While the shower is often thought of as a place of refuge to ready yourself for the day or to relax in the evening, seniors may not share that same mindset. The slippery surfaces of the shower or tub can make bathing difficult, not to mention the decreased mobility and flexibility that comes with age. A shower chair could be the solution.
How do you use a shower chair?
• Place the chair in the tub or shower stall
• Be sure it’s stable. Put an anti-slip mat underneath for more protection
• Remove obstructions that can topple and hurt someone or cause them to slip
• Alter the chair’s height so it can be used for both standing and sitting
• Sit in the center of the chair, never on the edge
If you’re using a shower chair for the first time, you may have some questions. What is a shower chair? Which types of shower chairs are out there and how do you choose the right one? How tall should the shower chair be anyway? In this article, we’ll answer those questions and more, so keep reading!
First – What Is A Shower Seat Or Shower Chair?
A shower chair is also sometimes referred to as a bath chair or a shower seat.
It’s a seating option designed for the elderly and those with disabilities who cannot remain standing for the duration of their shower. These chairs may also minimize the risk of shower-time slips and falls.
Shower chairs are often made of plastic with non-rusting metal arms and legs, typically aluminum.
There will be four legs in all, with feet that feature rubber caps on each. These rubber caps prevent the chair from skidding in the tub, even when the surface gets wet and slippery.
The senior sits down in the chair and bathes either on their own or with the assistance of a caretaker or an adult child.
You may also use a tub transfer bench with the senior’s shower seat, which we’ll talk about shortly.
Okay, So How Do You Shower With A Shower Chair?
In the intro, we laid out the steps an elderly person (or anyone) should take when showering with one of the above types of shower chairs. We’ll now expand on each step so you can help your senior loved one safely use their new chair (and we’ve included a video on how to use a shower chair at the end of this section).
Place The Shower Chair In The Tub Or Shower Stall
The shower chair isn’t very useful to the senior if it’s not in the bathtub or shower stall.
You’ll want to position it in there now, ensuring it’s as stable as it can be. There should be no possibility the shower chair can slide, wobble, or lean. Otherwise, you need to reposition it until it is stable.
All four rubberized feet should touch the floor of the tub or shower without the legs losing their levelness, as well.
Be Sure It’s Stable
It never hurts to be doubly safe, and so taking some extra precautions may be warranted. By adding a mat beneath the shower chair, there’s even less risk of the chair tipping and spilling the senior out onto the shower floor.
You want to make sure you choose a flat mat with slip-resistant properties. Not only is a slip-resistant mat good in that your senior can safely step on it without falling, but the mat also won’t bunch up under the shower chair if it gets wet. If it did, this would create an unwanted tripping hazard.
Is there anything in or around the tub or shower that could be dangerous?
For instance, if you have a shower caddy overhead, you may want to reposition it to the other side of the tub or shower stall. You never know if those suction cups will loosen and the whole caddy will come tumbling down.
Similarly, check the floor and the lip of the tub if you have one. From bottles to soap dishes, anything obstructive that could be in the way of you or your senior has to go.
Alter The Chair’s Height
When choosing a shower chair, look for one that has height-adjustable legs (see section below: How Do I Choose A Shower Chair?).
Before the senior bathes or showers, the shower chair should be adjusted for their height (for info on how to do this, see section below: How To Measure For A Shower Chair).
It shouldn’t be so low that it’s hard for them to get up from it, and it shouldn’t be too high that their feet can’t fully touch the floor when using the chair. The person should be able to put their feet flat on the floor if the chair is the correct height for them.
Sit In The Center Of The Chair
With your loved one is ready to bathe, the next step is helping them get into the shower chair. You can do this yourself by physically moving them or you can rely on a shower bench to help them from Point A to Point B.
Also, seniors should learn the correct way to use a shower chair. They should never sit at the edge, as they could slip right off. Instead, they should put themselves in the center of the chair and remain there until they’re done showering.
Types Of Shower Chairs
There are a variety of shower chairs designed to accommodate the elderly in different ways:
Standard Shower Chair
A standard shower chair boasts a spacious seat so the user can sit comfortably as they clean themselves.
A back support prevents slumping while keeping them comfortable.
Hand grips and rubberized feet provide stability, as well.
You can often adjust the height of a standard shower chair so it better suits yourself or a loved one (and it’s best to use a chair that does adjust).
Folding Stool Chair
A folding stool chair isn’t quite like your standard shower chair, as it lacks a backrest.
It still features four metal legs with rubberized feet. Instead of armrests, the seat–which is often made of hard plastic–has slots on either side for the user to put their hands into and grip.
The seat itself is designed in a curved style to accommodate the natural body shape of the person.
