One of the biggest senior living trends in recent years is the growing number of seniors who seek to age in place rather than considering a facility like an assisted living home. This isn’t a new desire for seniors, but a mix of in-home care options, new types of businesses and technologies, and investments in the right home modifications makes it more accessible for today’s seniors than it’s been in the past.
Many of the home modifications that make aging in place practical are fairly cheap and simple, but there are a few that require a bigger investment. A walk-in tub is one of the most expensive home modifications seniors make, which makes it important that any senior considering it takes the time to determine if it’s something they really need, and that they buy the right one if it is.
Should You Buy a Walk-in Tub?
Before you start considering which walk-in tub to buy, you have to consider if buying one is worth it to you. Walk-in tubs come with a few considerable downsides:
- You have to wait in the tub while it fills and drains. This can take a while and you may be stuck feeling uncomfortable and cold while you wait.
- You still need some ability to walk. Walk-in tubs get rid of the need to take a big step to get into the tub, but you still have to take a little one and be able to walk to the seat of the tub. They’ll solve the problem for some people, but someone with a walker or wheelchair won’t find them a good solution.
- They’re expensive. The cost of buying a walk-in tub and getting it installed is a considerable one. If the price tag looks beyond your reach, you may want to consider alternative options like bathtub benches or bath chair lifts first.
If you find yourself avoiding taking a bath because of the difficulty of getting into the tub though, or are worried about slipping and falling each time you do, then the issues may well be worth it for the peace of mind a walk-in tub can confer.
What to Know Before Buying
The cost of a walk-in tub, combined with how expensive and involved installation is, means that once you buy one, you’re pretty much stuck with it. You want to be careful to make a solid decision about what you want before purchasing one.
On the low end, you should expect to spend at least $2,000 for the walk-in tub itself, but many models cost much more than that. Whether due to coming from a brand with a strong reputation, or adding in nice features like air jets or quick draining features, higher-end tubs can cost as much as $10,000. For some seniors though, those extra features can make a big difference.
Whirlpool tubs can be good for easing aches and pains, and air baths are helpful for anyone who has circulation problems. And one of the biggest inconveniences of a walk-in tub is having to sit in there while you wait for it to fill and drain; a fast-draining feature helps with the latter.
The labor costs of installing your new tub will vary a lot based on the area you live in and the particular contractor you hire. If the installation is fairly standard and rates are on the low end in your area, you may get away with paying less than $1,000. On the other hand, if you need to make any plumbing or electrical upgrades to accommodate your new tub, the costs can quickly go up to several thousand.
Unfortunately, Medicare won’t help with any of these costs, although in some instances Medicaid will. It may also be worth looking into any veterans’ benefits you have that could help you pay for it, like the Aid & Attendance Benefit. And talk to your accountant about the possibility of a tax deduction.
For most seniors, you’ll have to expect to cover the costs of a walk-in tub (at least most of them) on your own, so take a look at your own budget and savings before starting your search.
Available Walk-In Tub Options
The main options you have when considering a walk-in tub is whether you want to stick with a basic soaker tub, or upgrade to one with air or water jets (or a combo tub with both). Any type of jets will add a lot to the cost, but they provide some extra comfort and benefits for seniors.
While they technically fall into a different category, consider also checking out slide-in tubs, which cost a comparable amount but make it easier for any seniors in wheelchairs or that otherwise have trouble walking to get in and out of the tub.
Another important consideration you need to make is finding a walk-in tub of the right size and shape to fit in your bathroom, and one with a door that will work for you. You can choose between doors that open inward and outward, the latter can be more convenient for those with mobility issues, but require more space in the bathroom. And you want to be sure the door is large enough to get through comfortably.
Also look for features like a leak-proof door (which will save you big problems down the line) and fast fill and drain options (which will make your bath experiences more pleasant and require less cold waiting).
With any purchase this big, you should take advantage of the customer reviews on the internet. Current customers can provide ample insights into the issues you’re likely to experience with a walk-in tub and the particular benefits each one offers. The main value of customer reviews is to steer you away from a product that’s likely to cause problems, but they can also be good for helping you determine different factors and issues to be aware of before you buy, and for helping you gauge whether costly additional features are really worth it.
As already mentioned, once a walk-in tub is purchased and installed, you won’t be able to easily trade it in for another option. That means you need it to last for the long term. Consider the warranties offered by each brand you consider. A strong warranty can potentially save you a lot of expense and trouble down the line, especially with tubs that have more technology like jets.
If you plan to stay in your home for the long haul, a walk-in tub may be worth it to help you avoid bathroom falls and the increasingly difficult work of getting into the tub. Make sure to take the time to do your research though, so you’re more likely to end up with one you’re happy with long term.