- Among the many reasons why seniors want walk-in bathtubs, their safety and independence rank highest
- The latest walk-in bathtubs offer a wide range of fancy features, including jacuzzi water jets
- More than one third of American adults will experience at least one fall every year (800,000 yearly hospital admissions)
- Because of balance, coordination, and various other factors, patients with Alzheimer’s are most vulnerable
- Fall prevention techniques have thus become critically important
The first thing you need to know is that you can only aspire to transform your standard tub into a walk-in version if you own your home or you have the necessary authorization from your home owner.
People who want to get a walk-in tub have the following reasons in mind:
- Their safety, greater independence (avoiding slippage and falls and being able to bathe with or without little assistance)
- They are seniors with various mobility issues, or people born with mobility disabled
- They are seniors who have made the decision to age at home for the long haul
- They are family caregivers of individuals with mobility issues, or caregivers who have decided to keep their parents at home for the duration
- They are patients with early Alzheimer’s who can still get in and out of a walk-in tub, or caregivers of patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s who would need to assist their loved ones
- They are way overweight, cannot fir into a regular tub, and have seen the merits of a bariatric tub made for large folks
- They want to convert their old tub into something new and luxurious (a step-up into a superior bathing experience)
- Therapeutic reasons (soothing aching joints and tense or sore muscles)
- To calm and revitalize their energy
- To indulge in a lifetime of luxurious bathing events
Picture for a moment how you, presumably a person with no mobility issues, navigate getting in and out of a standard and old-fashioned tub:
- First you just stand there and lift one leg all the way over the high edge, a height of around 17 or 18 inches
- In that moment, you are balanced gingerly on the other leg
- You then plough the leg that’s in the air on to the tub floor
- You bend over and rest an arm on the edge of the tub
- And then you lift the other leg and place it on the tub floor next to the first leg
- And then you finally have to somehow go from an upright position all the way down to lay fully down on your back
A tricky maneuver when, added to all that, you consider that at some point when you’re done taking the bath, you have to somehow stand upright again, probably the most slippery part of the transaction, and repeat the above moves, this time to get out of the tub and into the bath’s soaking wet floor.
You can therefore see how a walk-in tub would have been so much easier had you had balance or other mobility issues. If you have such challenges, opening the walk-in tub’s door all the way out, or all the way in, and just stepping in over what this time is usually only a 4-inch high edge, is so much easier to navigate -and safer.
Here’s another reason why it’s so much safer: you don’t have to go from an upright position all the way down to lying on your stretched-out back. Walk-in tubs have another feature tailored made for safety and comfort: a molded chair that you can sit on while your body is submerged nicely in warm water.
If you happen to be wheelchair bound, the transfer from wheelchair through the bath tub’s wide open door can also be performed easily by a caregiver who knows what they’re doing. If you’re wheelchair-bound, the usual alternative is for you to be transferred onto a stool in the middle of the bath, depriving you of the fool joy of soaking in warm water. Transferring you over an 18-inch barrier is not the easiest of maneuvers, unless of course your caregiver has access to a Hoyer lift of sorts.
After reading an article written by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), many family caregivers responsible for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other types of dementia determined to find out as much as they could about walk-in bathtubs. The NIA article was alarming enough, as it reported that one in three seniors over age 65 fall and sustain a wide range of injuries every year, including many deaths, and that the vast majority of these falls occur in the bathroom, with the bathtub ranking up there as causing the biggest bedlam. That and other similar articles was sufficient to create enough demand so that manufacturers, who’d only been making those tubs for a little over a decade, started getting creative with better products with many more features.
Walk-in bathtubs are tubs that have doors that open and enable the user to easily and safely step over the little edge and “walk-in”, instead of having to step over a much higher edge on traditional-type bathtubs. In addition, walk-in tubs have built-in and molded shower seats that are roughly 17 inches high and have a textured surface to prevent slipping off the seat. Needless to say, the seats offer a much safer bathing experience since the tub user can more readily step in and out of them, and they allow bathers to sit upright while submerged in air-jetted water instead of lying down on their backs and soaking in the traditional tubs. They are thus tailor-made for individuals with mobility issues who cannot easily lay down and then get up.
