way as temporary seats, enabling the user to sit at a raised height.
Walk-in Showers, Baths, Lifts and Hoists
For people with severe mobility restrictions or reduced strength, hoists and bath lifts are available. These are substantial pieces of equipment and physically carry you weight in and out of the bath. An OT would need to assess you for this type of equipment.
A walk-in shower is another option, if getting in and out of the bath is difficult. These have shower trays which are level or almost level to the ground, meaning there’s no step as you walk in. Suitable internal grab rails work well in combination with this type of shower.
Controlling temperature and the flow of water on or off can also become hard if you have lost strength in your hands or fingers. Conventional taps may stiffen over time and become difficult to turn. Large single lever taps provide more leverage and are a good alternative.
If you live in the UK and have a disability or chronic condition preventing you using the bath, you may be eligible to get a grant to adapt your bathroom. Contact your local social services if you think you might qualify. An OT who is fully aware of your situation would be able to advise you in this area.