Walk-In Shower Options for Your Elderly Loved Ones

28 January 2020 Assisted Living

We’ve all seen the advertisements for walk-in showers for seniors on TV. You might find the idea of a walk-in shower or tub extravagant or downright silly. If you’re still in the prime of life, it’s difficult to imagine having problems just stepping over the side of the bathtub. But, for seniors who have lost mobility, strength, and balance, taking a shower or bath is an accident waiting to happen.

Walk-In Showers Benefit Everyone in a Senior’s Life

As the number of seniors in this country continues to grow, so does the number of adult children who have to make tough decisions for their parents. Seniors want to retain their independence, and many want to stay in their own homes. Falls are a very real concern for seniors, with 30 million adults falling each year. One out of every five of those falls results in a serious injury. Even more frightening is that these falls result in about 30,000 deaths.

For adults who live far away, these statistics are a constant cause of worry. All seniors lose mobility to some degree as they age. Those with age-related health conditions including heart disease and dementia have an even greater risk.

Some adults serve as their aging parents’ caregivers, helping them with their chores and daily activities. Others rely on an in-home care provider to help them with the specific tasks they can’t perform safely or effectively on their own. Others move into an assisted living facility where they can live independently in a home-like setting that is designed for their safety.

Of all the areas in a home, the bathroom is the most dangerous one for seniors. Wet, slippery surfaces and hard edges on the bathtub, sink, and toilet make any normal bathroom use hazardous to an elderly person.

It isn’t just the bathtub and shower that pose risks for seniors, either. Even the simplest activities are dangerous for them. There are some steps you can take to make your loved one’s bathroom safer, whether they are brushing their teeth, using the toilet, or getting into the tub. For example:

  • Increase the Lighting – This tip applies not only to the bathroom but throughout the home. Seniors have a decline in vision that makes it more difficult for them to see where they’re going. Bathrooms are often darker than other rooms, making the risks of falling even greater. If the bathroom doesn’t have a lot of natural light coming in, use artificial lighting to brighten up every area for better visibility.
  • Install Lever Handle Faucets – Lever faucets work by raising and lowering a lever-style handle instead of twisting them. Seniors might lack the strength to turn the faucets on and off.
  • Invest in a Comfort Height Toilet – Placing rails around the toilet helps seniors get up and down. For some, it isn’t enough to compensate for the loss of strength and muscle in their legs. Comfort Height toilets are made higher for seniors and anyone who has trouble lowering and lifting themselves off a normal toilet seat. As a bonus, a newer model toilet will probably be more water-efficient, too.
  • Install Grab Bars and Rails – Installing grab bars and rails in the bathtub and around the toilet gives the senior something to hold on for support. Follow Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines on the best placement for optimal safety.
  • Add NonSlip Bath Mats and Rugs for Sure Footing – Since the enactment of the Americans with Disability Act in 1990, all bathtubs must have an anti-slip solution built in. Most often, this is done by etching the bottom. Over time, the etching wears off. It also traps dirt and oil, minimizing the anti-slip capabilities of the tub. To remedy this, use anti-slip bath mats that fit into the tub and stay in place with strong suction cups. Another option is to use anti-slip tape. This option lets you put the tape over all the surfaces where the person steps instead of just the length of the mat. Also, place a non-slip rug outside of the shower to step onto when they get out of the shower.
  • Install a Sprayer Attachment and Shower Stool– Sprayer attachments that connect directly to the showerhead make it possible to sit down while showering. A shower stool is a waterproof seat that is made to stay in place in the bathtub. The senior can enjoy a long shower even if they can’t stand for long periods.

When seniors rely on a caregiver to help them with everyday living tasks, a senior-friendly bathroom makes it easier for them, too. The more the senior can do for themselves, the less of a burden it is for the caregiver. It also helps seniors enjoy more independence.

Why They are Sometimes the Only Solution

In spite of all the options for making the bathroom more senior-friendly, many seniors get to the point where they can’t overcome the obstacle of stepping over the side of the bathtub. Sometimes curbless showers are included in the same category as walk-in showers, but there are some distinct differences between those designed for their aesthetics and walk-in showers designed for seniors.

Most showers have a 6-inch step at the entrance. That might as well be 6 feet for some seniors. A curbless shower doesn’t have the curb or threshold that a normal shower does. It has a seamless design without a divider between the bathroom floor and the shower floor. In many ways, a curbless shower looks like a glass box sitting on your bathroom floor. It’s a popular choice in modern homes due to its clean lines and modern appearance. It takes away the need to step over the threshold and into the shower, but it also lacks the safety features that older adults need.

Walk-in showers for seniors, on the other hand, are tubs with watertight doors that hold the water inside. The user steps across a low threshold, fills the tub with water, and takes their bath. When they finish, they drain the water, open the door, and step out. Some tubs are made for wheelchair access so there is no threshold at all. Instead, a large portion of the front opens to allow the needed width.

Many walk-in tubs are taller than they are wide. They provide a deeper level of bathwater than traditional tubs. Many people enjoy immersing themselves in the deeper water. Make sure your senior likes the idea before installing a walk-in tub in their bathroom.

