By Shelley Webb, RN | Are walk-in bathtubs a good choice for you, your elderly parents, or your disabled kin? Before you buy, consider the pros and cons of this trendy product for baby boomers |
As baby boomers age in massive numbers, products are being created to help them live more independently in their own homes for a longer period of time. One product that was created with this in mind is the walk-in bathtub. They are advertised as being great for elderly, disabled, or mobility-impaired individuals and for those who want a spa-like experience but have a limited amount of space.
When my father, who was diagnosed with dementia, came to live with me in his late eighties, I was concerned about his stability. He had broken several bones earlier in his life and had developed neuropathy. He was already a fall-risk, and stepping into a bathtub, even with a grab bar, wasn’t safe. So we decided to invest in a walk-in bathtub.
Walk-in bathtubs are taller than the average tub and have a slip-resistant floor, built-in seat, one or more grab bars, hand-held shower head, and watertight door that opens either on the side or front. They’re made of fiberglass or acrylic, range from 48″x28″ to 60″x32″, and can be made to fit almost any bathroom. Many options can be added, including jet therapy, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, and chromatherapy.
Because this is an expensive purchase (ranging from $1,000 to over $15,000), it’s important to note the pros and cons of walk-in bathtubs. Here’s what we found to be true.
- Walking into rather than stepping over a tub decreases risk of falling.
- Slip-resistant flooring decreases risk of falling.
- Built-in seat allows a comfortable bathing experience.
- High sides decrease risk of falling.
- Optional hydrotherapy is excellent for arthritis and leg cramps.
- Fairly easy to clean.
- An almost claustrophobic bathing experience caused by seat being close to faucet and shower head.
- Waiting the required 2–3 minutes for water to drain before opening the door to exit tub can be a chilling experience.
- The expense of the tub itself and construction costs.
- When an extension is required, the shower curtain must sit on the inside of the bathtub, making the bathing experience even more claustrophobic.
- Possibility of a pushy salesman visiting the home of a vulnerable senior.
- Too confusing to operate for some elderly and most dementia patients.
This is not a product for someone with dementia. The door handle and controls can be confusing. My father would focus on the hydrotherapy control button and turn it on before getting into tub, which, of course, was before there was any water in it. It became necessary for us to cover the button with duct tape so he wouldn’t notice it. Several times, he also opened the door before the water drained out, thus creating a mess and an even greater risk of falling.
Walk-in bathtubs have a place in today’s aging-in-place society, but it is imperative to equip yourself or your loved one with the proper information before shopping for one.
For more information and reviews of the top walk-in bathtub brands, please see Shelley’s guide on Consumer Affairs.