These modern bathtubs also have fast-acting drainage systems so that the user doesn’t have to wait long for the water to drain before they can step out. They also have water-tight sealing around the door to prevent water from trickling out when the tub is filled with water.
Besides, when filled, walk-in tubs leave you with warm water of a depth of about 2.5 feet, as against your old tub with just over 12 inches in depth, so picking the walk-in option definitely gives you a spa-like soothing soak.
Safety features that are available in most high-end walk-in bathtubs include:
- Extendable shower head
- Anti-slip floors
- Safety drains
- And grab bars
- Faucets with lever handles for people with arthritic hands
Finally, the more modern versions of walk-in bathtubs come in different sizes, colors, and shapes, and the expensive ones come with features like jacuzzi water jets and more.
Here are a few different types of walk-in bathtubs:
- A soaker walk-in bathtub: This is the most basic and least expensive bathtub on the market, with no bells and whistles. It does nevertheless come with a well-sealed door to prevent spilling water when the tub is filled.
- A hydrotherapy walk-in bathtub: This is a step-up from the soaker tub, with added features such as water and air jet that consumers like because it feels good and is marketed as having therapeutic benefits.
- A Bariatric bathtub: This is a standard walk-in bathtub that is made for larger users and that can be purchased with a couple of add-on features.
- A Wheel-Chair Accessible walk-in bathtub: With an outward-opening door, this serves to enable a smooth transfer from wheelchair to tub
Consumers looking to buy a walk-in tub have options galore. You would need to concentrate on:
- Your budget (with installation, you’re looking at a range of roughly $3,000 to over $10,000)
- The features you most wish to go for (e.g. with or without wheelchair accessibility, aerotherapy, Jacuzzi, hand-held shower, etc.)
- Different type-models
- And different manufacturers
Here is a short list of manufacturers to start you off on getting your own research going:
Hydro Dimensions: 855-976-0335 (luxurious models to which water air jets and a variety of other features can be added)
Bathing Safety: 855-425-5932 (marketing themselves as being Veteran-owned, they have hand-held showers and other accommodating features)
Safe Step Walk-in Tubs: 844-311-0057 (hydro tubs with refined safety features all the way to grab bars and low steps)
American Standard: 844-395-0235 (one of the best-known manufacturers of bathroom fixtures, they feature a whole line of walk-in tubs)
Independent Home: 855-982-2715 (another large American manufacturer with hydrotherapy walk-in tubs, specifically for seniors)
Walk-in tubs are not cheap, starting with figuring out how the contractor is going to break down and remove your old tub, replace it with your beautiful new tub, and then fixing all the mess done on your bath’s walls and floor. How much does all that cost? As little as a few hundred dollars, which is commonly unlikely, to as much as $5,000 and higher.
Although many manufacturers want to sell you on an all-in price to include the tub itself and its installation, many consumers have found it cheaper to choose the option of having another contractor do the installation. The only advice we can give you in that regard has to do with doing your homework by checking the reviews on both the manufacturer as well as the independent contractor who will do the installation.
The real pricey walk-in tubs can cost upwards of $10,000, although those would have to include fancy showers and features that you may never get to use. The list of manufacturers who these days produce walk-in tubs, at all kinds of prices, seems to be endless, giving you a ton of options. In the next section, we will give you some guidelines as to how to select a walk-in tub to suit your needs and budget.
As you might have guessed, neither Medicare nor your typical health care insurance is not going to come to your aid in mitigating the high price of what you’re thinking about. A long-term care insurance policy might, but it would have to be one of those “Cadillac” policies that not many people have.
Both the fear of falling and the fall itself are real concerns for older Americans. Although falling is not an inevitable result of getting older, it is a well-known fact in the geriatric world that falls are the most prevalent hazard, mostly inside and around the home. For older people in the U.S., falls constitute the foremost cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries.
Older Americans indeed have cause to be extra weary of how they move around and go up and down stairs, for slipping and falling, at best, threaten their safety, independence, quality of life, and pocket book.
