Dear Savvy Senior,
I'm interested in getting a walk-in bathtub for my wife that's easy for her to get into and out of, but could use some assistance. Can you offer any consumer tips?
A walk-in bathtub is a great option for seniors with mobility problems who have trouble getting in and out of a traditional tub. But with so many options available today, choosing one can be challenging. Here are a few tips that can help.
Walk-in bathtubs are specialty products that have a watertight, hinged door built into the side of the tub that provides a much lower threshold to step over (usually 3 to 7 inches) versus a standard tub that's around 15 inches.
In addition to the low threshold, most walk-in tubs also have a built-in seat, grab bars, anti-slip floors and a handheld showerhead. And many higher-end models offer therapeutic spa-like features that are great for seniors with arthritis and other ailments.
The kind of walk-in tub you choose will depend on the size and layout of your bathroom, your wife's needs and preferences, and your budget. Prices for a good walk-in tub typically run between $3,000 and $10,000 installed. Here are some other things you should know.
Quality check: The best walk-in bathtubs on the market today are made in the USA. Also, make sure the company you choose has a lifetime "leak-proof" door seal warranty and lengthy warranties on both the tub and the operating system.
Tub size: While walk-in bathtubs vary in shape and size, most models have high-walls (three feet or higher), are 26 to 32 inches wide, and will fit into the same 60-inch long space as your standard tub without having to reconfigure the room. If the walk-in tub doesn't quite fit your old bathtub space, extension kits are available to ensure a good fit.
Door options: Most walk-in tubs have an inward opening door, but if your wife uses a wheelchair or is a large person, an outward opening door may be a better option because they're easier to enter and exit. But, be aware that because these doors swing out, they require more bathroom space.
One other style to consider is the "rising-wall" bathtub made by Kohler, which sits about two feet off the ground and has a side panel that slides up and down. These tubs can be entered from a seated position, which makes it a nice option for wheelchair users.
Tub type: Most companies offer several different types of walk-in tubs. The most basic type is a soaker tub, or you can get a therapeutic tub that offers either whirlpool water jets or bubble massage air jets, or a combination of the two.
Fast fill and drain: One drawback to using a walk-in bathtub is that the bather must sit in the tub as it fills and drains, which can make for a chilly experience. To help with this, choose a tub that has fast-filling faucets and pump-assisted drainage systems, which significantly speeds up the process.
Where to shop: While there are many companies that make, sell and install walk-in bathtubs, some of the best in the industry are Safe Step, Premier, American Standard and Jacuzzi. Many big box retailers like Lowes, Home Depot and Sears sell walk-in bathtubs too.
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover walk-in bathtubs, but many companies offer financing with monthly payment plans.
To get started, contact a few companies who will send a local dealer to your home to assess your bathroom, and give you product options and estimates for free.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.