Caregivers know that bath time ranks as one of the most challenging tasks of the day for a child with cerebral palsy or immobility issues. Lifting, lowering, supporting a slippery and potentially squirming kid is awkward at best and dangerous every second of the process.
Manufacturers of bath safety solutions bear still more burdens. They must not only address these obvious issues, but worry about angles such as positioning, too. As Abraham Goldstein, president of the Wenzelite Re/hab division for Drive Medical in Port Washington, N.Y., knows, a child can develop pressure sores in as little as 20 minutes. A bath device also needs to adapt to both bathtubs and showers, despite which option a family has at home. After all, Murphy’s Law will dictate the first hotel room they book, or Grandma’s house, will have the opposite.
Susan Johnson, director of education at Columbia Medical based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., realizes how fast children grow, so bath aids need to expand the frame as the child matures, as consumers don’t want to invest in a new piece every 18 months. And all of this needs to come in a lightweight package with a small footprint for storage. “Bathrooms are small. People have other equipment in that space, too. We have to blend in,” says Johnson.
The Starting Point
Wenzelite begins its design with the all-important positioning topic, making sure the chairs have as many as five angle adjustments between 0 and 90 degrees, all achievable with one hand. Columbia Medical went with push buttons to move its seat backs, the better to avoid a plethora of tools for assembly.
Straps strong and wide enough to hold the child’s weight and thrust securely (although it’s never advisable for caretakers to step away from the tub, Goldstein warns), yet still narrow for comfort also merit attention.
Material choice can help with pressure sores as well as general maintenance. Wenzelite’s standard vinyl-covered nylon allows caregivers to slide the patient easily to a new position, although some children can develop allergies. In that case, a polyester knit provides a good substitute. Frame support is typically medical-grade PVC or stainless steel, which is more durable, but at least five lbs. heavier than the plastic versions.
Accessory lifts – more accurately described as stands, since most don’t move up and down at the base, elevator style – can also relieve the back strain for caretakers during bathing, and transfer systems can move a child to and from a wheelchair to the bath positioning equipment without requiring adults to carry them. It all adds to the safety benefits, says Johnson, but the equipment has to accommodate these add-ons in the first place.
“Unfortunately, funding dictates this industry,” Goldstein points out. “If the family gets financial help, the therapist will usually recommend a product that is best for the child. If parents are paying out of pocket and shopping on the Internet, the less expensive models can be very flimsy.” Commonly, belts don’t hold, or frames bend and wobble.
Dealers, of course, do need to consider profit-margin potential, but that bottom-line number should include how quickly technicians (or the consumer) can assemble the bath positioning systems. “If it’s out of the box, it cuts down on maintenance time,” Johnson notes.