Bathroom aids and adaptations
We explain your options for making bathing easier – including walk-in baths, walk-in showers and wet rooms
Bath aids and bathroom safety
The ability to wash yourself independently is one of the core elements of daily life that most people are keen to hold on to as they get older. Yet, sadly, bathing can be one of the first areas of life to become challenging.
Slips and trips are a risk when showering or getting into the bath and can lead to serious injury. Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to improve safety in the bathroom, and some of these only require minor changes There are various bathroom aids that may provide a quick solution, such as bath boards, seats and cushions – and many are relatively inexpensive.
Installing bathroom safety rails is another simple solution that can improve bathroom safety considerably. For those with more complex mobility needs, bath lifts and hoists can be a great help. It may also be useful to install telecare products, such as flood detectors or fall monitors, to support your safety in the bathroom.
Bathroom adaptations for later life
To ensure your bathroom is suitable in the longer term, you may want to consider more extensive bathroom adaptations. If a conventional bath or shower is no longer suitable, there are several alternative options to choose from when adapting a bathroom to suit your needs. These include walk-in baths, baths with a built-in seat, shallow baths and walk-in showers.
A wet-floor area or a wet room are also a good option if space is limited. You may need to fit a shower as an alternative to a bath and ensure that there is also safe access to the toilet from a wheelchair. All bathroom facilities will need to be accessible from a seated position and, if there are other people who are also going to use the bathroom, you should ensure that it accommodates everyone’s needs.
Even if you’re not yet at the stage of needing specialist bathroom equipment, but you’re considering bathroom improvements anyway, then adapting it in anticipation of future needs is an excellent way to futureproof your home. This will make life easier if your mobility does start to decline in future.
Getting advice and support
While adapting your bathroom doesn’t have to be especially complicated, it’s a good idea to get advice from a registered occupational therapist (OT) before – and during – the planning. An assessment will help to pinpoint your needs and find out which adaptations and equipment will be best for you. If you are finding it difficult to manage various everyday tasks, request a free needs assessment from your local authority. T
his will look at your care and support needs and decide if you are eligible for state support. We have more information at the end of this article about how to get help with financing bathroom adaptations. Some people are put off the idea of specialist equipment because they worry it will make their bathroom look ‘institutional’, like a hospital or care home.
If this is a worry for you, you might want to consider customising your bathroom suite with the help of a specialist bathroom fitter – ideally one that is a member of the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA).
Grab rails for the bathroom and shower
The bathroom is the most obvious place for support rails, as people are moving in and out of the bath or shower, when it can be wet and slippery. Without support, falls can be particularly hazardous in this area. Plastic rails are the safest option in a wet area, especially if you choose one with a raised grip to prevent hands from slipping.
Metal rails in the bathroom should be earth bonded for protection against electrical incidents. Grab bars can also help provide stability next to the toilet, when adjusting clothing, or for the transfer on and off the seat. For some people, a rail next to the hand basin will also provide extra support if their balance is poor when standing. Find out more about installing grab rails in the home.
Buying a bath to suit your needs
If you struggle to get into and out of the bath but still enjoy a relaxing soak in warm water, there are alternative types of baths that could help.
Walk-in baths have a door built into the side of the bath, so you don’t have to climb over and risk a fall. They come in a range of shapes and sizes, from short walk-in baths with a small door, designed for sitting in, to long baths with a whole side panel that opens out, suitable for those who like a long soak lying down.
The main drawback with walk-in baths is that you have to get inside before you start running the water. You therefore need to ensure your bathroom is kept at a warm temperature, so you don’t get cold while waiting for the bath to fill. You also have to wait until the water has drained away before opening the door to get out.
Baths with a built-in seat
These baths have a seat moulded into the bath itself, at the opposite end to the taps. They have the same purpose as portable bath seats – allowing you to sit half-immersed in the bath – but baths with integral seats tend to be more comfortable than portable bath seats, as the latter normally have drainage holes or slats.
However, as with portable seats, you will still need some arm strength to move yourself from the seat into the bath itself and to get out of the bath. Also, these baths aren’t really suitable for reclining in, as the seat often gets in the way. Read more about the different portable bath seats available in our guide to bath seats, boards and mats.
If you struggle to climb over the rim of your bath, and don’t mind the water being shallow, consider buying a bath that’s lower than the standard height. This might still require some agility and strength, but less than with standard-sized baths.
Bath lifts and hoists
If your mobility is severely limited, an OT may suggest you get a bath lift, which lifts your body from underneath, or a bath hoist, which pulls you up from above. Although these can be expensive, they may still be cheaper – and sometimes more appropriate – than adapting your bathroom to meet your needs. For more information about these options read our article on bathroom lifts and hoists.
Walk-in showers for the elderly
As using a bath becomes progressively more difficult, many people opt for a walk-in shower or a standalone shower cubicle to replace the bath. Walk-in showers (also called ‘level-access’ showers) are essentially showers without a step that you could potentially trip on. These are the best option for most people with mobility concerns. They often come with drainage pumps and/or sloped or ramped floors to minimise water leaking into the rest of the bathroom. If leakage is a major concern, then a low-level-access shower, with a minimal cubicle entrance height of around 1cm, could also work.
Wet-floor areas and wet rooms
Alternatively, opt for a wet-floor area or a whole wet room – a bathroom that has been adapted with waterproofed flooring and walls. A shower head is fixed to the wall and water runs directly on to the bathroom floor and into a drain, with no tray needed. Wet rooms are useful if bathroom space is limited and if you want to completely avoid having a shower tray. However, it’s vital to have non-slip flooring. Find lots more tips from Which? on how to plan bathroom projects and how to choose the right fixtures and fittings.
Although you can use portable shower stools or chairs in the shower, the most stable option is to get a seat fixed into the shower cubicle or wet-floor area. Ensure the seat is fixed at the right height for you and that grab rails, to be used in conjunction with the seat, are fixed at exactly the right spots. An OT will be able to advise you on this.
Some shower controls are specifically designed to be easy to turn, grip and reach. The may also have preset dials and larger displays. Showers with thermostatic controls ensure that the water is kept at an even temperature, or within a certain range. This prevents any possibility of scalding, or of the water becoming uncomfortably cold.
Non-slip bathroom flooring
While cheap non-slip mats are readily available, the best option for your bathroom floor is to install specialist safety flooring, which might be rubber or vinyl-based and/or incorporate quartz crystals, aluminium oxide or silicon carbide to make the floor non-slip.
Well-known slip-resistant floor manufacturers include Altro, Polyflor and Tarkett. Laying a non-slip mat on the bottom of your bath (or shower) is equally important in preventing slips and falls. These come in a range of shapes and sizes, and fix to the bath with sucker feet. Anti-slip adhesive strips and shapes for the bath also have the same function, as do spray-on slip-resistant materials.