Most seniors are hoping to stay in their homes as they age, but that often presents some complications. Most homes are built for the young, with features and designs that make everyday use difficult as you age and moving through the world becomes more physically difficult.
In order to age in place safely, home modifications are generally necessary. One of the most expensive home modifications people consider is for one of the most fraught day to day experiences aging seniors face: getting in and out of the tub.
Bathtubs quickly become one of the most dangerous spots in a house as you age, with people over 85 frequently facing injury and hospitalization due to falls that occur while bathing or showering. A walk-in tub can definitely make a difference for seniors wanting to avoid that fate – but they’re not a perfect solution.
For one thing, they’re expensive. Even the cheaper models usually cost at least $2,000 for the tub itself and $1000 or more for installation. And this isn’t an expense Medicare will help with. For an investment that big, you would want to think you’d be set for the rest of your life, but walk-in tubs still require that the user be able to take a few steps to get into them – a task that may be easy when you install it, but difficult to manage a few years down the line.
And when the time comes to sell you home, the walk-in tub won’t be seen as an added benefit by most buyers who would prefer a more traditional bathtub or shower they wouldn’t have to spend time waiting to fill and drain.
For many consumers, the idea of spending all that money on something that may well cause problems down the line is a hard sell. But if you do need a way to make your bathing more accessible, you have to figure out something. Luckily, there are a few alternatives worth considering.
Affordable Alternatives to Walk-in Tubs
If price is one of your main concerns in deciding whether or not to buy a walk-in tub, you have a number of more affordable options to consider.
Bathtub Transfer Bench
A bathtub transfer bench is a simple, practical solution that can be easily placed over the tub, so all you have to do is sit down on one end of the bench, lift your legs over the step while sitting and scoot (or slide) down to the other end of the bench that’s located in the tub itself. Once you’re in place, you can shower while remaining seated – which makes the process much easier on many seniors.
Bathtub transfer benches are affordable, ranging from about $40 to $200. There’s a variety of styles and types to consider – some that make it easy to slide down the bench, some that offer padding, others that are designed to take up less space outside of the bath for small bathrooms. For a lot of consumers, this option will suffice and set you back way less than something like a walk-in tub.
One potential downside though is that they don’t allow you to be submerged in a bath. If you like the experience of soaking in a bath, this may feel like a disappointing compromise.
Bathtub chairs work on a similar principle to bathtub transfer benches, but they’re smaller and contained within the bath itself. Most are designed so you can still sit down before getting into the bath and lift each leg over while sitting, but they can be a little trickier to get into since you can’t sit on something that’s directly beneath you – you have to angle yourself toward the tub first. For that reason, these won’t be a good fit for everyone, as they do increase the likelihood of a fall. But some come with a handy swivel feature that makes the process easier.
They can be more convenient for small bathrooms than benches though, since they’re completely contained within the bath and you won’t have to navigate around them when moving around the bathroom. And they’re cheaper, costing anywhere from $20 to $100.
If you want a solution that still allows you to be submerged in a bath, then neither of the options above will be satisfying, but a bath chairlift should do the trick. These allow you to sit on the chairlift then be lowered into the bath. There are a few different types of bathtub chairlifts. The most common option is battery powered, you can simply press a button to power it. You can also find inflatable chairlifts that fill with air in order to reach high enough for you to sit, then deflate to lower you into the tub. And bath chairlifts with a crank are powered by you – you turn the crank to lower and lift the chair each time you get in the bath.
All of these options are fairly easy to install and use, although with the battery powered option you’ll have to remember to replace the batteries occasionally. These do fall into a higher category of pricing though than those other options, typically costing from $300 to over $1,000. That still puts them far below the cost of investing in a walk-in tub, and if you love your baths, the cost may be well worth it to you.
More Usable Alternative
If your concern about a walk-in tub has less to do with cost and more to do with how accessible it will be in the long-term, then you have a couple additional options to consider that are more expensive than the other alternatives but may provide greater ease of use.
A roll-in shower is similar to a walk-in shower (which is already more accessible than bathtubs), but provides a wider door and no barrier at the entrance so a wheelchair can roll right in. This option will cost a comparable amount to buying a walk-in tub though, including expensive installation costs, and it’s similarly permanent (or at least hard to replace with something else before a home sale).
A slide-in tub is a lot like a walk-in tub, but designed so you can open the tub door, sit down, and move your legs into the tub while sitting before closing the door and starting to fill the tub up. As with a roll-in shower or walk-in tub, you’re looking at a big expense here both for the tub itself and for the installation costs, but it’s likely to be accessible to you for longer than a walk-in tub.
If staying in your own home is your goal, then it’s important to take the steps needed to make your home safe. In some cases though, it’s worth considering if the amount of work and risk that comes with aging in place is worth it. If you think you may be reaching the point where you could use the level of help provided in an assisted living facility, don’t discount the option entirely. If you find the right assisted living facility for you, the move could end up making your life much easier.