Bathrooms can be a major source of anxiety for seniors. Falls are often accompanied by a hospital admission, according to the National Council on Aging, making it important for seniors to have access to safe accommodations — including in the bathroom. Walk-in tubs have several benefits and built-in safety features that make them an upgrade to traditional bathing facilities. Here are a few of the features that make walk-in tubs a popular home modification for seniors who prefer to age in place.
Grab bars make moving around a bathroom a safer experience. While it’s possible to install grab bars in virtually any area of the bathroom, and putting one in next to the toilet is a good idea, adding them to tubs and showers is a little more complicated. If the existing stall doesn’t have the right support behind the wall, grab bars may not be safe to install without extensive remodeling. In a walk-in tub, the grab bars are already installed and typically mounted directly to the steel frame. Grab bars let seniors more easily enter and exit the walk-in tub.
With a standard tub, getting into the water requires taking a large step over the side of the fixture. A walk-in tub gets rid of the step, often reducing the entry point to 6 inches or less. Some walk-in tubs are wheelchair accessible, allowing seniors to slide directly from one chair to another. Specifically, walk-in tubs with outward opening doors tend to be best for those who routinely use mobility assistance devices.
Many traditional tubs have ceramic surfaces that get slick when wet or covered with soap residue. In walk-in tubs, the bottoms are covered with anti-slip materials that give seniors a solid place to plant their feet when standing. The slip-resistant coating also covers any handholds on the tub, so seniors have secure places to grab when standing or sitting.
While a hot soak is a great way to relax and minimize the pain from aching joints, some bathers habitually turn on the hot water to fill a tub and then add cold to bring it to a comfortable temperature. Since the bather has to sit in a walk-in tub before filling it, turning on just the hot water can result in scalded skin, especially if the water heater temperature is turned up high. Many walk-in tubs provide automatic protection against possible burns with an anti-scald valve that automatically blends in some cool water during filling.
Sitting in a bathtub waiting for the water to fill or drain can leave a senior exposed to cold air and discomfort. A fast-filling tub reduces the amount of time it takes to enjoy a hot soak. Once seniors finish taking a bath, the water must drain below the low-entry point before they can leave the tub. Many walk-in tubs have greater water capacity than traditional tubs, so they can take several minutes to drain. In models with rapid-drain technology, the entire tub can empty in less than a minute, allowing a senior to make a quick exit.