Although most people are more likely to have a daily shower than a bath, many older people still use a bath to wash on a regular basis. Plus, a soak in the tub can be a great form of relaxation. Yet, sadly, taking a bath can become challenging when you get older.
This article explains the most popular types of aids to help those with limited mobility to continue bathing safely, from lower-priced options such as bath boards and seats, to more advanced bath lifts and hoists for those with greater mobility needs.
Bath boards fit across the width of the bath, from one rim to the other. They help you to get in and out, and provide a solid seat to sit on once you’re in the bath. They’re 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 is that you won’t be fully immersed in the water. Bath boards are more suitable to use for showering with a shower cord attached to your bath taps, or in conjunction with a bath seat with the board forming a stable base from which you can lower yourself on to the seat.
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. For extra comfort, you might want to opt for a padded PVC board. Contoured seats are often more comfortable.
Bath benches are essentially large boards that extend beyond the width of the bath, with one pair of 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.
Bath boards cost from around £20 for a basic plastic model up to around £70 for a more tastefully designed, coated-steel board.
Bath seats work a bit like bath boards, and are often used in conjunction with one, but seats enable you to be more immersed in the water. They’re ideal for people who have limited mobility around the knee joints and limited arm strength.
Some look like normal chairs, while others are more like low stools that wedge inside the bath. Some are similar to bath boards – sitting on or hanging from the rim of the bath. Bath seats with legs usually stay put with rubber suction pads, and you can also use them in standalone showers.
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. As with bath boards, it’s important to check the seat’s weight capacity before you buy, and always use with a non-slip mat.
Seats with backs are better if you tire easily from holding yourself upright. If you have very limited mobility, you might want to buy a swivel seat, which lets you get into and out of the bath more easily.
Most mobility shops and Disabled Living Centres (DLCs) have bathing equipment you can try before buying, and many offer to bring it to your home for you to test. It’s also possible to hire bath aids from mobility centres. You can find a directory of local DLCs on the website.
If your mobility and strength are very limited, an OT might 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 boards and seats, but might be more affordable than adapting your bathroom.
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.
These are reinforced plastic seats that fix on to 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, use the handset to lower the seat into the bath and then raise it when you’re ready to get out.
This type of lift often has a supportive back rest, some of which angle back, allowing you to recline in the bath. 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.
Although it’s possible to remove these lifts from the bath, some models are easier to remove than others. The rechargeable batteries need charging regularly.
These are inflatable plastic seats that sit inside the bath, and you inflate them using an electric pump. You position yourself on top of the seat, which is level with the rim of the bath, and it then deflates, immersing you in the water. When you’re ready to get out, you can reinflate the seat using the electric pump to take you back to rim level.
They’re the easiest type of bath lift to remove from the bath.
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 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 you need with powered 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 then it lowers you into 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's no back support, so you need to have good sitting balance.
They’re also the most expensive option for a bath lift.
Bath hoists raise your body from above, rather than lifting from below.
Although they’re 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.
These are attached to a pole that slots into a base plate fixed next to the bath. You sit on a swivel seat or sling, which rises up and moves over the rim of the bath and then lowers you in.
Powered floor-fixed bath hoists use either rechargeable batteries or mains electricity, and you control them 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. The base of the hoist is wedged underneath the bath to keep it firmly in place.
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 very strong ceiling. 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.