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The Shower Chair: Part of the First Line of Defense in Preventing Bathing-Related Falls

By Maria Basso Lipani, LCSW

Summary: Falling in the bathroom is a significant concern for older adults.  One of the best ways to reduce the risk of falling while bathing is to use a shower chair.  Inexpensive and easy to find, a shower chair should be standard bathroom equipment if you or someone you know is frail and lives alone.

Dear Maria: My grandmother is 86 and seems frailer each time I see her.   I read an article recently  that said that 20% of those who fall and break their hips require a nursing home level of care within a year and another 20% die within a year.  It was shocking to me and I immediately thought of my grandmother.  I asked her if she would consider hiring a home attendant a few times a week to help her with bathing, but her look told me that she isn’t going to go for it.  Would a shower chair make sense for her?  Megan, Atlanta, GA

Dear Megan: A shower chair would be a great idea for your grandmother, but some additional equipment to go with it would be even better.  The goal is to reduce your grandmother’s need to stand so that she is less likely to slip or lose her balance. That said, a handheld shower would ensure that she could remain seated while bathing and a grab bar would provide extra stability while getting onto and off of the shower chair.  If you are going to get a shower chair, I would strongly suggest these two extra items as well.

You should know that shower chairs come in a variety of styles. If your grandmother’s bathroom is small, she may like a folding shower chair.  If she’s very frail she may appreciate a padded shower chair as opposed to the standard plastic kind.  You can also get shower chairs with and without backs.

Also, I’m not at all surprised that your grandmother resisted the idea of getting someone to help her bathe. Many older adults find the thought of this embarrassing and upsetting; truthfully speaking, I can’t say I blame them and would probably feel the same in their shoes.  However, just because she doesn’t want someone to help her doesn’t mean that she’ll refuse equipment that can enable her to be safer while she continues to bathe independently.

If she does refuse the shower chair, see if she’ll let you apply those sticky grip strips to the bottom of her tub. Another thing to explore would be whether she would wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.  While this device would not prevent a fall it would ensure that help arrives promptly if one occurs which is the next best thing.