Shower with accessibility chair
(Paul Velgos/Shutterstock)

You used to hop into the tub or shower for a quick wash and rinse off, and then be on your way. These days, maybe knee arthritis makes it hard to lift your legs to get into a tub; shoulder pain makes it hard to reach up and wash your hair; or imbalance puts you at high risk for a fall, especially in a slippery setting. Take heart: lots of tools can make bathing safer and easier.

Instant upgrades

A few tools from a drugstore or big-box store can help you make immediate improvements to your bathing routine.


A small stationary shower bench or chair ($25 and up) is helpful for people with fatigue, imbalance, weakness, low energy, or chronic pain in the hip, knee, or back. "Check the shower stool's weight limit and make sure you'll fit on it. Don't get one that's so low that it's hard to stand up," says Gayle Lang, an occupational therapist with Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Nonslip floor treads or a rubber mat (either for less than $10) will cut down on slippery floors and bathtubs.

A combination shampoo and body wash that comes in one bottle ($10 or less) will simplify washing.

A long-handled back scrubber ($10) isn't just for backs; use it for hard-to-reach spots, like the backs of your legs. Scrubbers are available with bristles, loofahs (for exfoliating), or soft "poufs" for washing.

Special orders

You may have to turn to a medical supply store or the Internet for other bath-related tools. For example, if a standard back scrubber won't do, there are specialty long-handled gadgets ($10 to $20) designed to help you wash the spaces in between your toes, and long-handled hygienic aids that reach your bottom.

Another item: a shower transfer bench ($100 and up). The bench is placed over the wall of a bathtub (with one end in the tub, the other on the floor). It allows you to sit down and slide over the wall of the tub, which is helpful if you have trouble lifting your legs high enough while you're standing. Make sure the seat has a locking mechanism.

A waterproof alert button ($50 and up) is a handy bathroom gadget if you need to call for help. It can be worn on the wrist or around your neck. Some buttons are tied to your phone line; they simply dial specific phone numbers you've programmed into the device (cost: about $100). Other buttons contact paramedics. These require a start-up fee ($50 to $100), offer 24-hour monitoring services, and charge monthly fees ($20 and up per month). The price depends on how many bells and whistles you want (for example, do you need the alert button to work wherever you go, beyond the bathroom? Do you want it to have cellphone capability or fall detection?).

Assistance required

Some shower tools must be installed by a handyman (which might be you) or a contractor. One very important tool is a grab bar. "Don't get the kind that sticks to the wall with suction cups. It might come off if you put pressure on it," warns Lang. "Have someone properly install metal grab bars in the bathroom so that they're bolted to the wall."

Grab bars come in all kinds of designs to match other hardware, such as faucets or towel bars. Prices start at $10 and can go up to hundreds of dollars per grab bar, depending on the design, material, and finish.

A handheld showerhead ($25 and up) will enable you to aim water where you need it, a big benefit if you're seated. "Choose a lightweight showerhead if you have arthritic hands or shoulders. Make sure it has a bracket for mounting and a shutoff button on the handle, so you don't have to put it back on the holder with the water running, which can be challenging," Lang says.

The priciest tool is a walk-in shower to replace a bathtub. One-piece fiberglass shower kits start at about $1,000. The project will cost more, however, when you add labor and other necessary parts. If you want tile instead of a fiberglass shower surround, prices can easily reach many thousands of dollars.

But the benefit of a walk-in shower, especially one that's level with your bathroom floor, is that you won't have to lift your legs over the side of a bathtub. If you use a walker or wheelchair, you may even be able to roll right in. "But keep in mind that walk-in showers are sloped toward the drain, and the incline may cause you to lose your balance if you're unaware of it," Lang points out.

Not sure where to start?

An occupational therapist can do an in-home assessment to determine your bathing needs. Medicare may cover this if you qualify for home health care. Otherwise, it may cost a few hundred dollars.