Not long ago we responded to a reader with rheumatoid arthritis who wanted to make bathing easier. We directed her to her doctor and her physical therapist. We also mentioned that Kevin had seen a walk-in shower stall for about $5,000 at one of the stores he goes to for disability aids.
We were happy to hear from our reader that she had made appointments with her rheumatologist and physical therapist and that she was planning to install a new walk-in shower-tub combination.
But other readers were quick to take issue with our advice. We think their feedback bears repeating. We’ve edited their comments to emphasize their salient points.
One reader who appears to have pretty good credentials commented:
"As a physical therapist with a degree in architecture and design, I applaud your making the public aware of the importance of proper consultation when making changes in bathrooms. But instead of seeking input from a physician, I suggest consulting an occupational therapist. They specialize in the activities of daily living.
"Safe bathroom access is critical in remaining independent for as long as possible. Bathroom falls can lead to serious injuries. I encourage the addition of grab bars in any bathroom. Designer styles are readily available that don’t look like hospital or gym equipment, so looks are no reason to exclude them — for anyone."
We should have mentioned occupational therapists as part of the treatment team, but we’re loath to disqualify physicians. We heartily concur with your recommendation of grab bars for all. We especially agree with your comment that the new designer-style bars eliminate the excuse that grab bars don’t look stylish. Safety trumps appearance every time.
Another reader commented:
"I am not able to climb in or out of a bathtub, and I have a problem with balance that makes standing up in a shower dangerous.
"For the past 10 years I have used a shower chair and a shower nozzle with a long hose. I have two handrails I grab to keep me steady when I get into or out of the shower chair. The cost of the chair and the grab bars was about $600 compared to the $5,000 you quoted for the special shower."
We agree. There is an escalating set of aids that can assist those with disabilities to bathe. But suffice it to say, it’s much easier to step in and out of a shower than it is a standard bathtub.
There’s no way Kevin, who has multiple sclerosis, is able to safely get in and out of a tub with an 18-inch wall. He has a shower with a 4-inch curb that he can negotiate with the help of two horizontal grab bars. The mounting bar of an adjustable showerhead acts as a vertical grab bar. A shower chair completes the package.
Bottom line: Our reader’s treatment team — her doctor, physical therapist and occupational therapist — is in the best position to assess her limitations and to predict the course of her illness. Together, the patient and treatment team should figure out the right path to take.