Walk-in bathtubs are often advertised as an “amazing” product for seniors and people with disabilities, with the claim being that this type of bathtub will maximize your ability to bathe safely and independently. But will this bathing solution truly deliver all the safety, convenience, and comfort you desire?
After all I’ve witnessed as an occupational therapist and home ability specialist, I would strongly urge potential buyers to proceed with caution, as there can be more inconveniences, safety risks and hidden costs present than apparent at first sight.
Common Misconceptions about Walk-in Bathtubs
The following paragraphs highlight common misconceptions about walk-in bathtubs:
Walk-in bathtubs maximize bathing comfort & convenience.”
|There is an obvious – but surprisingly often overlooked – consequence of entering a bathtub through a door in the sidewall: You can’t prepare the bathtub full of hot water prior to climbing in and you cannot exit the tub until the water has fully drained out. To put this more bluntly – once you have stepped into the tub naked and pulled the door closed behind you, you could find yourself waiting up to 10 minutes or more for the water to rise slowly from your toes upwards. Then at the tail end of the bath, you could again be waiting as much as 10 minutes or more while sitting naked, cold and wet waiting for the tub to empty. Fill and drain times can vary greatly due to a combination of different factors, which include: your home’s water pressure, the tub’s drain type, and your home’s pre-existing plumbing.
Furthermore, it is good to be aware that most walk-in bathtubs are designed to hold a bather in an upright, seated position. If you are of an average or above average height, there is a good chance that only the lower half of your body will be fully submerged. So if you are envisioning warm water soothing your aching back, neck and shoulders, you are likely to be left feeling sorely disappointed.
Bottom line: A satisfactory bathing experience? – Probably not!
Walk-in tubs substantially increase safety.”
A Walk-in tub, as the name implies, requires you to be able to walk to enter the tub. In fact, you need to be able to walk fairly steadily because most walk-in tubs have a step you must raise your feet over and a narrow doorway to wiggle through. Furthermore, most models have a door which swings inwards. This in turn means you must have the skills to maneuver yourself around the door to shut it while you too are occupying the small space inside the tub.
The Walk-in tubs equipped with inward-opening doors come with an even more glaring safety risk, namely that there is area real risk of finding oneself trapped inside. People can and have found themselves trapped inside of walk-in tubs with inward-opening doors — in some cases up to several days! Entrapment inside a walk-in tub with an inward-opening door can be caused due to a variety of reasons, which include: being unable to drain the water from the tub; a slip-related fall or a medical emergency. Keep reading to better understand how each of these scenarios can occur.
People can and have found themselves trapped inside of a walk-in tub with an inward-opening door as a result of being unable to drain the water from the tub. It’s important here to note that when a walk-in tub with an inward-opening door is filled with water, the water exerts pressure on the door holding it firmly shut, making it impossible for most tub users to open the door when the tub is full of water. There are 3 reasons a person may be unable to drain the tub: an individual may be unable to activate the drain control due to slippery hands or insufficient hand strength, the drain control itself may malfunction, or the home’s plumbing may get backed up, preventing the water from exiting the tub. If the tub’s user is unable to climb over the three to four foot high tub walls, they will find themselves trapped inside.
People can and have also experienced a slip-related fall and found themselves sitting in the tub’s footwell. When seated on the tub floor, their body acts like a door wedge blocking the inward-swinging door from being opened — effectively creating a tiny cage, which some people have been unable to escape from by themselves.
It is also important to be aware that if a person experiences a heart attack or stroke while sitting on the seat of a tub with an inward-opening door (even if a fall does not occur), their legs and/or body will block the door from being opened. The combination of the inward-opening door and the high tub walls can make it extremely difficult for family or EMTs to rescue someone when a medical emergency or fall-related incident does occur.
Bottom line: A safer bathing experience? – Think twice!
A walk-in tub makes it easier for a caregiver to assist you.”
