Choosing a bath board, seat or bench
Bathing is often the first area of your physical life to become challenging when you get older. The good news is that there are lots of different options to consider – but it can be overwhelming when looking for the right product for your needs. Use this article to find out what bath aids are on offer and to help you weigh up the pros and cons of each type.
It’s worth noting that bath boards and seats are sometimes provided free of charge by local authorities. An occupational therapist (OT) should be able to advise you on how to arrange this; or contact your local social services directly.
Most bath boards, seats and benches can be easily removed to allow other, more able-bodied people to use the bath without obstructions.
If you think you need additional support to help you get into and out of the bath, our article on bath lifts and hoists tells you more about how these work. And our guide to additional bathing aids looks at a large range of aids and gadgets to help with every aspect of bathing.
What is a bath board?
Bath boards fit on the bath across its width, from one rim to the other. They help you to get into and out of the bath, and provide a straight, solid seat for you to sit on once you’re in the bath. They are designed for people with limited strength – but as you’ll be lifting one leg over the bath rim to get on and off, you still need to be fairly agile to use one.
The disadvantage of bath boards is that you won’t be able to have a luxurious bath, as you’re not immersed in the water. They are more suitable to use for showering with a shower cord attached to your bath taps, or for bathing when used in conjunction with a bath seat – with the board forming a stable base from which to lower yourself on to the seat.
Boards and seats are sometimes sold as a combined unit.
Buying a bath board that’s right for you
Bath boards come in a range of sizes and materials. Many are made of reinforced plastic but, if you opt for one of these, be sure to check the maximum weight capacity. Also check that the board is wide enough for you to sit on comfortably.
Some people may find wooden boards too hard, while others may dislike the cold feel of some metal boards. For extra comfort, you may want to opt for a padded PVC board. Contoured seats are often more comfortable.
Some bath boards have drainage holes, while others have slats. These are useful for stopping them becoming slippery, although you may find slatted boards less comfortable.
Prices of bath boards range from around £20 for a basic plastic model up to around £70 for a more tastefully designed, coated-steel board.
Fitting a bath board to your bath
Standard-shaped baths with straight sides should be able to accommodate a wide variety of boards – especially as some boards are width-adjustable. However, before buying, check that the length of the board will fit the width of your bath; if there is overhang, you might end up tipping the board when getting on and off.
Also, be aware that the rim of your bath should be at least 2.5cm wide in order for a bath board to securely fit on it. The board needs to be securely attached for safety reasons.
Bath steps that sit beside the bath to help you get in and out are another option. They’re not right for everyone, as you need good balance and agility to use them safely. However, they can be useful when used in conjunction with a fixed grab rail. Be sure to buy bath steps with a non-slip surface.
A bath bench is basically a large bath board that extends beyond the width of the bath, with one pair of its legs sitting inside the bath, and the other pair sitting on the bathroom floor. Because they sit over the bath rather than on it, they are normally higher than boards, so are usually combined with bath seats.
What is a bath seat?
A bath seat is exactly as the name suggests – a seat that goes in the bath. They work a bit like a board, and are often used in conjunction with one so you can sit more immersed in the bath water than with a board alone. Bath seats are ideal for people who have limited mobility around the knee joints and limited arm strength.
They come in a variety of styles. Some look like normal chairs, with four legs and a back, and stand in the bath. Others are more similar to bath boards – sitting on or hanging from the rim of the bath, while some are more like low stools that wedge inside the bath. Bath seats with legs usually stay put with rubber suction pads. These can also be used in standalone showers.
As with boards, it’s important to find out the seat’s weight capacity before you buy, and to always use in conjunction with a slip-resistant mat.
Bath seats are ideal for people who have limited mobility around the knee joints and limited arm strength.
Buying the right bath seat for you
As with bath boards, bath seats come in a range of different materials, although plastic ones are most widespread. Padded and contoured seats are available for those looking for comfort. They normally come perforated or slatted to help water drain away and stop them becoming slippery, although some people find the slatted seats uncomfortable to sit on.
Seats with backs are better if you tire easily from holding yourself upright. If you have very limited mobility, you may want to buy a swivel seat, which lets you get into and out of the bath more easily. However, this type of bath seat does not allow you to sit very deeply in the water.
Searching for ‘bath seat’ online will bring up lots of links for baby bath seats, so it’s best to the type in ‘bath seats for the elderly’.
Non-slip mats and bathroom flooring
Before choosing bathing equipment or a new bathroom suite, think about the floor in your bathroom – and specifically, how slip-resistant it is.
While cheap non-slip mats are readily available from DIY and household stores, 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.
Note that the use of bath oils will both reduce the effectiveness of non-slip mats and increase the chance of an accident, so it’s best to avoid them.
For more bathroom tips, read: 7 ways to make a bathroom safer for an older person
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Choosing the right independent living products can improve your safety and wellbeing, and give you greater independence.