If you’re 60 or older, your bathtub can not only become a hazard to your health, but can also affect your ability to remain in your own home. That’s because getting in and out of a bathtub becomes more dangerous and sometimes impossible for people with limited mobility or disabilities. Wet floors, wet feet, soap, decreased coordination and shaky balance combine to make climbing 1 ½ feet over the rim of the tub a dangerous proposition as we age.
About 250,000 Americans aged 60 years and older slip and fall in bathtub accidents each year, according to the National Council on Aging. What’s more, these falls are the single biggest cause of broken hips. And the odds are, if you fall once getting in and out of the tub, you’ll fall again within 6 months. If you can’t bathe yourself, you’ll need help, and that can sometimes mean moving into an assisted living facility or a nursing home.
Bathing is a necessity for hygiene, but it is much more than that. A nice warm bath or shower can relieve tired muscles, can ease aches and pains, can improve circulation and provides relaxation. Seniors don’t have to give all that up just because of balance and mobility issues.
Walk In and Out of Your Tub
Walk-in tubs and walk-in showers, otherwise known as step-in tubs, or safety tubs, have built in doors that seal and prevent water from leaking. Instead of climbing 18 inches, you only need to step over 2 or 3 inches, making the walk-in versions much easier and safer to enter. Walk-in tubs can be installed wherever there is plumbing in your house, and can replace your current tub. Alternatively, a roll-in tub is an affordable option for converting a tub to a shower. Your existing fiberglass, acrylic, steel or cast iron bathtub is modified to create step-through access with a seamless look. And when the cutout is no longer necessary, you can even replace the cutout piece and restore the tub to its original look.
There are a few things to consider when choosing whether you want a walk-in tub or walk-in shower.
- Fall Prevention: First, think about ease of entry. Falling is the number one thing you need to avoid if you want to remain independent. Does the door swing inside or out? If the tub door swings inside, it might make for a tighter water seal, but can also make it harder to get in and out of the tub.
- Comfort and Convenience: When choosing a walk-in tub or a walk-in shower, decide if you’ll be comfortable waiting while the tub completely fills and then waiting again after your bath while it completely drains. How long does that process take? You can’t open the door while there is any water in the tub. On the other hand, a walk-in shower does not need to fill before you get in and drains quickly before you step out.
- Cost: Especially if you are on a fixed income, you’ll want to know if you can afford the tub option you want. Considered a “convenience” by Medicare, walk-in tubs are not covered as durable medical equipment (DME); however, many suppliers offer financing and there are special low-interest loans available from AARP and other organizations that help seniors and the disabled. Make sure you ask the company about what types of forms and documentation you’ll need to qualify for financing. The cost of a walk-in tub varies by brand, model, size, features, upgrade and warranty options, construction quality, installation fees, additional costs for disposing of your old tub and where you purchase. Do your homework and compare. Be sure to look at what is included in the base price as standard features versus what some companies consider are “upgrades” with added costs. Also keep in mind that walk-in tubs use much more water than walk-in showers, so you’ll need to factor in those costs as well.
- Features: There are many tubs with a variety of features from which to choose. You’ll need to think about the members of your household and what will their needs will be. For example, some tubs are easier to clean than others, while some tubs offer bath lifts and anti-scald technology. Many models allow you to add therapeutic features like hydrotherapy massage and aromatherapy. Ask your doctor if there are any special considerations that you’ll need to keep in mind.
- Finding a Reputable Supplier: A good place to start is by getting recommendations from your doctor, family, friends and/or the Better Business Bureau. You’ll want to be sure the supplier you choose has a good track record and offers a solid warranty. Look for a manufacturer who will provide a free in-home consultation, which is a perfect time for you to ask some specific questions about installation fees, disposal of your old tub, warranties, references, how long the contractor has been in business, what types of licenses does the contractor hold and if they have proper insurance to cover their workers. The supplier should be checking your water heater supply, water pressure, doorway widths, and other important factors that will affect not only the installation of your tub, but also your enjoyment and ease of use.
Bathe with dignity, maintain your independence, and avoid falling by making your tub safer. Whether you choose a walk-in tub or a walk-in shower, you’ll be decreasing your risk of falling, and ensuring that you can stay in your own home longer. At the very least, installing hand-rails, adding non-slip bath mats, clearly labeling hot and cold water faucets and resetting your water heater to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit will go a long way toward creating a safer bathing situation for aging in place.
If you are located in Northern Shenandoah Valley, or Western Loudoun and Fauquier Counties contact us to discuss Meditub and other safe tub options to help you or a loved one age in place.