The classic-style walk-in tub has high walls, a narrow doorway, a few inch threshold and cramped, tight quarters, which when all combined together can best be described as an “ergonomic nightmare” for a caregiver. The tub’s narrow interior can make it almost impossible for a caregiver to position themselves safely by your side to assist you as you are moving into and out of the tub. To make matters worse, you will be wearing little or no clothing when they are assisting you to get into the tub, giving them very little to hold on to, and you will be slippery and wet when they are assisting you to get out of the tub.
A salesperson might tell you they offer a model that has no threshold or a wider door. These features will help make it easier for you to get in and out of the tub, however, they do not erase all of the problems. The tub’s high walls and small, cramped interior will still make it difficult for a caregiver to use good body mechanics to assist you in standing up from the seat inside or to safely hold onto you while you are passing in and out through the doorway. Furthermore, if you need assistance with bathing, the caregiver will be forced to reach awkwardly over a high tub wall to help you.
Bottom line: Easier for a caregiver? – Not likely!
A walk-in tub is an age-proof solution.”
On the surface, a walk-in tub may appear to be a good solution for your current mobility needs, however, there’s an inherent problem with the classic-style walk-in tub’s – a problem that has the potential to one day block you from bathing entirely – namely that a tall wall exists between you and access to the bath seat inside. This wall creates a permanent barrier, leaving you with only one option for getting in and out – namely to walk in and out. This is fine if you can always walk fairly steadily, but what if there is a time when you cannot?
People who are recovering from a surgery; persons coping with the symptoms of a stroke, Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis; or persons limited by weakness due to cancer or age-related problems will often rely on a technique called a ‘lateral-sliding transfer’ to move between surfaces. In other words, they scoot their bottom sideways to transfer from one surface to another, such as from from a wheelchair seat to a bath seat (see picture). Unfortunately the seat inside of classic-style “walk-in” tubs is blocked by a tall wall, making it impossible to slide sideways from a wheelchair seat onto the seat inside.
Walk-in bathtubs can range in cost from $5,000-$17,000 installed. This is a lot of money for a solution that comes with the very real risk of one day blocking your ability to have access to a bath at all – leaving you instead to watch the layers of dust grow in your expensive so-called “accessible” bathtub – while you are sadly relegated to taking sponge baths at the bathroom sink!
Bottom line: An age-proof solution? – Don’t count on it!
The Homeability Advice™
Are you on the quest to find a solution that will make it easier for you to step over the standard bathtub wall or have your heart set on finding a way to enjoy a soaking bath again? If so, there are other equipment options designed to address each of these goals. To learn more about the pros and cons for a variety of different types of bathtub equipment, visit our article titled Getting In & Out of the Bathtub: Benches, Lifts, and Transfer Chairs.
If your reason for considering a walk-in tub is primarily to enhance your safety and your independence in bathing (and not to take a soaking bath), then you may want to consider removing the existing bathtub and installing a curbless shower. To learn more about curbless showers, read: “Curbless Showers – A Great Age-Proof Bathing Solution!”.
Or, if you are fine with some of the drawbacks for tubs-with-a-door-in-the-sidewall, such as needing to wait inside while the tub fills and empties, then a close sister to the walk-in tub tub called a “Slide-in Tub” may be worth a consideration. The critical difference between walk-in tubs and slide-in tubs is that the door of a slide-in tub opens up to expose one side of the bath seat, making ‘most’ slide-in tub models a much safer, more future-proof bathing option. To learn more about the pros and cons of Slide-in Tub types, visit our article on Slide-in Tubs.
Are you still on the fence about buying a walk-in tub?
We understand some of you will want to buy a Walk-in Tub in spite of all the drawbacks listed above. If you are one of those persons, we recommend that you read the article Walk-in Tubs: Buyers Beware! to learn about some of the shady practices going on in the walk-in tub industry and the article Walk-in Bathtubs: Potential Hidden Costs to learn about unexpected expenses that can come with purchasing and owning a Walk-in tub.
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