Who can benefit from a bath lift or hoist?
While bath seats, boards and mats are suitable for people whose mobility and strength have not declined to a severe degree, bath lifts and hoists go one step further.
If your mobility and strength are very limited, an occupational therapist (OT) may suggest you get a bath lift, which lifts your body from underneath, or a bath hoist, which pulls you up from above. These are much more expensive than bath boards and seats, but may still be cheaper – and sometimes more appropriate – than adapting your bathroom to meet your needs.
Be aware that some lifts and hoists can be overpriced, including second-hand equipment. It’s best to consult the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF) on pricing before parting with your money. Also, try to buy from a supplier that is a member of the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA).
You may also want to consider some adaptations to the layout and furniture in your bathroom.
Before buying a bath lift or bath hoist
First, you need to find out what equipment will suit your bath. It’s also important to fix grab rails in the correct places before installing a bath lift or hoist.
Bath lifts and hoists can be either removable or fixed to your bath. Bath lifts could be the best choice if the bathroom is used by a mix of different people.
Motor-driven removable bath lifts
These are reinforced plastic seats that fix onto the inside of the bath with rubber suckers. They’re operated using a battery-powered waterproof handset. You get on to the seat at bath rim height and then use the handset to lower the seat completely into the bath. You then use the handset to raise the seat when you’re ready to get out.
To use this type of bath lift, you need to have enough agility to be able to move your legs over to the side to get into and out of the bath.
This type of lift often has a supportive backrest, some of which angle back, allowing you to easily recline when immersed in the bath. Motorised bath lifts’ rechargeable batteries normally last for around two hours at a time, so have to be recharged regularly.
Although these lifts can be removed from the bath, some models are easier to remove than others.
Inflatable cushion bath lifts
The easiest type of bath lift to remove from the bath is the inflatable cushion bath lift. These are inflatable plastic seats that sit inside the bath and are inflated using an electric pump, so the seat is level with the rim of the bath, as with ordinary battery-powered bath lifts.
You position yourself on top of the seat, which then deflates, immersing you in the water. When you’re ready to get out of the bath, you can re-inflate the seat using the electric pump to take you back to rim level.
Hydraulic (manual) removable bath lifts
These are less common than powered bath lifts – mainly because they do the same thing, but with more effort and sometimes for the same cost.
Manual bath lifts work in a similar way to powered removable lifts, lowering you into the bath and then raising you up again when you’re ready to get out. The difference is that their motion is controlled by the weight of the person and the buoyancy of the water, using a hydraulic mechanism.
Your body weight sitting on the chair slowly lowers the lift, then, when you’re ready to get out of the bath, you sit upright and push down on the bath rims to release the hydraulic piston, which is set at a personalised weight. This, combined with the buoyancy of the water, lifts you back up.
For this type of bath lift you need to be flexible enough to raise your arms as high as shoulder height, and have more arm strength and sitting balance than with powered lifts.
For this type of bath lift you need to be flexible enough to raise your arms as high as shoulder height
Fixed ‘band’ bath lifts
Fixed bath lifts are sometimes known as band lifts, as they work using a large fabric band on a roller. The band is fitted to the wall beside the bath, by means of a wall-mounted unit. The other end of the band then slots into a floor-mounted bracket that sits beside the bath, so the band lies across the width of the bath.
You sit on the taut band, press a button and are then lowered to the bottom of the bath as the band slowly extends. To raise the lift, you press another button, which tightens the band to lift you back up.
The advantage of band lifts is that they lower you right to the bottom of the bath so you can lie back and have a proper soak. However, one big disadvantage is that there is no back support, so you need to have very good sitting balance.
They are also the most expensive option for a bath lift.
Bath hoists raise your body from above, rather than lifting from below.
Although they are more expensive than bath lifts, the advantage is that they raise you high enough so you don’t have to lift your legs over the bath rim. This makes them more suitable for people with limited hip and knee mobility.
As with bath lifts, hoists can be motor-driven or manually operated, although the former are more suitable for independent use in the home.
Bath hoists that fix to the floor
These are attached to a pole that slots vertically into a base plate fixed next to the bath. You sit on the height-adjustable swivel seat or sling (ideally made of mesh), which then rises up and moves over the rim of the bath. This then lowers you into the bath.
Powered floor-fixed bath hoists use either rechargeable batteries or mains electricity, and are controlled with a remote handset. Manual hoists work by another person winding a handle, so tend to be used by people who have a carer.
Mobile versions of this type of bath hoist are also available, which can be useful if you want to use the hoist in more than one room of your home. The base of the hoist is wedged underneath the bath (you might need to cut a hole in the side panel if there isn’t enough space for it) to keep it firmly in place.
Bath hoists that fix to the ceiling
These work using a ceiling track, which has the advantage of taking up less bathroom space. A major point to consider is that this type of hoist requires a strong ceiling; you might even need to get your ceiling strengthened first. These hoists work in the same way as floor hoists, lifting you up and over the bath rim, although a sling normally replaces the plastic seat.
For more bathroom tips, read: 7 ways to make a bathroom safer for an older person
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