Monday, June 1, 2009

Caregiver Aids #7: Shower Chairs

To ensure Skip's safety while showering, we've gone through a series of shower chairs, each better able to accomodate her increasing disability.

The first photo shows the kind of seat we started with when Skip merely needed something to sit on in the shower because of leg weakness and minor mobility problems. These are inexpensive and come with a variety of options, including handles, an extension for transferring into a tub and a seat back. During the period this was used, Skip could step into and out of the shower stall (~ 4 inch lip to step over) and hold herself upright with a strong trunk.

When something with more stable support (that is, immovable seating with back support) was required, we settled on the wall-mounted, folding seat shown next. It worked extremely well, giving Skip a very safe shower as long as she was able to get into the shower by walking into the bathroom with her walker or could stand and make a one-step transfer from a wheelchair. We also installed two grab bars in the shower stall and one on the wall beside it to aid in safe transferring.

As Skip's mobility capabilities decreased, she became unable to make the transfer between wheelchair and shower seat. The distance was too far to make via transfer board. So I became the means to transfer for a time. This transfer was quite awkward and sometimes resulted in a fall for Skip. Clearly, not a good solution for Skip (or me).

We started to look around for other options. We were hampered by the dimensions of the shower stall door opening. The ideal would be to find a wheelchair that could be used in the shower and would fit through the stall opening and over the low lip. All the different sites that specialized in wheelchairs we looked at did not have a chair that met these criteria.

Knowing we'd need a different shower chair eventually, even if it wouldn't fit the current shower, I purchased the chair shown in the last photo from Its measurements looked like it would be a bit too wide to get through the shower door. But, it was less than $200 with free shipping, so I figured it was a low risk purchase. The feature I liked best about it was the arms lowered so we could have Skip transfer into it with a board from the bed. I could then wheel her into the bedroom and get her over a lower lip into the shower stall. Unfortunately, as I suspected, it didn't fit width-wise through the stall door. For me, this sealed the deal that we'd need to look at reconfiguring the shower as there seemed to be no remaining options available.

We had the interior of the shower expanded, the front lip lowered to just a few inches and the door removed entirely. Now we had plenty of room to get Skip's shower chair in. The lip proved to be a bit of a strain for me to pull Skip and shower chair over, so we bought an inexpensive ramp made of airplane aluminum on eBay. I believe this kind of ramp is called a threshold ramp, since it's designed to get a wheelchair over a one-step threshold. Worked perfectly in this situation. We don't use either the commode bucket or the front pedals on the chair, as shown in the photo, both of which were easily removed.

Since the shower was redone about five years ago, we've been using the shower chair from SpinLife. Before purchasing the Sure Hands lift, I'd "pick and plop" Skip from the bed to the shower chair. (My hope of using the transfer didn't really pan out, as the seat of the shower chair is fairly slippery.) Once in place on the chair, I'd wheel her into the bathroom. Then, pulled the chair up the threshold ramp and into the shower. The wheels lock to ensure stability. Now, with the lift, we place the shower chair in the shower, then transfer her from wheelchair to shower chair.

Even as Skip's trunk muscles have weakened over the last few years, the shower chair has proven a safe tool for showering. Though it's the cheapest wheeled shower chair we found (some cost thousands), it has met our needs for Skip's current disability level. For someone with MS who can no longer walk but can sit upright without slumping over too often and can hold his/her head upright, I'd recommend taking a look at this option.


suejan said...

As I can't even weight bear social service'scarers bring my shower chair to bed and use shower sling on ceiling hoist to transfer me.The coucil paid for hoist and service it regularly. This isnow mysecond shower chair-they paay for. You need a coucil physiotherapist

suejan said...

Meant to add they are not means tested. I havean en suite electric shower with soak away. Because of effort & time only get a shower nce a fortnight but other days hey do washme wel

Cranky said...

Suejan - thanks for your notes. I looked in your profile and see you're from the UK. Here in the US, unfortunately, the safety net of services for the disabled are not as robust as those in Europe (at least, that's my impression).

Physical therapy for those with MS in the US is a bit of a joke. Only way Medicare (govt health care) will pay for PT is if you can demonstrate you can improve. As I'm sure you know, with MS, PT is often to help stay the same, or at least provide comfort. So, can't really get much PT for MS in the US.

steve said...

That last chair pictured was the one BR was using for both toileting and showering. His biggest complaints were the hard plastic seat (we added a cushion) and the lack of a headrest. Now that his pain med dosage is off the charts, the headrest issue became a deal breaker, as he tends to fall asleep during the 1-2 hours in the chair.

After some back and forth with Anthem Blue Cross, we ended up forking out the money for a Tilt-In-Space Plus chair from ActiveAid. Fits like a glove in both the toilet and shower. We can also put a Roho cushion on it and have a manual alternative to the iBOT for when BR wants to recline and elevate his feet.

Ann Pietrangelo said...

I've been using a shower chair for several years now and would be lost without it! The little things we've done around the house to help us cope with MS have made a huge difference. It is so worth it to look into mobility aids and other helpful devices!

Cranky said...

Steve - that is a fancy-looking chair you have now for BR. Bummer you had to buy it. Amazing how expensive shower/commode chairs are. I am surprised that the iBOT doesn't have tilt/recline functionality.

Ann - I heartily agree. We need these adaptations for safety and just for basic living.

Diane J Standiford said...

It really is appalling how we of the non-able bodied are treated, or NOT treated here in "the richest country in the world"---ppl speak of how I get "entitlement"--right, that extra $30.month will go far (NOT) to help cover the costs I will aquire in 2012 to allow me the smallest of items for a tad of quality of life. If had known then what I know now, I would have decoted my life to making this horrid situation RIGHT...long before I myself ever needed it, or dreamed I ever would. I just had no clue. Plus, ppl used to be with large families, not so alone. Ppl used to head to a nursing home much sooner. I have to stop reading now, I am super worried and super cranky. (I always keep you and Skip in my thoughts.)

Cranky said...

Diane - the sketchy "safety net" here in the US is appalling, I completely agree with you. I admire how much you have done for you and your partner to keep safe and cared for despite both of you having significant chronic illnesses.

shower aids said...

hmm.. seems very attractive and comfortable.