Savvy Senior: What to consider when choosing a walk-in bathtub
By Jill Miller
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? - Need Help
Dear Need: 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.
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 about 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 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 (3 feet or higher), are 26 to 32 inches wide and will fit into the same 60-inch 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.
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 because these doors swing out, they re-quire more bathroom space.
One other style to consider is the "rising-wall" bathtub made by Kohler, which sits about 2 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 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.
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover walk-in bathtubs, but many companies offer financing with monthly payment plans.
To get started, contact Best Buy Walk-In Tubs, who will send a local dealer to your home to assess your bathroom, and give you product options and estimates for free.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC "Today" show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.