While it’s a lot simpler, a folding stool chair is also a more inexpensive option for elders who need extra help when showering.
The other perk of folding stool chairs is that, should you share a house with other family members, you can easily fold the chair and move it out of the area after the senior showers, so it’s not in the way for anyone else.
Rolling Shower Chair
If the senior in question has a history of slips and falls, both inside and outside of the shower, then you may opt for a rolling shower chair for them. Instead of rubberized feet, you get wheels made of durable rubber that can lock into place.
While it looks more like a wheelchair than a shower chair, a rolling chair provides comfort and security. This type of shower chair has
- A backrest (which is sometimes adjustable depending on the model)
- Retractable armrests (for providing extra space in which to move while bathing)
- And a cushioned seat. Often, this style of shower chair is configured to double as an over-the-toilet seating option.
Fold-Down Shower Chair
Despite its name, the fold-down shower chair isn’t designed for portability. In fact, you’re supposed to set it up in permanently in your shower.
This chair attaches via mounting to the wall. It’s less adjustable for that reason, but the senior still has back support, armrests, a spacious seat, and sometimes even two front chair legs for greater stability.
If you choose this style of shower chair, you should have a shower grab bar installed so your senior has something to grab onto as they get into the shower and sit down on shower seat. For more information, see our article, Where To Put Grab Bars In A Bathroom (And How To Install Them).
Getting back to transfer benches now, this bench goes by names such as a transfer chair or a shower bench. It’s designed for assisting the elderly into and out of their shower seat. There are two types to choose from: sliding transfer benches or non-sliding benches.
A sliding or rolling transfer bench may be easier on the senior, as the seat doesn’t require much movement to get across. With a sliding function, the senior can glide right to their shower chair. Either a sliding frame or railings keep the senior from falling off the bench.
Non-sliding transfer benches (pictured here) have four legs for stability. These also feature a backrest made for the senior’s comfort.
The senior climbs onto the bench and moves themselves across to the shower or tub via scooting.
NOTE: This type of bench requires more physical effort on the part of the senior.
How Do I Choose A Shower Chair?
If the various types of shower chairs have you stuck on which one to use, there are several factors you might mull over before making your choice. Each is important, but in deciding which ones matter most, you can find the right shower chair for your senior.
Medicare Part B may offer coverage on devices that are considered to be Durable Medical Equipment (DME), but shower chairs are not included under this classification. And, if the elderly person in your life has Medicaid instead, they still can’t get covered for a shower chair.
That means the cost is on them – or you, the adult child or caretaker – to pay for the shower chair. While most of these chairs aren’t very pricey, be aware that some can cost upwards of $50 or more.
We recommend that you research the prices of a few shower chairs you were you thinking of buying, then compare. Do remember that cheaper isn’t always better, as you do tend to get what you pay for.
Ease Of Use
Another major factor in picking the right shower chair is how easy it is to use.
If a senior struggles with getting into the chair or gripping the armrests, then what’s the point? They won’t want to use the chair, and then it doesn’t matter how much you paid.
Besides ease of use, you also have to factor comfort into your decision.
While most shower chairs are made of plastic and metal, some are undoubtedly more comfortable than others. Even if they’re not that way right off the bat, by raising armrests and adjusting the seat height, you or your senior might not mind sitting in the chair.
If your chair doesn’t have a lot of adjustment features for comfort, then it’s best to keep looking.
Like we said before, if you’re part of a busy household, then a portable shower chair is probably the most convenient option for you. With one of these, you and other family members could shower without having the chair take up half the tub.
One thing to remember with this type, though, is that you want to get one that has a back rest and at least has slots in the seat, for gripping when sitting or standing.
How To Measure For A Shower Chair
Okay,so you’ve got your shower chair all set up, but you’re still not sure what’s the optimal height for an elderly bather. That ideal height will vary depending on the size of the person using the chair, and here’s how to calculate it.
- Place the shower chair on the bathroom floor, outside of the tub or shower enclosure.
- Have the primary user (or the most frail user) sit in the shower chair, without wearing any shoes.
- Using measuring tape or a long ruler, determine the height from the floor up to the back of the senior’s knee.
- You can then raise the shower chair to that height.
- Ask the person how their feet feel. Are they supported or left to dangle? If it’s the former, then you got the height right, but if it’s the latter, remeasure and try again.
Shower chairs provide a safe, secure place for seniors to sit while bathing. There are many types of shower chairs, from foldable, portable ones to those that mount onto your shower wall.
No matter which you choose for yourself or the elderly person in your life, make sure the chair is secure. Also, show the bather the correct way to sit in the chair to prevent slips and falls.