Many people take a bath or shower everyday with no issue. But for older adults, it can be one of the most dangerous places in the home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the bathroom is where the majority of slips and falls occur.
The good news is that protecting you or a loved one from bathroom falls doesn’t require an expensive, complicated fix. If you or a loved one can’t stand up in the shower due to an injury, disability or age, one of the first items to consider for improved bathroom safety is a shower chair or shower seat.
“Shower chairs are useful for many reasons, such as preventing falls to conserving energy,” said Mayra Mendez-Schiaffino, an occupational therapist and rehabilitation supervisor for Banner Home Care & Hospice. “Shower chairs help to provide a way for individuals to continue being involved in their self-care routines without having to stand in the shower.”
So many chairs, so overwhelming
With a quick Google search for “shower chairs,” you may be surprised to learn there are various different shower seats available to suit lots of different needs. Whether you’re looking for a chair with a built-in back and arms for additional support or a seat fixed to the wall to save space, the choices can be a bit dizzying.
With the help of Mendez-Schiaffino, scroll through our concise guide to help make an informed decision and ensure you shower safely.
Free-standing shower chair
These chairs look similar to a standard chair in that they have four legs, but the legs of the chair often come with non-slip rubber feet, so they rest securely in tubs and showers. They also have the option for a backrest and armrests.
“I usually recommend the ones with a back and arm rests because it provides more control and sturdiness during sitting and standing motions,” Mendez-Schiaffino said.
Most of these chairs can support up to 300 pounds, but there are also bariatric shower chairs available for those who need extra support.
Rotating or swivel shower chair
The seat rotating shower chairs allow for quick and comfortable pivoting. For example, this can be helpful for those who’ve recently had hip surgery and can’t bend, twist or overreach at hip level.
Transfer benches are a type of over-the-tub chair made for people with serious mobility limitations, such as those with one-sided weakness where they need one arm rest on one side. The most common reason to use a transfer bench is for those whose bathrooms only have a shower bathtub combination and are unable to bring their legs over the tub to sit on it.
“With this option, you can sit first and then slowly swing your legs over—usually one leg at a time, depending on your pain or tolerance level,” Mendez-Schiaffino said.
Some transfer benches do have a sliding feature for those who may not have upper body strength to scoot themselves over.
Tilt-in-space rolling shower chair
A rolling shower chair resembles a typical wheelchair but is meant for shower use. The tilt-in-space chair provides stable and secure support for those with weak legs, low stamina and/or poor balance, who are not able to sit up straight or who require more support and assistance with bathing. These do require a full walk-in shower for the chair to be rolled into.
“Some tilt-in-space chairs have an option with a neck support, which can be helpful for those who are strictly bed bound and using these can help relieve pressure from the buttocks area in order to prevent pressure sores,” Mendez-Schiaffino said.
Features to consider when buying a shower chair
As you can tell there are many different options and variations to choose from. If you have a disability or specific diagnosis, Mendez-Schiaffino suggested getting a formal occupational therapy home evaluation so you can get the best recommendation according to your unique needs.
“A full assessment of the environment where the individual lives is also vital in determining appropriate equipment as some may not even fit depending on the bathroom setup,” she said. “You want to be sure the chair is always 100% flat on the ground.”
Here are some additional features to look for in a shower chair.
If you require ample support, select a shower chair that is adjustable by height and/or has an adjustable backrest or arms. When you sit in the chair, you want to make sure your feet touch the floor and don’t dangle above.
If you’re only needing a chair for a few months after a recent surgery, a low-cost standard shower chair will work, because you’ll more than likely resume being fully independent in a matter of months. For this situation, plastic shower chairs are the most affordable.
However, if you require a shower chair for years to come, you’d benefit most from a more detailed and durable chair, such as those made out of aluminum. Some freestanding chairs or benches are also constructed with treated, water-resistant wood.
Prices for shower chairs range from $50 up to $5,000 depending on the durability, specs, accessories, where you live, etc.
Unfortunately, not all shower chairs are covered by insurance. “In home health, you may be better off buying one yourself, borrowing equipment from an acquaintance or requesting a rental from a local nonprofit organization,” Mendez-Schiaffino said. “Shower chairs can also be paid for with your health savings account or flexible spending account.”
Other accessibility options
“It’s also important to mention that considering a shower chair is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to addressing accessibility options in the bathroom,” Mendez-Schiaffino said. “Typically, individuals could also benefit from additional items to prevent falls.”
These may include:
- Grab bars or grab rails: These are great if you want to continue bathing independently but need something to hold to stay safe and steady yourself on your feet. These can be placed anywhere in your bathroom—next to the shower or the toilet.
- Removable shower head: Hand-held shower heads are handy if you need assistance with bathing. You can reach all the right places on your body without having to move around too much.
- Non-slip mats: Slip-proof bathmats on the floor and in the tub or shower can reduce your risk for slipping and falling.
- Higher toilet: Most toilets are too low to the ground, which can be difficult for some older adults and those with certain medical conditions or health issues. You may benefit from an elevated toilet seat, grab bars or potentially a rolling shower chair that fits over the toilet.
“The biggest takeaway is that you seek professional advice prior to purchasing or obtaining any type of durable medical equipment on your own,” Mendez-Schiaffino said. “Occupational therapists can look at the whole picture and help prevent extra, unnecessary costs and potential injuries.”
Improve your quality of life with a shower chair
Buying a shower chair doesn’t mean you’re throwing in the towel or that your independence is gone. Purchasing a shower chair and additional safety items ensure you or a loved one remains strongly independent and safe in the peace and quiet of the bathroom and home.