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Walk-in Tubs for Seniors: Considerations and Safety Strategies

Falls among older individuals often occur in the bathroom, which is recognized as the most prevalent and hazardous area for such accidents. Negotiating the transition in and out of the bathtub, particularly for those with diminished stability or balance, presents a significant challenge. To mitigate the risk of injury and improve overall quality of life with age, adopting a walk-in tub emerges as a valuable solution.

Accessibility tubs for the elderly

As you or someone you care about gets older, it's essential to think about how easy it is to take a bath. Traditional tubs can be tough to step into, especially for those with mobility problems. A walk-in bathtub, with its low step-in threshold and hinged door, makes getting in and out much simpler and safer.

There are many things to consider when deciding to purchase and install a walk-in tub for seniors. Installing a walk-in tub can be quite costly, so you will want to review all your options first before deciding that a walk-in is the route you should take. Although it can be helpful in preventing falls and injury, a walk-in tub is not always necessary and there are alternatives.

🫧 Editor’s choice for senior walk-in tubs

What to consider when choosing a walk-in tub

Once you have decided to go forth with installing a walk-in tub, you will want to determine which tub to purchase based on the material it’s made from, accessibility and safety attributes, add-on features, and pricing.

  • Material. Most tubs are made from acrylic or fiberglass. Both are durable materials, but acrylic may last longer and look nicer in the long run as it doesn’t crack, stain, or peel as easily as fiberglass. Fiberglass is also more porous, making it more difficult to clean. However, it may be more cost-efficient to install a fiberglass tub and may be the way to go if you are looking to save money.
  • Accessibility standards. If you have a disability or use a wheelchair, you will want to make sure your bathtub meets the ADA accessibility standards. These include things such as the clearance in front of the bathtub for access, installation and size of grab bars, permanent seat installation, and placement of the bath knobs and controls.
  • Add-on features. These include items for convenience and/or therapeutic features. Items such as rapid fill, quick drain, handheld shower head, and a towel bar can make life easier and save time. Many tubs also offer therapeutic features such as hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, chromotherapy, and bubble jets. These are usually not necessary but can make your experience more enjoyable.
  • Pricing. Pricing your tub may not be as easy to pinpoint as there are many features and add-on items to be considered when determining the price. Also, keep in mind that often Medicare will not cover the cost of a walk-in bathtub. Installation can vary as well, depending on if your bathroom door must be expanded, if there’s any wall removal needed to expand the bathroom for the tub to fit, any underlying damage that needs repair, flooring or wall repair or replacement, plumbing, and electrical re-routing needs. However, you can most likely expect to pay around $2,000–10,000 for the tub itself, and usually, that does not include installation, which may be another $3,000–10,000. Make sure to call around and ask for quotes to get the best deal. Inquire about what features are included and if installation is built into the price.

Walk-in tub comparisons

Here is a simple review of some of the more popular walk-in tubs. Reviewed below are four models as well as their features and pricing:

BrandMaterialStep heightSafety featuresAdd-on featuresPricingWheelchair accessible
American StandardAcrylic, fiberglass, and gel-coat materials3-inch step heightGrab bars, textured bath floor, ADA compliant tubsFour different walk-in tubs available: air baths, standard walk-in bathtubs, whirlpools, and combo massage jet tub$4,000–11,000 (excluding installation)Yes
Ella's BubblesAcrylic6-inch step heightGrab bars, textured floor, outward swing door, ADA compatible elementsGlass shower screen, hand-held shower wand, dual-drain technology, hydrotherapy, heated seats, massage and hydro jets, chromotherapy$4,000–12,000 (excluding installation)Yes
KohlerFiberglass and gel-coat materials3-inch step heightGrab bars, extra-wide entry door, textured flooringFrameless bath screen, handheld shower wand, bubble jets, massage jets, heated backrest, quick drain, electronic keypad$2,000–25,000 (excluding installation)No
SafeStepFiberglass and gel-coat materials4-inch step heightAnti-scald, anti-slip floor and seat, sanitary gel coat, built-in grab barsAromatherapy, chromotherapy, hygiene bidet, rapid fill, quick drain, electronic keypad, locking handle, rowel bar, handheld shower wand, water-resistant remote control$2,500–8,000 (excluding installation)No

How to care for a walk-in tub

If possible, rinse your tub after every bath or use. You can use warm water from the hand-held shower head, if available, to lightly spray over the walls, seat, flooring, and tub knobs to remove soap grime, body oils, and dirt so that it doesn’t accumulate making it harder to clean. Deep clean your tub at least once a month or weekly if necessary. An add-on feature that may be available during purchase is a self-cleaning feature, making cleaning more effortless. If you have bubble jets, you should follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to run a cleaning solution through them regularly to prevent mold and bacteria.

Alternatives to walk-in tubs

Before purchasing a walk-in tub and going through the process of having it installed, one should consider what alternatives are available. You may want to try different substitute items and methods first before going forth with a walk-in bathtub.

For example, there are shower chairs that can be purchased relatively cheaply that can assist with sitting in the bath or shower as well as transfer benches and small stepping stools that can help when getting in and out of the tub. Grab bars are usually something you can purchase as well and have installed in your bathroom and shower to have something to hold on to for balance when getting in and out of the bath.

A conversion kit is also an alternative to consider, as it’s usually the cheapest and quickest way to modify your existing tub into a walk-in. It usually involves cutting a 'door' out of the front of your tub to make a very low step height in the side of your tub and finishing the walls of the new cut-in to make it look more aesthetically pleasing. These kits can usually be purchased from around $200 to $800, with potential installation fees.

Preventing falls: strategies for home safety

In addition to installing a walk-in tub or components in your bathroom to make it safe, one should take steps to prevent falls in general. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are many factors that put one at higher risk but can also be adjusted to prevent falls.

  • Body or muscle weakness. After a medical assessment and with the guidance of a healthcare provider, focus on some simple exercises you can do to improve body weakness as well as taking your time to complete tasks instead of rushing through the activity.
  • Balance or walking difficulties. Speak with your healthcare provider to see if an assistive device, such as a cane or walker, can help you get around. After determination from your provider, see if there are exercises you can do to improve. A healthcare provider can refer those who are at risk for falls to fall prevention therapy, an evidence-based exercise to improve balance and mobility.
  • Medications. There are some medicines such as antidepressants, sedatives, and even some over-the-counter medications that can cause balance issues. Make sure to review all of your medicines, even OTC ones, with a healthcare professional to see if anything needs to be adjusted.
  • Low vitamin D. Your healthcare provider may want to do a blood test to determine if you have low vitamin D levels, which can sometimes contribute to fractures if one falls.
  • Vision issues. If you cannot see well, or if your home is dark, this can cause you to trip and fall. Ensure your home is well-lit and consider updating your prescription glasses if necessary.
  • Foot problems. Some older individuals may have pain or numbness issues in their feet, which can make one unsteady and fall. This is also something to discuss with your healthcare provider and ensure that you have appropriate fitting shoes.
  • Home obstacles. Make sure your home is clutter-free, avoid small rugs in the home, and make repairing any broken steps or flooring a priority to avoid trips and falls.

In addition, the CDC has a home safety checklist for older adults, which is a great overview of any potential risks and hazards in your home.

Ultimately, while a walk-in tub can provide great assistance and luxury for the elderly, it might not always be essential or within budget. If a walk-in tub isn't feasible, explore alternative options and prioritize preventive measures to minimize the risk of falls and injuries at home.


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