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Transfer Benches And Shower Chairs

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You would think the kitchen would be the most dangerous room in the house due to knives and hot stoves, etc. Not so says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s actually the bathroom and this is particularly true for seniors.

The highest rates were for injuries that occurred in or around the tub or shower (65.8 per 100,000) and injuries that happened on or near the toilet (22.5 per 100,000)….The precipitating events in 37.3% of injuries were bathing (excluding slipping while bathing), showering, or getting out of the tub or shower.

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Many homes have shower/tub combinations where you must climb into the tub in order to shower. For seniors who are aging in place, this can create a problem.

Often, elderly people have balance issues due to medications, vertigo, dehydration, or illnesses. Additionally, weak muscles from disabilities or illness may mean that they can’t raise their leg high enough to get over the rim of a tub or stand for too long in a shower.

Tub transfer benches and shower chairs make bathing safer and easier for them.

Transfer benches generally double as shower chairs and are good for seniors who can’t climb over the rim of a tub. Shower chairs are good for those who are more mobile, but need the additional safety a chair provides.

Transfer Benches

Things to look for in a transfer bench:

  • Non-slip surface.
  • Anti-slip feet and/or suction cups to keep it from sliding on the wet tub or on the floor.
  • Be sure it can hold the weight of the person using it. Most will support 200 to 300 pounds, but bariatric models will support up to 550 pounds.
  • Drainage holes or non-absorbent material so it dries easily.
  • Back rest so the user doesn’t fall backwards during bathing (some models have adjustable backs that can be raised or lowered).
  • Adjustable legs so it can fit over the rim of the tub. TIP: Measure the height of the tub’s rim before buying a transfer bench to be sure it is lower than the maximum clearance of the underside of the chair.
  • Bench arm for security. Make sure the arm can be moved for use on either the right or left side depending on which side of the tub the faucet is on.
  • TIP: level the legs of the transfer bench while it sits in the tub, not while it sits on the bathroom floor. The inside of the tub is higher than the floor, which means the transfer bench will tip when it’s in the tub if you don’t take this into account.

We like the Giantex Shower Seat Bench in the picture above. It supports up to 300 pounds and has an adjustable back. The legs adjust up to 22.5 inches high, so it works with most tubs.

A drawback to the frame shape is that the legs flare out slightly. This is great for stability, but might be an issue if the bathroom is very small. Safety is important and you don’t want the user’s feet to get tangled up in the legs, causing them to trip.

Sliding Transfer Bench

Sliding transfer benches are great for seniors who have delicate skin or limited mobility. In these types of shower benches, the seat slides instead of the person having to do the work.

This allows the person to get over the tub rim with less effort. It also reduces the risk of skin catching and tearing as the person moves.

When my mom was struggling with her brain cancer, she lost the use of her legs. We used the transfer bench in the picture to the left to help her shower. It’s the Carousel Sliding Transfer Bench . This model is pretty top of the line, so it’s pricey. But it was worth it for us.

We could roll Mom’s wheelchair up to the transfer bench, then help her move over from the chair onto the bench. Mom didn’t have a bathtub, just a shower, so this bench was great because the seat swivels. (Note: the chair on this bench has a seat belt and the entire seat swivels. We do not recommend a model that only has a swiveling disk in the bench top).

The arm rests could be lowered while the aide helped her onto the transfer chair, then raised again for stability. Once she was on the seat, the aide buckled her in, released the seat, slid it back, then lifted Mom’s legs over the side of the tub. After that, she just pivoted the seat and Mom was ready to bathe.

Because Mom could still use her upper body, she could shower on her own. This gave her back some of her independence and made her happy at a very challenging time.

A few drawbacks you should know about:

  • the seat on this particular model is not very deep (front to back) so a larger person may not feel stable while sitting on it.
  • the release button for the slide/swivel is located on the front of the chair. This means a caregiver has to reach between the senior’s legs to use it, which will likely be embarrassing for all concerned.
  • the arms are low, so some people may have leverage problems if using the arm to push themselves up from the chair for standing or to get into a wheelchair.

Shower Chairs

A shower chair is simply that – a chair that is placed inside the shower for the safety of the bather. They are good for people who can’t stand long enough to shower or who can’t lower themselves down into a bath tub.

For the most safety, we recommend that a shower chair have:

  • a back rest for support
  • arms to aid in balancing the bather (they should be padded for comfort and to reduce the chance of wet hands slipping off them)
  • adjustable legs
  • non-slip (rubber) feet or suction cups on the feet
  • will safely hold their weight (look for a bariatric model if the senior is a larger person)

There are various models of shower chairs. Look for the style that best meets the unique needs of your senior loved one.


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