A Blog For and About Today's Seniors

by Sandra K. Sprague

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walk-In Bathtubs: Choose Carefully Before You Get Into Hot Water!

If you watched any television over the holidays, there is a good chance you saw a TV ad spot for a walk-in bathtub. Walk-in tubs have beome one of the most popular American household improvement choices - particularly for seniors.

One of the greatest walk-in bathtub benefits for seniors is the significant reduction of risk of falling. One of the most important training modules I give to the caregivers working for my senior in-home care firm is "Fall Prevention". Falls are one of the greatest hazards to senior safety and health; the shower and bathtub are epicenters for bad falls. "Bathing Safety Standby" is a common service option cited on most senior in-home care agency brochures, and with good reason.

But before you start dismantling your bathroom to install a walk-in tub, take a moment to review these five important walk-in bathtub considerations. Knowing a little bit about walk-in bathtubs can save you a lot of time, money and disappointment!

Walk-In Bathtubs Can be Expensive - Some Financial Options:

Walk-in bathtubs offer a wide price-range - between $2000 - $10,000. For many Americans, particularly seniors, this is a big expense. There are several financial maneuvers which can lessen the big price tag impact or defer the expense of a walk-in bathtub:

  • Retail Store Financing: Several of the larger U.S. retailers offer various financial and promotional programs or terms to help consumers with a large home improvement purchase such as a walk-in bathtub. For instance: Lowe's, the large home improvement chain, offers a "Lowe's Project Care", enabling a participating consumer to buy a bigger-ticket home improvement item and make no payments for 6 months with zero accrued interest; after the initial six months the required monthly payments can be very small. Check out their website, lowes.com, for more information.

  • USDA Rural Development Housing and Community Facilities Program: The Single-Family Housing Program provides home ownership opportunities to low and moderate-income rural Americans through several loan and grant and guarantee programs. Funding is also available to individuals to enable them to implement vital improvements necessary to "make their homes decent, sanitary and safe". Details, availability and eligibility information can be found at their website: rurdev.usda.gov/recd_map.html.

  • Capital Expenditure Deductibility: The IRS allows certain tax deductions against capital expenses involving some special equipment installed in the home if the primary purpose is medical care for the user(s). Consult the IRS website, irs.gov or your CPA, accountant or attorney to determine your eligibility for such a deduction.

Walk-In Bathtub Doors: Innie or Outie?

An inward-swinging walk-in bathtub door can be clumsy and hard to maneuver around for users with mobility or size issues. Outward-swinging walk-in bathtub doors offer the user a much easier entrance and exit, but the swing-path of outward-swinging models may be impractical for a smaller installation space. If you're leaning towards an outward-swinging door, make doubly-sure the space you're installing the tub into has enough clearance for the tub's swing path. Note: Outward-swinging walk-in tub doors do not leak.

The Little-Known Safety Risk in Some Walk-In Tubs!

Many walk-in bathtubs with an inward-swinging door feature provide no true emergency entrance access mechanism. This can be a serious deficiency if a person bathing in such a tub were to slip down below the waterline for a reason such as a heart attack or fainting episode. If the walk-in bathtub you choose has an inward-swinging door, make certain it features an effective emergency entrance access.

Step-In Height Factor: Some Walk-In Tubs are Really "Step-Over" Tubs!

One of the biggest reasons to install a walk-in bathtub is to eliminate the need to step over the relatively high side of a conventional bathtub to bathe or shower. Even with grab bars, the act of swinging one leg over the side of a traditional tub can put a senior off-balance and lead to a serious fall.

Many so-called "walk-in" bathtubs feature step-in threshold heights of over 7 inches! Requiring a wobbly senior to clear a seven inch hurdle to bathe or shower can defeat the purpose of a walk-in bathtub. It is not difficult to find walk-in tubs offering step-in heights of around 2 inches. Keep the step-in height dimension in mind when choosing a walk-in bathtub.

Size Matters: Measure Twice and Buy Once!

Walk-in bathtubs come in many sizes, shapes and form-factors. Make certain you understand the available space in the bathroom or other areas intended for walk-in tub installation. If you are relying on a wall being removed or adjusted to provide adequate space for a walk-in tub, verify the feasibility with a reliable, licensed contractor before committing to a purchase. Remember: The more modifications required to accommodate a walk-in tub, the more it will likely cost to install it.