Shower stretchers are used for washing people who struggle to sit upright unaided. They are an alternative to using a shower chair with a harness and straps. Carers are able to assist the user with his/her personal hygiene tasks more easily on a shower stretcher than a chair as the user is not strapped in, nor in a sitting position. The shower stretcher allows the user to lie comfortably on the stretcher whilst being washed. An additional benefit of shower stretchers is that they can be used as a changing table.
The main disadvantage of most stretchers is their size, however some shower stretchers can be attached to the wall and folded away.
Different stretchers suit different needs; these are the factors you need to take into consideration before purchasing one:
1. Is the client able to move independently?
If the user is likely to move about whilst they are being showered you should purchase a shower stretcher with rails all around to prevent the user from sliding and falling off.
2. Can the person transfer independently?
If the user can transfer on their own it is important the stretcher can be lowered to a good transfer height. Once the user is on the stretcher it needs to be reset at the height of the carer’s waist; this will prevent back and upper limb injuries during manual handling tasks.
Height adjustability is an option with most shower stretchers (both wall mounted and free standing). If the user cannot transfer independently, and the carers are family members of a similar height, you can purchase a non-adjustable stretcher.
The height adjustment mechanism can be hydraulic or battery operated. Battery operated stretchers are more expensive, and they also cost more to service and are more likely to develop faults. The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) require that all shower stretchers are serviced every 12 months in domestic environments.
Various different mechanisms are used in free-standing shower stretchers to adjust the height. It is important to be aware that some mechanisms do not raise the stretcher directly up – they raise the stretcher up and to the side. The operator should be aware that this type requires space at either end (up to 20cm).
3. Wall mounded/or free standing?
Wall mounted shower stretchers can be height adjustable or set to a non-adjustable height. The benefit of wall-mounted stretchers is that you can fold them onto the wall, so they take up less space when not in use. The big drawback of the majority of these stretchers is that they are limited in protection, as you cannot have rails and padding around them. Such stretchers are not suitable for users who are able to move about whilst showering, as they are likely to fall off or trap themselves between the stretcher and the wall.
Free-standing stretchers take up a lot more space – they are the size of a single bed – however, you can position them and move them about to enable access from both sides if required (which is not possible if the stretcher is wall mounted). They are very secure as you can ensure they have rails and bumpers on all sides.
Free-standing stretchers come with various accessories, for example wedges for the head and limbs, and some free-standing stretchers can be used as a shallow bath.