The best shower chairs, as recommended by experts
If you or someone you care for has limited mobility—whether they have dementia or a serious illness, are recovering from surgery or a stroke, or just aren’t as steady on their feet as they once were—it may be time to consider getting a chair for the shower or tub. There are an overwhelming number of shower chairs, stools, and tub transfer benches on the market. Here, occupational therapists share their recommendations for the most important features to look for when you shop.
Why you may need a shower chair
“There are two primary reasons for using a shower chair,” says Scott Trudeau, PhD, OTR, a productive aging practice manager with the American Occupational Therapy Association. “One is to compromise for impaired mobility, the other is to enhance safety.”
Depending on the person, they may need a product that can help them get in and out of the shower, maintain their balance, or simply provide a place to rest, says Susan Adamowicz, OTR, an occupational therapist at McLean Health Center in Simsbury, Connecticut. “Having a seat provides them the support that can allow them to continue participating in bathing while sitting.”
Trudeau explains that some older adults may still feel relatively comfortable showering on their own, but having extra support can let them continue to maintain their independence and minimize risk of injury on a slippery surface—important, since more than one in four Americans over age 65 have a fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Being able to continue using a shower or tub (as opposed to a sponge bath in bed, for example) can improve quality of life for those with an illness in particular, notes Trudeau, since “warm water is very comforting.”
What to look for in a shower chair
There’s more than one type of model on the market; some shower chairs have armrests and backs, while others are built more like stools. There are also bathtub transfer benches, which are longer and make it easier to enter and exit a tub. Before you shop, Trudeau suggests thinking about how, and how long, the chair is going to be used for.
It’s also a good idea to consider the space. Are other people sharing the bathroom? If so, look for a lightweight model that can easily be taken in and out. If the bathroom has a tub, is there a sliding glass door or shower curtain on it? Transfer benches work better with the latter, Trudeau explains, since you can wrap the curtain around them to contain the water. Having a wall-mounted grab bar is important, too: “[They’re] essential for safety when bathing, and are used when entering and exiting the shower as well as when standing in the shower,” says Adamowicz.
The material of the chair is mostly a matter of preference. Adamowicz is partial to aluminum, while Trudeau likes plastic since you don’t have to worry about it rusting from the inside out. “But if you’re only planning to use something for a few weeks, such as after a surgery, that may not be as big as an issue,” he says. All chairs should have nonskid feet; drainage holes are also a good idea, says Adamowicz.
Not sure which type of shower chair will work best? Trudeau recommends seeing if a local senior center or agency has an equipment loan program that will let you test a certain style in the space before committing. There are also many options available online, and websites usually provide the specific dimensions so you can measure it for your shower or tub.
Here, some of the best shower chairs in different categories, and important features to look for as you shop.
Best shower chairs: Essential Medical Supply Shower Bench with Arms and Back
“If someone has poor balance, they may benefit from a back and arms for support,” says Adamowicz. This model holds up to 300 pounds and has padded armrests, which deliver additional comfort when seated and better grip when getting in and out. Also good: Adjustable legs and anodized aluminum legs to reduce the chance of rust.
Best shower chairs: Drive Medical Premium Series Shower Chair
Adamowicz is a fan of the Drive brand (as are the more than 1,700 Amazon reviewers who gave this chair a five-star rating). If you want the support of armrests and a back but are also going to be taking the chair in and out of the shower often (for example, if multiple people are sharing a bathroom), this may be a good option, since it’s made of lightweight plastic and the legs and arms can be removed for storage. Also good: Non-slip feet and an adjustable height that can be increased in half-inch increments without any tools.
Best shower seat stools: Drive Medical Adjustable Height Bath Stool
Not sure if a back and armrests are necessary? “Individuals with good balance but poor endurance may require only a stool,” says Adamowicz. Another top-rated product from Drive, this stool checks all the boxes with nonskid feet, support for up to 300 lbs., and adjustable legs with “pinch-free” pins to easily change the height.
Best shower seat stools: Carex Universal Bath Seat
This plastic stool can hold up to 400 pounds with a compact design that makes it a good choice for narrow showers or tubs. It also has a notch where you can place a handheld shower head, a feature Trudeau always looks for. “Rather than throwing [the shower head] on the floor or trying to figure out how to shut the water off while you’re washing, you can set the wand in the tub bench and just go back and pick it up,” he says.
Best tub transfer benches: Moen Non Slip Adjustable Transfer Bench
Unlike a stool or chair, tub transfer benches have legs both inside and outside the tub, so it’s easier for the bather to get in and out. “I’m always inclined to prefer a tub transfer bench to an in-tub seat,” says Trudeau, explaining that in his experience working with frail older people, this type of seat usually provides the most flexibility in bathrooms with a tub. “Because it’s a wider seat, it makes sense that it’s also a broader base of support for an individual.” These types of chairs do tend to take up more space and are heavier, though, “so, if you need to move it in and out [of the tub] often, it may be a bit more cumbersome,” Trudeau says.
This model supports up to 400 pounds and has three sturdy legs instead of four, meaning it’s less likely to wobble on a concave tub floor. It can be assembled either right-facing or left-facing and has a handle to provide additional stability when getting in and out of the tub. A built-in basket organizer provides an easily accessible space for toiletries.
Best tub transfer benches: Carousel Sliding Transfer Bench with Swivel Seat
Although on the pricier side, this sliding transfer bench provides maximum support, thanks to slip-resistant padding on the seat, armrests that can be raised and lowered (and locked into place), and a swivel seat that makes it easy to enter and exit the tub. Plus, people who are vision impaired may find that the bright blue color is easier to see than a light-colored model that could blend into the background of the tub.
Plus: Consider installing a handheld shower head
Whether you choose a shower chair, bench, or stool, a handheld shower head is a relatively inexpensive investment (most cost around $50) that can make a big difference for people with impaired mobility. “They can bring the water to them rather than just sitting and having it bombard them from a stationary shower head,” says Trudeau.
The Hydroluxe Full-Chrome 24 Function Ultra-Luxury 3-way 2 in 1 Shower-Head ($55; amazon.com) has more than 7,000 reviews on Amazon, five different settings (including soothing ones like warm mist and massage), and promises an easy, tools-free installation.
By Michelle Felton
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