We think of bath time as an opportunity to unwind, but it is far from relaxing for many people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. The standard American bathtub was not designed with accessibility in mind. Most bathrooms have inconvenient and even dangerous tubs for people with mobility and strength impairments, including seniors. Consequently, they may avoid bathing for fear of falling or embarrassment.
The walk-in bathtub is intended to solve many of these problems and make it easier to bathe. In recent years, walk-in tubs have become increasingly popular, but is a walk-in bathtub right for you? In this article, we explore what you need to know before investing in a walk-in tub.
What is a Walk-in Tub?
A walk-in tub is a bathtub with a door and a lower threshold that makes it easier to get in and out. They are also known as accessible bathtubs. The door is watertight, allowing for designs that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Walk-in bathtubs may look just like a standard tub, or they may have a barrel-like design with an integrated seat so the bather can stand or sit rather than lying down.
To use a walk-in tub, the bather opens the door, steps in, then closes the door to create a watertight seal. They fill the tub with water, and when they are finished, drain it before opening the door and stepping out.
Walk-in Tub vs. Walk-in Showers: What’s The Difference?
Walk-in showers are an alternative to walk-in bathtubs and bathtubs more generally. While many homes feature a shower over a bath, walk-in showers replace the bath with an enclosed cubicle that is easier to step into and out of. If you prefer showers to baths, walk-in showers are an excellent option.
However, walk-in showers are not suitable for everyone. They introduce a potential slipping hazard, and showering can be difficult for people with mobility, coordination, or cognitive issues. Walk-in showers also pose challenges for caregivers, who may prefer a walk-in bath when bathing people who cannot wash themselves.
How Much Do Walk-in Tubs Cost?
Walk-in tubs cost more than standard bathtubs, and they are more expensive to install. Expect to pay something in the area of $1,500 for an inexpensive and modestly featured walk-in tub, although depending on the design, brand, and material, they can cost as much as $5,000.
From that baseline, the cost increases as you add features such as water jets and hydrotherapy fittings. For a tub with both air and water jets, you will pay between $7,000 and $10,000. Bariatric tubs and two-seaters are available for between $3,000 and $7,000. For a top-of-the-range luxury walk-in tub with premium materials and features, the cost can be as much as $20,000.
Does Medicare Cover Walk-in Bathtubs?
Medicare does not cover walk-in bathtubs. Medicare covers some durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and patient lifts. But walk-in tubs aren’t included for a couple of reasons. First, like advanced home hospital beds, walk-in bathtubs can significantly improve your safety and quality of life, but they are not considered essential medical equipment. Second, walk-in tubs often incur remodeling and installation costs, which are also not covered by Medicare.
In limited circumstances, you can reimburse some of the costs if a doctor prescribes the bath and the supplier has a Medicare number, but there is no guarantee of reimbursement. If you intend to buy and install a walk-in bath, you should expect to pay the full cost.
Are Walk-In Tubs Safe for Seniors?
In general, walk-in tubs are safe for seniors. The low threshold makes it much easier to get in and out without tripping or slipping. In addition, many walk-in tubs are fitted with support rails and other equipment to help bathers sit, stand, and move safely.
However, walk-in bathtubs are not suitable for every senior. If the drain is blocked, you might be stuck; you can’t get out until the tub has emptied. Before leaving a vulnerable senior in the tub, ensure they have the strength and coordination to open the drain plug. Additionally, the bather fills the tub while inside; seniors with cognitive and mobility impairments may be scalded if they fill it with excessively hot water.
Walk-in tubs are an excellent option for seniors and people with disabilities who struggle to use a standard bathtub. But, as with any medical or care equipment, you should consult a medically trained professional if you have doubts about the suitability of a walk-in tub for your circumstances.