Even falls that do not produce injuries have a heavy toll on the elderly, for fearing a fall often prevents vulnerable older Americans from doing things and expanding their activities. This inevitably results in added sedentary lifestyles among those who badly need physical activity for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and possibly even Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. That same fear can also lead to social withdrawal, depression, and heightened feelings of vulnerability.
The statistics speak for themselves: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites the following alarming facts:
- Falls: More than one third of American adults will experience at least one fall every year
- Emergency room incidence: An older adult is transported to an ER for a fall every 11 seconds, leading to 800,000 Americans being hospitalized every year
- Death from falls: An American adult succumbs terminally to a fall every 19 minutes, with 27,000 annual deaths
- Age 75 and older: Americans age 75 and older comprise more than 60 percent of people who die from falls; they are also four or five times more likely to be admitted to a long-term facility for a year or longer
- Non-fatal trauma: Falls of older adults lead the way among all causes of non-fatal traumatic events that end up in massive numbers of hospital admissions
- Cost estimates: It is estimated that the total cost of falls among older adults will reach over $67 billion by the year 2020
More than 300,000 Americans aged 65 or older are hospitalized each year with hip fractures of different types, and of those, only approximately 25% survive the initial 12 months following their fracture, while the rest live longer, though with a vastly diminished quality of life.
A broken bone or joint may not sound all that dangerous, but if you’re an older person, you can pay a heavy price for broken hip surgery. You could be on your way to serious disability -or worse. The best-case resulting scenario would be a sudden and precipitous decline in independence and quality of life.
In a meta-study published in 2010 that involved more than half a million women and over 150,000 men over 50, researchers from both Belgium and the U.S. found the risk of death in both genders three months after broken hip surgery to be five to eight times higher.
Here are a few additional facts relating to the elderly community:
- Among older adults, the majority of fractures are caused by falls, and a large number of all falls cause broken bones
- About 30 percent of those who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries such as broken hips or head traumas
- The most common fractures are of the vertebrae, hip, upper thigh bone, pelvis, hand, arm and forearm, leg and ankle
- The causes of death after hip fracture surgery included pneumonia, accelerated dementia, pulmonary embolism, infection, and heart failure
The impact of falls, particularly on our relatively bone-brittle seniors can be massive, frequently leading to ghastly injuries, stressful visits from medical first responders, a trip to the nearest hospital and, only too often, death.
People with Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia are all the more vulnerable. Not only do they frequently have balance, coordination, and vision issues but, because of their mental impairment, their spacial awareness is also suspect, and the multiple medications they take make them groggy and with wobbly dispositions at the best of times.
Because our aging folks spend the vast share of their time in the home, the largest part of all falling incidents happen in the home. Researchers have also revealed that the majority of injuries are caused by falls not from falling down stairs, as might have been expected, but from falls happening on the same level and from a standing position, such as tripping while walking. It thus makes good sense to conduct a thorough investigation of fall risks around the house and take action to mitigate both the obvious and less evident hazards.
Here is an abbreviated list of steps that can be taken to reduce the odds of needless and commonly predictable falling accidents:
A home full of clutter is asking for trouble. Make it a rule in an Alzheimer’s patient’s home to routinely put pieces of furniture and other odd items away neatly where they belong, and keep passageways clear.
Keep all the areas where the patient dwells well lit, and place night lights throughout the areas of likely passage such as from the bedroom to the bathroom, back and forth to the kitchen, and on any staircases that may be used.
Slip resistant mats and materials
Replace throw-rugs throughout the home with slip-resistant rugs, and fix other items sternly on the staircase so that handrails and possible carpeting are fastened securely.
Pay special attention to the bathroom where the majority of accidents occur. Bump-proof all the sharp edges, and use slip-proof rubber mats that don’t move or twist on the bathroom and shower floors, and also use textured adhesive on the tub floor. Grab bars are critical for your loved one’s safety: by the toilet, tub and shower, and on the wall on the opposite side of the tub.
Keeping the floors dry
Any water spills on the floor of the bathroom and kitchen should be quickly mopped and wiped dry.
