ASK THE EXPERT: How to create the perfect care home wetroom

A stylish showering option, wetrooms are growing in popularity and in new-build facilities they are universally specified.  An extremely practical, and potentially very attractive, solution in a care home environment, they do need careful planning as Chris Tranter, product manager at Bristan explains.

For care providers, the skill in creating personal hygiene facilities lies in helping residents maintain a maximum level of safe independence.  Where the assistance of a carer is necessary, it should be possible to provide this help without compromising a resident’s dignity or posing a risk to the carer’s personal safety.

It is now widely recognised that with a shower installation, in the majority of cases, much less personal intervention is required, removing the need for devices such as hoists which can cause distress to residents.

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The biggest concern with a shower, however, is the difficulty a user may have in stepping up into a shower tray and the danger of slipping when doing so.  A wetroom solution brings all the benefits of a shower installation and can help eliminate both hazards:  tripping is not a risk because the whole of the bathroom area has a level floor, while slipping can be avoided by the correct choice of flooring, such as a non-slip vinyl.

An important advantage of a wetroom is that there is no need to delineate the shower area, so all of the space can be fully utilised.  This gives more space to manoeuvre with a walking aid or shower chair and allows for a carer to be present to offer assistance.

Care homes have to think carefully about choice of shower type in order to meet their statutory obligations.  Traditionally, shower installations have been of the TMV3 mixer type, feeding off the stored hot water system.  However, technology has moved on and it is possible to have an electric shower designed specifically for a care environment.  Happily, aesthetics have also moved on and manufacturers are now producing care shower designs that would not look out of place in a domestic property.

When choosing an electric shower, it is important to choose one that is designed for the care market.  While domestic electric showers are likely to have temperature regulation features, water temperatures over the accepted safe level of 41°C may still occur if there are fluctuations in flow or pressure.

A thermostatic electric shower can be set to deliver heated water at a safe temperature and, with older people who are more temperature-sensitive; the maximum water temperature can be changed at installation to suit.

Bristan’s Joy Care electric shower is an example of a product designed specifically, but not exclusively, for the care market, combining essential safety features, meeting BEAB care standard, with a stylish design.  It is BEAB Care and RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) endorsed and easy to install with high safety functionality, plus lots of features designed for the elderly and less able which facilitate independent showering.

A potential barrier to the incorporation of wetrooms into care homes, particularly existing facilities looking to upgrade their bathroom facilities, is the fact that gravity drainage is not always an option.  This can, however, be overcome by the use of a level-access pump (LAP) which provides a reliable solution for waste-water.

Carefully positioned grab rails are essential in a care home wetroom and these must be securely fixed as they can be expected to have to take a person’s full weight.  Grab rails need to be thick enough for someone with a condition like arthritis to be able to grip, with a non-slip or textured surface.  Residents with visual impairment need to be considered, so a strong contrasting colour should be chosen – white rails on white walls are definitely to be avoided.

Straight rails offer a good aid for those with limited mobility, or simply to offer reassurance for those who are nervous about their balance, but an angled rail should be positioned adjacent to shower seats to help users move from standing to sitting and vice versa.  Shower seats should also be available and these can either be removable or fold down to enable the shower to be accessible to users of all ranges of mobility.

Conventionally, wetrooms are designed as open spaces, but care home wetroom design has to assume the involvement of a carer, whether in a simple supervisory role or with a need for intervention.  An ideal solution is a half-height shower door that enables the carer to supervise and prevents water splashing too far.

Because care homes have to cater for a wide range of mobility capabilities, there are considerable demands on bathroom design.  However, for safety, hygiene, convenience and sheer aesthetics, a carefully designed wetroom ticks all the boxes.

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