Tubs vs. Showers: Which is Better for Seniors and the Elderly?

Occupational Therapist
Published:

It's a big debate in the senior care community: should elderly people use tubs or showers? Here are the pros and cons from an occupational therapist's point of view.

Tub or Shower Seniors
Share Post: | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | LinkedIn | Email

Income Disclosure: Product recommendations are based on my personal experience working with seniors. I may earn a commission on items purchased from affiliate links in this guide. Learn More.

When it comes to selecting a tub versus a shower for bathing purposes, many experts who work with the elderly population will automatically tell you that showers are the best option.

But are they really? Performing bathing tasks is a lifelong function that is forced to change as we age due to inevitable loss of mobility, stamina, balance, and medical conditions that impact our quality of life.

And, sometimes nothing is better than a good soak in a hot bathtub – as long as the bathtub is safe for seniors and the elderly to use.

This article will delve into four points to help us determine if a tub versus a shower is the safer option: safety, adaptation, long-term planning, and senior-centered goals.

Safety

If you casually walk into an assisted living or nursing facility, you’ll notice that every room is equipped with an ADA-compliant bathroom. Each bathroom has a shower with no threshold and several grab bars lining the walls.

Each shower is relatively large to fit both adaptive equipment and a personal aide if the resident needs additional assistance with showering tasks.

Now let’s back up. Not every senior is in assisted living, and not every senior requires assistance for bathing tasks. Many seniors can complete their bathing tasks just fine in either a shower stall or a standard bathtub at home.

As far as safety is concerned, seniors need to start thinking about eliminating the risk of falls or loss of balance. In this case, removing thresholds helps, so showers are generally the safer option. 

tub or shower seniors adaptation
When adapting your bathroom for the increased safety of your senior loved ones, factor in both practicality and affordability.

Adaptation

Both showers and tubs can be modified with adaptive and durable medical equipment to make bathing tasks safer and easier to perform.

Showers

Slide in a shower chair, removable shower head, non-slip mats, a few soap dispensers, and install a couple of grab bars, and you’re good to go!

Tubs

Prop up a bath bench, install some grab bars, place the non-slip mats, and install those soap dispensers, and you’re also good to go. If your tub is part of a tub-shower combination, consider installing a removable showerhead for more control of the water flow.

If you still want to lie down in the tub, install a grab rail on the edge of the tub for easy transfer.

When adapting a tub or shower, seniors and family members should consider two factors: practicality and financial feasibility. For example, if a shower stall is too narrow (as typically seen in a mobile home), shower chairs and other adaptive equipment may not fit.

Another typical example is the worry about bath benches draping over the tub and spilling water onto the floor. Lastly, another concern is that bath benches tend to run more expensive than shower chairs.

Whatever your situation, consider both “practicality” and “financial feasibility” when adapting your bathroom for increased safety.

tub or shower seniors planning
Unexpected health and age-related problems can change the way you use the bathroom.

Long-Term Planning

A senior going into retirement may be in excellent health, and modifications of bathing tasks may be the least of their concerns. However, this could all change in 5-20 years.

Unexpected surgeries, cardiac issues, respiratory changes, and age-related problems can reshape how you perform bathing tasks. With that in mind, consider your long-term planning for the layout of your bathroom.

Can you see yourself lying down and climbing out of a tub at 85? Or do you want to invest time in ripping out the old tub and installing a large walk-in shower?

Do you have a neurological or musculoskeletal condition that’s expected to worsen as you age? How do you want your bathroom to look or change in 5 years? Do you want enough room in your bathroom for physical help from others?

Consider all of this during the early senior years so you can still bathe safely and independently as possible.

RELATED: Are Walk-In Tubs Safe for Seniors and the Elderly?

Senior-Centered Goals

After considering safety, adaptation, and long-term planning, it really boils down to what you want for yourself. If you have the physical and cognitive capacity to perform bathing tasks how you see fit, no one really has the right to tell you what to do.

Loved ones and professionals can give you education and recommendations because they care, but your functional goals are still the highlight of your daily activities. 

Summary and Final Recommendations

Both tubs and showers can be adapted for safety in practical and financially feasible ways so that seniors can perform bathing tasks as independently as possible.

However, our findings tend to lean more towards showers being the safer option in terms of safety and long-term planning.

Ultimately, it’s really the senior or elderly person’s decision on which direction they want to take their bathing task performance. 

Photo of author

Meredith Chandler, OTR/L

Meredith has worked as an occupational therapist for 9 years and as a content writer for 6 years. She primarily works with the geriatric population, focusing on their rehabilitative needs and instructing caregivers and family members for home care. Her specialties include ADL training, neurological re-education, functional mobility training, adaptive equipment education, and wheelchair assessment and mobility training. She is a painter, a musician, and a mother of 4 who loves spending time with her family,

Join Our Crew!

Enter your email address to subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to get updates on new guides for seniors and the elderly and savings on senior-friendly products. And, of course, we will never sell or share your email address!

Leave a Comment