Take regular inventory of all the meds your loved one takes. Your patient’s doctor or pharmacist can counsel you as to the specific medications that cause interactions or symptoms such as lightheadedness or drowsiness.
large-fitting slippers are hazardous, and so are high heels. Use snug-fitting slippers and shoes with non-slip soles. Use Velcro wherever possible instead of shoelaces.
Pets cause tumbles and falls as they dart around, so make sure your household pets don’t get in your loved one’s way when he or she is moving about the house.
Aging eyes require extra care. It’s important to get a proper exam regularly from an ophthalmologist as well as visiting an optical retailer that has appropriate options for your loved ones. Your optician should be well-versed on the main features that are required when choosing glasses for an older face.
I was at the home care agency where I work when one day, a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a woman who was shopping around for a live-in caregiver for her mother, Hilda. The caller and I hit it off nicely on the phone, and we quickly got a good conversation going. She informed me that Hilda was 78 and with moderate to advanced Alzheimer’s, and that she had, a few months back, brought Hilda to live with her in a posh nearby neighborhood.
As was my practice, I said I would like to go visit them both at their home where I could conduct a proper needs assessment that would enable me to select the most appropriate live-in caregiver for Hilda. And so it was that I went there that same afternoon.
Hilda immediately started calling me Jim when my name is Alex. Both her daughter and I tried to gently sway her away from “Jim”, but to no avail, so Jim I was for the remainder of that visit.
I ascertained upon arrival that this was a wealthy family living opulently in a beautiful house. The living room where I was led had modern Italian furniture, and I promptly spotted at least two housekeepers or maids going around.
Anyway, after some thirty years in my home care agency, helping out literally hundreds of families with loved ones with dementia, I went to work. I asked to be shown Hilda’s bedroom and bathroom, as well as the room where the live-in caregiver would sleep.
Everything was high end, as by then I expected. Hilda’s bedroom was splendidly furnished, with a walk-in closet to suit an active executive. But what instantly struck me was the most beautiful walk-in bathtub I had ever seen.
I wasn’t used to walk-in bathtubs in connection with patients with Alzheimer’s. The routine I was most accustomed to was sitting down such patients on a stool either in the middle of the tub or elsewhere in the bathroom, and then pouring warm water gently over their heads. I therefore had a ton of questions for Hilda’s daughter.
Apparently, she had an old bathtub replaced with this new one a couple of months after she brought Hilda to live with her, and at that point, she kind of flushed a little with embarrassment, perhaps at her lavish expenditure. But what I then learned was new to me and a good lesson. Hilda, it turned out, was scared stiff of the tub. She just hated being submerged in deep water. This bathtub was unlike any that she’s been used to, whether in her pre-dementia life or more recently, and she just panicked at the thought of having to step over the little ledge and get in there.
“So, what did you do?” I asked Hilda’s Daughter.
“We just give her a bath the usual way in another bathroom,” she answered. “She won’t even step in this bathroom, not even for other chores, so we kept her sleeping in this room and simply used another bathroom where she feels perfectly at ease.”
Well, well, I thought. Lesson learned for the next time a client might ask me about what I thought of a walk-in bathtub for their loved one with Alzheimer’s. My advice would be to definitely go for it, unless of course they felt that their loved one might have the same reaction as Hilda did. How would they know? I really can’t answer that, and there is no practical way of finding out for sure. They would have to go on their intuition, based on whether they thought their loved one might get spooked like Hilda did, which, come to think of it, is not likely.
If you can afford to replace your old tub with one of those fancy new walk-in bathtubs with the nice features like air water jets, Jacuzzi, and the ever so handy molded seats, then don’t even hesitate. And if you have a loved one with dementia who can take advantage of the new fixture in their bath, all the better. It definitely is safer to navigate the far lower barrier of the tubs than it is with the regular ones, and it is much easier for you, the family caregiver, to give a bath when your loved one is sitting upright while submerged in the warm water.
The installation of the new walk-in tub can set you back anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars, while the bathtub itself starts at a little over $1000+ for the “soaker” with no frills, and goes up to $10,000+ for the superior and hugely luxuriant models with all the add-on features you ever dreamed of.