Occupational therapists should help pick a seat for your shower.

In the last post I chatted about the different types of showers and tubs. There are tons of options.

Today I’m discussing shower seats that can be used in tubs and showers. I have to say that this is one of the most important features in a bathroom where an occupational therapist should be a consult in a home renovation – or in a lodging facility. An OT has the expertise to problem solve the details and you’ll see why these features are important as you read more.

All seats are not made equal and all people do not use shower seats the same way. – Sarah Pruett

What type of seat is best?

A sturdy temporary seat OR a strategically-placed built-in seat?

Either will provide options for many people, but there are lots of user variables that need to be considered, such as balance, effects of pressure on skin, and the way a user gets on or off a seat.

If any health condition exists, it is important to involve a professional, like an occupational therapist, who understands the value of seat type and placement for safety and optimal function. It is critical to consult with someone who can accurately identify specific needs. For example:

When we travel we generally take Scott’s seat (found at sportaid.com)  with us because it’s not guaranteed the hotel will have something that is safe for Scott’s needs. He needs back support, and can’t sit on hard surfaces for long, and some seats are too slick that he is concerned he may slide off when things get soapy and wet.

quantum bath shower chair

A universally-designed bathroom will accommodate adaptive shower equipment with ease.

There are so many types of medical seats in the durable medical equipment market that can be used to assist someone for a safer shower experience. However, not every seat will work for every need. When a seat (temporary or permanent) is installed into a shower, many details need to be thought about and addressed. A trained occupational therapist is the best person to help one figure out the best seat for each personal need. I have met many individuals who are afraid of falling in the shower prefer not to shower because of this fear, which is something widely overlooked in the “build-it-with-lots-of-space” line of thought for universal design.

Temporary seats are portable and generally prescribed by a therapist or other professional based on specific needs.

You have probably seen these in a local hardware store or maybe in a hotel. They come in a variety of materials (plastic, metal, and wood) and are easily movable in and out of a space for different users. I will not go into why a specific seat or bench is important based on the need, but these seats/benches are considered an accessible feature that meet specific needs of a safe showering experience, and should not be classified as universal design products.

A fellow OT, Rhonda Bonecutter out in California wrote this blog post that really outlines all the options for durable medical equipment. She specifically is discussing getting in and out of the tub, but some of these can be placed in a shower as well. Check it out!

Permanent seating options require planning and space requirements.

Here’s an example of a pre-made shower that has two “built-in” seats.

shower built in seats

A bench made of tile, mounted, or a built-in seat in a prefabricated shower may seem ideal, but will not work for every user. If the permanent seat takes up most of the room in the shower there may not be room for a temporary seat to fit that may be safer for the individual. The shower is a wet and dangerous place and some individuals can easily slide off a permanent seat if it is to shallow, too slick, or not built properly for the individual using the space. This is why it’s extremely important to talk to an occupational therapist when designing bathrooms for a wide variety of people, as well as for a specific need. Seat height will vary depending on the user. 17-19” may be ideal for some, but it depends on their height and routine of getting in and out of the shower.

These last three points are so important I couldn’t leave them out!!

Measure the exact location a grab bar will be most functional.

Some individuals use grab bars to stabilize themselves, pull themselves up, or easily lower themselves down. Should you place it vertically or horizontally? What height is best? That is best determined in a home by having the client practice getting in and out of the shower or tub. Each person is different and dialing in the exact location creates increased safety.

Place water controls and adjustable handheld shower head within reach of any seat.

This seems logical, but we can not tell you how many times we’ve been somewhere where this was overlooked. Some individuals are not able to stand up to reach the controls once they are seated in the shower. Another OT, Deb Young, wrote a great post with great pictures about these issues in hotels “Hotel accessibility is like a box of chocolates” – worth a look!

Don’t forget easy to reach storage in the shower and/or tub!

The shower and tub are soapy, slippery places. Having a wide flat area to store bathing items is sometimes forgotten. Being able to place items within reach so they do not fall onto the floor helps reduce frustration and the potential of a fall.

If you want to receive more tips about universal design in the home and community on a daily basis – follow us on twitter: @UDTips

April is Occupational Therapy (OT) Month!

I’m blogging about important universal design tips for the home and community to increase the awareness and importance OT has in environmental modifications.

Published by

Sarah Pruett

Sarah is a registered/licensed Occupational Therapist (OTR/L) and a Certified Aging In Place Specialist (CAPS), with a background in physical rehabilitation.