Are you in the process of researching ways to make access to the bathtub and shower easier? You may have noticed just how many options there are to choose from. These options are far from equal, with the functions, quality and cost spanning under $100 all the way to full bathroom remodeling required solutions.
There’s a series of activities in the bathroom that can be really challenging for someone with reduced mobility. Using the toilet, brushing teeth, entering the shower and bathing all require combinations of balance, strength and coordination. A busy bathroom is typically a more hazardous environment given the surfaces can become wet and slippery with moisture
Perhaps the most tricky of actions to perform for someone with a mobility impairment is that of getting into and out of shower. If your bathroom has a bathtub style shower or a step in shower, clearing the edge can prove a challenge. Even with the help of a carer, transferring into a shower presents an issue. Consider the stability and weight shifting demands that transferring someone manually into a shower can bring – it’s no surprise then, that OTs, PTs, families and users are constantly on the lookout for ways to make the shower transfer safer and more comfortable.
In this article we’ll provide some insight around the difference between a standard manual transfer bench and a more capable transfer system so you can decide what’s best for your needs.
What is a transfer bench?
A transfer bench is the typical name for a platform with legs that’s positioned partially in a bathtub and partially on the floor of the bathroom. It’s made up of a backrest (these vary in terms of their design and level of support), a seat/platform and a frame made of metal with rubber grip feet.
Some transfer benches have a sliding seat mechanism vs. a platform. The sliding version of a transfer bench is designed to reduce manual effort. A rigid bench seat style transfer bench will require some manual effort to navigate outside of the bathroom to the inside. Some users may decide to do this alone, while others need the help of a carer.
Issues to consider
What sort of risks does a manual transfer present to the user?
The problem with all types of these ‘transfer benches’ is that they still require significant human effort to get into and out of. With the non-sliding versions specifically, the actual transfer requires a lift and shift which combined with wet surfaces can put the user at risk of slipping and injury.
The other problem with a transfer bench is that the user has limited freedom of movement once in the shower, meaning that any over extension and the equipment will not adjust, creating more opportunity for tipping over or falling out.
If a user attempts to transfer themselves across the bench each day, there’s a number of issues at play:
- The user will need the upper body strength to lift their entire body weight.
- They would also need to have the coordination and strength to safely shuffle across a narrow transfer bench without leaning forward or back.
- If a transfer bench is both wet in some areas and dry in others, they could slip while transferring.
- If there’s a loss in leg mobility, they will struggle to clear their legs over a bathtub.
- The whole process needs to be repeated to exit again.
A very risky transfer out of the bench and onto a wheelchair or other equipment presents a big hazard.
Can the carer continually help move across a transfer bench?
Anyone with a significant disability will likely employ the help of a carer, be it professional or family member. It’s really important that the carer is protected as much as the user for any assistance – an injury to them affects both parties.
A transfer bench without any sliding mechanism requires a carer to ‘lift and shift’ the user every day – in some cases twice a day. They will need to have the physical strength and technique to position the user into the shower and remove them after they’ve finished bathing.
Even the most experienced carer can suffer from accident, or injury over an extended period of repetitive transferring. Before opting for a transfer bench with a carer, really consider if it’s practical for both the user and whoever is helping them.
Bathroom rituals are worth protecting
Everyone deserves their privacy and dignity in the bathroom. We think that equipment should enable users to go about their rituals easier and with more freedom. The best assistive technology ‘disappears’ – it doesn’t dictate how we use the bathroom, it allows us to use the bathroom how we want. If you’re the individual with a mobility challenge, the family member or an OT, consider whether a transfer bench offers that level of dignity enabled by a more advanced solution.
The benefit of supported, seated transfer over a bathtub
A bathroom transfer solution like Showerbuddy is based around reducing the manual effort of transfers no matter the bathroom configuration. These systems are designed to allow quick transfer over the bathtub to shower by connecting a chair with a transfer bridge and onto a bathtub base – all while the user stays in the same seat. These systems provide an opening for commode usage or positioning over the bathroom toilet – again with no lifting necessary.
The benefits of this are clear – all the risks of slipping and falling presented with a standard transfer bench are negated because in a sense the chair is being transferred – not the user. These systems are also built very well as professional grade medical assistive equipment designed for a broad range of user sizes. By choosing the right product or accessories, users can get a system based around their needs.
Using the toilet with the same assistive equipment reduces hazards and injury
One of the more complicated tasks that anyone with mobility challenges will attest to is getting between the shower and toilet. A lift across to the toilet can require heavy lifting sustained for a number of seconds, with particular technique to safely lower the user onto a raised seat. With a full bathroom mobility solution, the same chair is used for showering, using the toilet and washing up. These solutions also allow quick disassembly and cleaning to keep the unit hygienic.
Other things to consider then choosing a transfer system
Clearing the edge of a bathtub with a tilt function
When a user has lost movement in their legs, a standard transfer bench becomes even less practical when clearing a bathtub edge – a carer needs to lift in such a way to clear their lower legs over the tub which creates awkward body positioning.
Using a solution like the Roll-in Tilt SB3T, a shower transfer chair system will also support adjusting the user’s body position so their legs clear the side of the bathtub – just another level of assistance taken care of by the chair and not a carer.
Does the mobility challenge start at the edge of the bath, or before entering the bathroom?
You should consider the fact that transfers aren’t just those into the bathtub, but over the toilet, towards the basin, and into a chair in the first place. With a transfer bench positioned over the bath edge, you’re only getting one small piece of functionality – and a flawed one at that.
The whole bathroom routine should be made easier from the moment the user enters the room – that’s why a full bathroom mobility solution is a better idea than a transfer bench. Getting into a shower chair can take place outside the bathroom in a safer, more stable environment like the bedroom, then remain seated as they enter, use and exit the bathroom with no manual lifting necessary.
Finding a high quality transfer bench is hard
Transfer benches aren’t made equal. Some do supply basic non-lift sliding into and out of the bathtub. But even the best shower transfer benches are expensive for what’s really one part of a more complex series of tasks. Many shower benches are designed to be sold at volume through channels like homeware retailers. These options will meet only the most basic of needs and even then won’t do this as well as a full bathroom mobility system. More expensive shower transfer benches may have better design in terms of stability and durability but at that point you may be better to opt for a full solution anyway. If funding of assistive equipment is available in your area, the cost factor can be removed or greatly reduced.
Considering the user’s needs in the future – not just today
While the low cost transfer bench might be tempting, and even appear functional for the mobility challenges of today, this might actually be a more expensive route to take. Unfortunately in many situations the level of mobility will degrade over time thus putting more demand on carer and equipment. Rather than purchasing a number of solutions of increasing cost and function, work with an OT and health providers to ascertain the best long term option.
Significant mobility challenges are not served well with a transfer bench
Our mobility impaired community encapsulates a huge spectrum of people and challenges. We work with everyone including those recovering sports injuries, elderly people, paraplegia, multiple sclerosis, stroke recovery, and all types of mental disabilities. Many of these people have mobility impairments that require additional support beyond the basic bench across a bath edge – these functions are enabled by a sophisticated bathroom mobility system like Showerbuddy