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Nothing feels better than a warm, soothing bath to help relax after a long day and ease away the aches and pains. But for people with disabilities or mobility problems, especially older adults, getting in and out of a bathtub can be dangerous—or even impossible. Regular bathtubs are about 1½-feet tall, so stepping over the rim requires coordination and balance, especially if the tub or floor is wet. The risks of slipping and falling are great:
- The bathroom is one of the most dangerous places in the home for slip-and-fall accidents.
- According to the National Council on Aging, 250,000 Americans age 60 and over slip and fall around the bathtub area each year.
- The majority of broken hips happen by slipping in the tub.
- Two-thirds of older adults that fall in the tub area will fall again within six months.
Fortunately, there are options to let you enjoy all the healthful benefits and luxury of a warm bath or shower without the fear of slipping or falling—walk-in tubs and walk-in showers.
What Is a Walk-in Tub or Walk-in Shower?
A walk-in tub, also called a step-in tub or safety tub, is a bathtub with a built-in door. The door has a special lock and seal to prevent water from leaking. Because the door is only two or three inches from the floor, you can walk into the tub without needing to step over a high rim or asking for help. Walk-in tubs and showers can replace your regular tub, or you can install one anywhere there is access to plumbing, such as a laundry room.
The walk-in shower is a great alternative if you would rather take a long hot shower than a bath. Walk-in showers have a very low rim—about 5 inches high—so you can step safely and easily in and out of the shower.
Whether you choose a walk-in tub or shower, the ease of entry greatly reduces your risk of falling, allowing you to be more independent.
Does Medicare Cover Walk-in Tubs?
Medicare does not cover walk-in tubs because they are not considered Durable Medical Equipment (DME). Walk-in tubs are a "convenience" rather than a "medical necessity." Plus, anyone can use these special tubs, so they are not just for Medicare beneficiaries or adults with special needs.
How Do I Qualify for a Walk-in Tub?
Although Medicare does not cover walk-in tubs at this time, many companies offer financing with low monthly payment plans. When speaking with a supplier, be sure to ask what forms of payment they accept and what financing options they offer. You may also be able to get lower-interest loans from organizations that help the disabled and seniors, such as the AARP.
How Much Will a Walk-in Tub Cost Me?
How much you pay for a walk-in tub or shower will depend on many factors, including:
- Model, size, and dimensions
- Standard features
- Upgrade options
- Warranty options
- Construction quality
- Any additional fees for installation
- Any additional costs for disposal of your old tub
- Where you purchase the tub
Most walk-in tubs offer basic features such as a hand-held shower wand, non-slip floor, built-in chair, and safety handrails. However, some companies include these "standard" items in the base price of the tub, while others consider them "upgrade options" that have added costs.
Choosing a Walk-in Tub
There are many different types of walk-in tubs to consider, so it is a good idea to do your homework. Some tubs are made of lower-quality fiberglass and others are made of non-porous acrylic, which is easy to clean and will not discolor. Some tubs are designed with extra safety features such as mechanized bath lifts and anti-scald technology. Many brands and models also allow you to add luxury or therapeutic features like hydrotherapy massage and aromatherapy.
The best choice of a walk-in tub or shower for you will depend on the size and layout of your bathroom, as well as your budget, needs, and preferences.
Therapeutic Benefits of Walk-in Tubs
Therapeutic features such as hydrotherapy massage jets can help relieve common pains and discomfort and promote physical well-being. Adding hydrotherapy to your walk-in tub can be especially beneficial if you suffer from one or more of the following conditions:
- Arthritis or rheumatism
- Back pain or sciatica
- Stress or stress-related disorders
- Chest congestion or bronchitis
- High blood pressure
- Muscle cramps or weakness
- Joint, muscle, or nerve problems
- Circulatory problems
- Balance disorders
- Varicose veins
Even if you do not want to spend more for therapeutic upgrades, a 15- to 25-minute soak in hot water alone will help increase your circulation, improve skin tone, and relieve pressure on joints and muscles. A nice soak before bedtime is also a natural way to get a more restful night's sleep.
Please note that if you suffer from a chronic condition such as diabetes, arthritis, or high blood pressure, it's important to consult with your doctor first to make sure bathing in a hot tub or hydrotherapy massage is appropriate for you.
Where Do I Buy a Walk-in Tub?
Many companies sell walk-in tubs and showers, so you may want to first ask your doctor, friends, and family for recommendations. When choosing a supplier, look for a company that makes a quality product, has a proven track record with the local Better Business Bureau, and offers a good warranty.
Most manufacturers offer a free in-home consultation, which is strongly recommended. During the consultation, an advisor will take measurements, review the existing plumbing, and ask questions to learn about your specific needs. An in-home consultation is also a great opportunity for you to ask the questions about the installation process:
- Is installation included in the price?
- How long will installation take?
- Is disposal of my old tub provided, and if so, is there an extra fee for this?
- How long have you been in this business?
- How many walk-in tubs have you installed?
- What is your warranty on the tub and the installation?
- What type of licenses do you have (contractor, plumbing, electrical)?
- What type of insurance do you have to cover your workers?
- Do you have references from customers?
Other Important Things to Consider
Although the most important things to consider are available space and quality, here are some other questions to keep in mind when choosing a walk-in tub or shower:
- Are your doorways wide enough to get the tub into the bathroom, or will you need to widen or remove any doors?
- Can your water heater supply enough water to fill the tub?
- Does your house have enough water pressure to fill the tub quickly, so the water does not cool as you are filling the tub?
- Does the tub drain fast, so you don't have to sit in the tub too long before opening the door to get out?
- Does the door swing in or out? A door that swings in will be more watertight, but it may be more difficult to get in an out. If the door swings out, make sure there is enough room for the door to open completely.