Many walk-in showers for seniors feature hydrotherapy jets. Hydrotherapy is beneficial for managing chronic illness and reducing pain and soreness in joints and muscles. It increases circulation, improves balance and coordination, and helps increase joint range of motion. Other features offered in walk-in tubs include chromotherapy lighting and heated seating. Chromotherapy is the use of subdued, colored lighting. It has been used for centuries to treat various diseases. Heated seats add to the comfort of bathing or showering and help to enhance mood.

Some Other Options for Seniors

  1. Soaker tubs are the basic walk-in tubs without any of the additional features. If you’re looking for simplicity, these tubs are the cheapest and most practical.
  2. Bariatric tubs are designed for heavy-duty use for larger individuals weighing 300 pounds or more.
  3. Aromatherapy tubs use essential oils in the water to create a relaxing scent.
  4. Aerotherapy tubs use air jets to create bubbly water that gently massages. They also have a self-cleaning feature that drains the water and prevents the build-up of bacteria in the jets.
  5. Walk-in tub/shower combos give seniors the choice between soaking in the bathtub or taking a quick shower – something that everyone enjoys from time to time! These combination tubs, or hybrids, also come in a broad range of styles. Choose a tub that has a regular shower enclosure or opt for a walk-in tub with a built-in showerhead. There are styles that fit every need, mobility level, and budget.

You don’t have to decide on a single feature. Many models combine features and include two, three, or more options in a single model.

The best walk-in tubs have the essential safety features installed that you would add to any senior’s bathtub. This includes handrails, non-slip textured flooring , easy cleaning, and an in-line heating system to keep the bathwater warm.

All walk-in tubs don’t have the same step-in height, so it’s important to compare. Most measure between 3 and 7 inches. Even if you or your loved one can easily accommodate a taller height now, keep your future needs in mind.

How Walk-In Showers and Tubs Help With Dementia Patients

People with dementia are often resistant to bathing, although each case and each individual is different. Some patients claim they just bathed, while others flatly refuse. Some respond better to sponge baths, while others prefer to get into the tub. People who are very modest might not like having a caregiver come into their home and bathe them. They might find it embarrassing to undress in front of a stranger. Others cooperate with a trained caregiver more than they do their family members.

Some dementia patients do well with walk-in tubs or showers, but it’s important never to leave them alone in the bathroom. They might not sense temperatures like they used to and might burn themselves with hot water. It’s a good idea to turn the temperature down on the hot water heater so they can’t scald themselves.

Walk-in shower/tub combos are good for people with dementia. It gives them the chance to make choices about how they would like to bathe. It’s also easier to wash their hair with the shower. For many people, this is the area where the person is most likely to become difficult.  Only use soaps and shampoos in non-breakable containers. Let them hold the soap, washcloth, or shampoo bottle while they wait for the water to run in.

You don’t have to bathe a person with dementia every day. Instead, aim for two or three times a week. Try to set a time for bathing and make it part of a routine. As the person advances through the various stages of the disease, their resistance to bathing will probably grow. They might find the water frightening or feel uncomfortable due to the cold air. They become more fearful of falling.

When creating a comfortable atmosphere and sticking with a routine isn’t enough, a professional caregiver might be the only option. It is imperative to keep anyone clean, especially for seniors who have incontinence. Getting the person to shower or bathe might take a level of insistence that you can’t handle. Professional caregivers are trained to deal with these issues without creating more resistance and adding to the problem.

Paying for the Showers

People often assume that Medicare will pay the cost, or at least a portion of it, of walk-in showers for seniors. Unfortunately, Medicare doesn’t classify walk-in bathtubs as durable medical equipment. That means they don’t pay the cost of the tubs or for their installation.

In some rare cases, Medicare will provide some financial assistance in the form of reimbursement. In cases where the tub is an absolute medical necessity as proven by a doctor, there is a slight possibility of getting financial help. In nearly all cases, a walk-in tub is an out-of-pocket expense for seniors.

So, what can you expect to pay for a walk-in tub/shower for your loved one? It depends on the brand, model, and range of features that you choose. On the low end, the average cost of a basic walk-in tub is about $1,500. As you increase in size and features, that cost increases to an average of $10,000. Custom-designed tubs can go as high as two or three times that number. To decide if a walk-in tub is a good fit for your loved one and your budget, consider the features that are most important for your needs. Which features are important, and which ones can you do without?

Other Options to Care for Your Aging Loved One

It’s difficult seeing your aging parent or other loved one struggling with lost mobility. You worry about their safety, especially when you can’t be there. If they live alone, there’s even more to worry about. It might be time to talk with them about the benefits of assisted living with Bethany Homes.

Bethany Homes offers a variety of care and services including complete care, assisted living, in-home care, board and care, and Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory care.  Get the peace of mind that comes from knowing your loved one is getting the care they need in a safe and secure environment. Contact us today to schedule a tour or call 925-443-6822 to learn more.