Choosing an over toilet chair / commode

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For the last few months I’ve been searching for a solution to sitting on the toilet whilst on holiday. In my particular case, my hips splay outwards and I have to sit on a very specifically shaped toilet seat. If I don’t, I have so much pain that I can’t go or balance. There are many different shapes of toilet seat – hole aperture differs in shape and size, the bevel of the seat can be highly ridged, a gentle curve or totally flat. I have low muscle tone, hip contractures, poor balance and my hips dislocate. My husband also has to manually lift me to transfer.  All in all, I struggle when sitting on most toilets.

So, the solution was to take a portable over the toilet chair that meets specific criteria:

  • low enough to transfer
  • adjustable to cope with different heights of toilet
  • a contoured seat (wide round aperture with no cut away – i.e. not horseshoe shaped)
  • arms that moved completely out the way to transfer and were height adjustable
  • removable foot rests / foot plates with no brackets sticking out to trip over.
  • portable to take on holiday
  • stable (I lean a lot to one side because of scoliosis)

So… how hard could this be out of the thousands of models available to purchase.

It turns out, it was impossible. I bought the closest thing I could find and my husband modified it (I found a suitable seat in Homebase and my husband did some engineering to attach it to the frame).

This blog shows some of the huge variations in shower/over toilet chairs that are available and some of their pros and cons. I hope you find it useful – please ask if you have any questions.

To view a range of models and descriptions – see my pinterest board for a range of examples of toilet chairs, seats and hygiene products.

Types of over the toilet chairs for adults.

Basic_Commode_ChairThis is a basic design. A flat seat, round aperture and rigid frame.

Footplates are often fixed or just have flip up feet parts – so tripping or catching them when transferring can be a problem. Some have fixed arms that are not removable and are a fixed height – so they might not go over the toilet at all. This one does not fold away – few come apart for transporting on holiday or folding when not in use.

Hospitals tend to have basic ones like this. I find them unbearably painful! They range from around £50-100

 

Assistant_Propelled_Freeway_T40

This is an example of the Freeway range of chairs. You can see that this chair has a padded seat. Many of these types have a choice of seat type.

A Horseshoe seat has a gap in the front or rear of the seat (and sometimes the side).

An aperture seat is a ‘donut’ with varying length and width of the hole (some are keyhole shaped, others are round or more oblong). The type of hole can make a huge difference to comfort – as can the depth of padding.

Most seats are flat – so if you need one that is sloping forward that might be hard to find. Some specialist seats offer backward tilt or ’tilt in space’ function – more about that later.

These types vary in how adjustable they are – simple things like how angled the footplates are can also make a difference to stability if moving in the chair. You can see the angle on this chair has the footplates a lot more out in front – which makes the chair longer to manoeuvre into bathrooms and over the toilet.

When you look underneath the chair, you can see it is totally free to go over the toilet – no bars or snagging parts. Note how the back is straight up, vertically aligned to the back castors – meaning you can get right back over the pan and won’t be peeing on the floor!

chilterninvadexThe chair on the left is from Chiltern Invadex. You can see the horseshoe type seat. Note how small the armrests are.

This is a common problem if you really need to lean on them (or rest arms on them). They are often hard plastic, uncomfortable and so small your arm falls over the side, which can mean you could fall sideways to some extent.

Consider how much you need to grab onto the arms and whether you need one that is padded or has a good width.

Arms also reach forward and are longer in some models more than others. This might be important in being able to stand, adjust your sitting position, grip etc. These are £4-600 and can have headrests, belts and other accessories.

 

 

Freeway_shower_chair

This is an example of a chair that has a high support back/head rest and also tilts backwards. Some have manual tilt and others are powered. You can expect to pay £1000-3000 pounds for these.

One thing with these is that you may need to use them with a commode pan because when tilted, they don’t usually fit over the toilet.

 

 

 

EtacThis is an Etac chair. The design is uncluttered and the footrest slides back under the seat. You can see the depth of padding and contoured seat.

A feature of this one is the gap at the back of the horseshoe seat – ideal if you have coccyx pain or pressure sores, or need someone to reach under to wipe.

Different chairs come with different backs. Some are flat canvas, others are hard plastic. This is a bit different in that it’s curved. However, if you have a spinal deformity this might be a problem and cause you to become sore or not Etac chair retails for around £560

 

Self_Propelled_Freeway_T50

 

Chairs can be pushed by an assistant (four small wheels or castors, each with brakes), self propelled (large wheels in the front or rear), or static. This is the Freeway T50 which retails for around £460

 

 

 

 

A note on height adjustment

If you want a chair to role over the toilet, for travelling, it is worth noting the following:

  • toilet pans in the UK vary in height. The lowest (floor to seat) are usually 39-46 cm and the high ones are 48-52cm

High_toilet

Toilet chairs vary in how much clearance they need to go over the toilet.

This can add another 4-6cm to the height, plus the height of any padded seat on your toilet chair. You could end up with a height that is impossible to transfer to or reach, unless you use a hoist.

  • toilet chairs may come in a range of fixed heights – so you could go on holiday and find the height you have chosen does not go over the pan.
  • the chair I chose, came with adjustable heights to alter without tools.
  • If the chair raises up – do the footplates also raise up (many do not so you may not reach them if you have short legs).
  • If you go with a set height the gap between the seat and pan might cause splash out.
  • Check if the model will go over any bidet/hygiene toilet – not all do.
  • The seat height might be adjustable – but are the armrests fixed?
  • The wider the arms are, if you have them at a certain height they could hit the fixed grab rails on toilet walls.

 

What did I choose?

I went for this one – the Invacare Ocean. I went for the wider spaced arms XL version. You can see how we modified it as I couldn’t use the seat it came with.

Invacare_Ocean

No modifications – the Invacare Ocean

I don’t need the heigh adjustable foot plates so we took them off. This was the bathroom in our room at the Future Inn in Plymouth. It’s a robust chair which does come apart for storage/travelling and we bought the carry bag accessory. However, we are not convinced it will fit in the bag as the back is wider than the XL version in the brochure. We took it already assembled (it arrives flat packed). The arms are very narrow and hard but it has a few levels of easy seat height adjustment and a small amount of arm height adjustment – this was about the middle setting. The toilet pan is fixed flush with the wall and the chair goes over it well.  It fits well in-between the wall grab rail and can still be used with the commode pan and slide rack it came with. It feels robust and managed the journey pushing it from the carpark to our room. Doubles up as a luggage cart (but slightly unsteady over some bumpy ground). I didn’t use it over the toilet this time as the height of the pan was a little high for transferring but I did use it for showering. It’s not light, so you would need the wheely bag (or a case) to transport it in if you can’t take it pre-assembled. We fit it behind me in our sit in the front wheelchair accessible car without a problem.

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