Showering Independently into Old Age

Showering Independently into Old Age

When age brings mobility issues, what used to be straightforward sometimes needs a ‘re-think’.

A weakened frame, arthritis in the joints, age and some disabilities can make sitting, standing and walking feel challenging and so remaining independent may feel in the balance.

Independence includes being self-sufficient in the bathroom and, being one of the two most dangerous rooms in a house (the other is the kitchen), aids need to be identified to help the individual carry out these personal tasks independently.

Whilst accepting help with tasks other than personal hygiene feels somewhat okay, needing help with personal hygiene can cause despair, as it feels like one has lost all of their independence.

Finding aids and equipment to keep hygiene duties private really is worth looking at.

Different Shower Types

Many homes have showers over the bath but there are also free-standing shower units and wet rooms.

Depending on how much body strength an individual has, a free-standing shower or wet room may be preferred over a bath, as there is no need to climb in, a movement which could affect balance and lead to a fall.=However, standing may feel out of the question.

Finding a Shower Seat Which Works for You

A shower seat can be the perfect answer to being independent in the shower. However, one shower seat does not fit all and so knowing what helps you personally is really important. Seek professional advice from your GP or medical professional, on which type of shower seat or shower chair will meet your individual needs.

Points to Address

To get the right shower seating for you, points to take into consideration will include:-

    • - What are the dimensions of your shower base? Your shower seat should be just a little smaller than those dimensions, to allow it to rest comfortably on the shower base.

An ill-fitting seat could lead to slips and falls.

    • - What do you weigh? Some shower seats take up to only eighteen stones (115 kgs.) and others can take up to twenty eight stone (178 kgs.). For heavier weights, a bariatric (to handle weights of up to fifty stone (318 kgs.) shower seat will be needed.

If a seat is too big for you, it won’t support your lower body area and so you could slip out of the chair, or fall sideways.

    • - What is your height? Some shower seats have adjustable legs, allowing you to sit comfortably, with your bottom firmly on the seat and your feet firmly on the shower base, whilst showering. Different shower seats allow different height adjustment parameters, so make sure you check the height adjustment range when trying to choose the best shower seat for you.

It is only when your feet are firmly on the base that you will have full control of steadying yourself.

Shower Seats and Extra Support

- Enhancements to the seat itself not only make showering safer but that added comfort can make the experience more relaxing. Consider buying a shower seat which offers extra built-in safety, such as:-

    • - A Padded Seat

Shower seats can have padding, or be without padding. If you enjoy a long shower, or if you are thin and with a slight frame, the padding will make the showering experience much more comfortable.

Padding will mean more time to keep your seat clean and dry, to prevent any build-up of mould or bacteria.

    • - A Seat Back for Extra Support and Balance

If you have balance issues, or general weakness or tiredness, a seat back will give you added support and will lessen any risk of falling backwards. Resting your back against the seat back gives comfort and makes showering more pleasurable.

    • - Shower Seat Arms

Arms on your shower seat can lessen the stress of showering independently, as you can hold onto them to sit down and use them as an aid to stand up.

    • - A Wall Mounted Shower Seat

Wall mounted shower seats save the need to lift the seat in and out of the shower, a task which might not be easy for the individual who uses it.

    • - A Wall Mounted Folding Shower Seat

Some wall mounted shower seats have the added value of being able to fold up against the shower wall, so that non-disabled people can still enjoy the full shower space.

Shower Seat Durability

Knowing that shower seats regularly come into contact with water, it pays to buy a good quality seat which can withstand water damage. Look for a non-corrosive aluminium frame, as this hard material will make the seat last longer.

For individuals with heavier frames, purchasing wall mounted shower seats which also have drop down legs to take the extra weight will also have psychological value to the user.

A Dry Run of the Shower Seat and Showering

It’s a good idea to make the adjustments to the shower seat you have purchased and then to sit on it to check it out, before getting down to actual use.

Placing your shower chair in a dry shower, check that, with height adjustments made, your feet do fully touch the shower base.

Making sure that the shower seat is sturdy on the shower base, try getting in and out of it, to see how easy it is, or if your movements need slight modification to comfortably and safely sit down and stand up.

In a seated position, make sure that your toiletries in the shower are still within your reach.

Have a non-slip shower mat inside the shower, as a wet base and soap toiletries which will be present on the base can lead to slips and falls.

When actually showering, you might find that a hand-held shower head feels safer, as you can fully rinse yourself without having to change position.

Fitting a grab rail within the shower cubicle is also an additional safety measure, allowing the individual to steady their balance when showering and also when getting in and out of the shower.

Make sure a towel and a non-slip towel mat are in easy reach, for when you leave the wet area.

A Shower Seat with Wheels

A shower seat / shower chair with wheels is a useful aid to have, can also be used to move around in the bathroom and, hands-free, the individual can complete tasks such as cleaning one’s teeth and shaving from a seated position.

A shower seat with wheels will also allow easy access into a wet room for showering independently.

Some shower chairs are designed to fit round a toilet bowl and, designed with a central hole in the seat, these shower chairs can also be used for independent toileting.

A Shower Over the Bath

With the right equipment at hand, a shower over a bath can still be accessible to elderly people and people whose health needs might question independence in the bathroom.

For bathing comfort and safety, a bath board can be attached to the width of the bath, to allow for easy entry and exit.

A bath board works by bridging the width of the bath and allows the individual to sit comfortably on the board, before twisting to get one’s legs into the water. For safety, purchase a bath board which locks onto the bath itself.

A non-slip bath mat on the bath base is really important, as it can stop the user slipping when getting in or out of the water.

Grab rails within the shower area, and immediately outside the shower itself, really are a must, as these will support the individual when getting in and out of the bath area.

Supporting Overall Safety in the Bathroom

Purchasing a shower chair for elderly individuals may also make you consider any other support needs that age may bring about. One factor which may need consideration is eyesight, as presbyopia (a condition which can blur close-up vision for elderly people), cataracts and eyesight changes, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, may mean addressing lighting and colour within the home.

In the bathroom, make sure that lighting is directed towards important areas e.g. the light switch, toilet, bath and shower and that colour contrasts help make items easily identifiable.

SUMMARY

Before purchasing a shower seat or chair, make sure that you know the measurement of your shower base at home, as the seat must be slightly smaller, so as to fit comfortably on that shower base.

Your weight and height are two important factors in choosing the right shower seat for you.

Consider purchasing a shower seat with extra safety elements (seat back, armrests etc.), as these give the user extra confidence.

A shower chair for elderly individuals makes sense, as age brings general weaknesses, which can add risk to showering independently.

A shower seat with wheels can be used anywhere within the bathroom, so can provide support for the user when cleaning their teeth or shaving, with some specific designs designed to support independent toileting.

For safety in the bathroom, always make sure you do your homework before purchasing supporting special aids.

Posted in:
Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 1996 and is a well-respected professional in the field of rehabilitation equipment and living aids. She has worked in private practice and within the NHS, developing a broad experience with adults and children. Click here for Sally's registration with the Health and Care Professions Council. The HCPC regulates health, physchological and social work professionals in the UK.

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