Bathrooms can be tricky for folks with limited mobility. They're often a bit on the small side, and they tend to have more accessories per square foot than any other room in the house. Many of us never think about our own bodies presenting challenges to our comfort, but sooner or later, those days come naturally.
Bathtubs pose particular challenges to safety and access. Some folks need help getting their legs over the side, and may need assistance to maintain balance or to sit down and to get back up.
As your abilities change and your safety needs evolve, it makes sense to change your bathroom to keep you comfortable. Here are some possibilities to consider.
1. Walk-In Bathtubs
If you strongly prefer a bathtub over a shower and you have the means to get one—perhaps through an insurance claim, workman’s compensation, or government grant—your might consider installing a walk-in bathtub.
These baths have doors that seal when locked to prevent leaks. They're often equipped with temperature controls, water jets for muscles treatment, and handheld washing wands. These accessories might even feature shampoo or disinfectant dispensers with special pumps. The controls are often easy to operate dial-type knobs.
Walk-in bathtubs usually cost from $5,000 with no options up to over $15,000 to $20,000 for more elaborate models.
2. Transfer Boards
Transfer boards come in a variety of materials, shapes, and sizes. They're designed to help wheelchair users get into and out of bathtubs, chairs, and beds. They essentially act as a bridge between a wheelchair and a destination, allowing the seated person to scooch from one side to the other.
Many folks who use transfer boards do so with the support of a caregiver, but some folks become proficient in using them alone. The main guide to this decision should be your safety.
You can pick up a simple transfer board for around $50 to $100.
3. Transfer Benches
Transfer benches are basically bathtub seats with one end sitting inside the tub by the far wall and the other end passing over the side with its legs (adjusted longer) resting on the bathroom floor. Some benches have a fixed seat back, others are more like simple shelves.
To use a transfer bench, lift one leg over the side and into the tub, then slide yourself over the side to the point where you can lift your other leg over the tub to shift yourself into place.
Some benches have a sliding seat that operates pretty much the same way but makes it easier to move over. Prices range from just over $100 up to past well over $500 for more elaborate models with swivel seats.
4. Bath and Shower Seats
The bathtub seat is a plastic and aluminum construction that sits completely inside the bathtub or shower. This can be a good solution if you suffer from milder forms of sore legs and backache for instance but can still climb over the side of the tub on your own. You can buy these for around $45 to $200.
5. Electric Bath Lift Chairs
Commonly called bath lifts, these devices sit on suction cups at the bottom of the tub and work on a scissor lift mechanism that can collapse on itself to bring the user in a sitting position. Figures 1 and 2 show a bath lift in the up and down positions.
Bath lifts use a battery-operated motor activated by remote control to move up and down. These bath lifts have a capacity of 250 to 300 lbs (115 to 135 kgs), and sell for between $750 and $1,500.
Note—These lifts may not be adequate for wider bathtubs, as the side wing has to extend over the side of the tub for the user’s transfer.
6. Hydraulic Bath Lifts
They're not as common as they once were, but you may still come across one of these units operating on hydraulic power from the bathtub’s water to lift the seat with the user sitting in it. They're designed to lift the user over the side and then lower the seat into the tub water.
7. Bathtub Non-Slip Strips & Stickers
Falls are no joke at any age, so it's always a good idea to make the slippery bottom of a bathtub or shower more secure with non-slip stickers. You can have a bathtub chair or grab bars everywhere, but if your feet are on the wet and slippery surface, you’re at great risk of falling.
These non-slip accessories are readily available as animal, flower, or other shapes of cutouts with a stick-on adhesive surface underneath covered over with a peel-off paper backing. The exposed surface is made to be non-slip.
You can get it in stickers form or in strips of various widths, also available in rolls. A bath mat with suction cups can also provide extra safety.
8. Grab Bars
Grab bars come in all forms, sizes, and diameters to accommodate any possible situation. At least two walls of a bathtub should have grab bars to better assist a user. The back wall should have one, as should the adjacent wall where you step in or out of the tub. The wall with the controls and the shower wand should have a third bar if it’s not the same as one of the other two.
Regular straight grab bars come in different lengths and should be installed at critical locations, either horizontally or vertically, on at least two walls inside the bathtub enclosure.
Vertical grab bars should also be installed not far from the outside edge of the tub’s end walls to help you maintain balance while climbing over the side of the tub.
Vertical grab bars installed on the adjacent corner wall close to the edge can also greatly improve the bather’s stability and balance when transitioning into and from the bathtub.
Angled straight bars are often also installed on the back wall. They should be at hand’s reach when sitting in the tub, at about 6-inches over the side.
Flat surface L-shaped bars can also be used for holding on while grabbing the vertical section to help yourself up. The horizontal section can be either at the top or at the bottom, although not normally exceeding wrist height at the top.
The inside corner L-shaped grab bar is designed to wrap around an inside corner of the wall to help you maintain your grip while moving around inside the tub area.
Bathtub rail safety bars are easy to install in most bathtubs and provide great assistance getting in and out of baths. They're simple to put in, providing that the thickness of the tub’s wall is not excessive and the clamp can wrap over it. These secured semi-circular rails extend above the side at wrist height to provide support.
The safety bar with pivoting rail seen in different positions in Figures 2 and 3 is a combined unit including a grab bar. These can help you get up from the tub, and they're also fitted with a pivoting rail that can come down to stretch across the width of the bathtub or swing flat against the wall, with possible locking positions at 45° left or right.
9. Shower Wands
For convenient seated bathing, install a handheld shower wand at chair level. These can remain at one height or hang on an extra bracket with a suction cup for variable use.
While you’re out buying a new wand, ask for an extra shut-off valve right at the wand so you can turn off the water without having to reach the controls on the wall.
10. Safe, Comfortable Controls
The accessibility of all your accessories within the bathtub area must be at a comfort level so you don’t have to stretch. If at all possible, you should consider automated options for things like light switches or water control.
To get a sense of what changes you might need in your lighting situation, turn all the lights on inside the bathroom and see if you can imagine a better arrangement, both in terms of where the light falls and how to access the switches.
For maximum accessibility, you might want to lower your light switches, and it might help greatly to replace them with switches having large toggles or push buttons. In certain situations when a user’s movements are more limited, motion detector switches might offer a convenient alternative.
While you're considering these changes, think about installing an anti-scald mixing valve that can deliver water at a stable and safe temperature and volume. Sudden changes in the household’s supply could cause someone to get burned if they can't get to the controls quickly, so it makes sense to install a safeguard set at about 120° F (50° C).