Disabilities, either caused by ageing, accidents or failing health, are problematic. They change the lifestyles of anyone affected. And more often than not, changes have to be made to both the lives of the household and the home itself to accommodate peculiar needs. One of the many everyday things people with mobility impairments can’t enjoy is an unassisted bath. It can be quite a toil to have to depend on another person before having a wash. The innovations in the marketplace are providing a way out.
Luckily, these days, walk-in bathtubs exist: They’re bathtubs all right, but they don’t require their users to jump a fence to enter. Instead, anyone can enter these tubs walking, or aided by a support system. However, finding the right one can be difficult: There are not only many brands, but many types of walk-in bathtubs. And naturally, which one is best depends on the type of disability you’re dealing with.
Types of Walk-In Bathtubs
Usually, the type of walk-in bathtub of your choice will depend on your impairment, along with any extra features you might like – the bells and whistles – and affordability. Generally, there are two big types of walk-in: Walk-in assistance and powered assistance.
Walk-in assistance bathtubs
This is the most basic type you can get. They consist of a regular bathtub with a door on one side that usually opens towards the inside. The user can just open the door, walk in, sit into the tub, and then have it fill itself. Once the user is done bathing, a waiting time is necessary for the tub to empty out, before the door can be opened for exit.
This type is the cheapest and generally recommended for people who can walk but find it difficult to perform more complex actions, or those with balancing difficulties, such as the elderly.
For those requiring a little bit of assistance to get in, some of these tubs have outwards-facing doors that function as supports to help you enter the tub. Still, you have to be able to stand on your feet at least for a few seconds to be able to enter these.
Powered assistance bathtubs
The second type of bathtubs has several offers to consider, gearing them towards different levels of disability. Unlike the aforementioned walk-in bathtubs, all bathtubs in this category are fitted with props that aid getting in and out of the bathtub.
The simplest powered assistance bathtubs have an embedded set seat inside instead of a rising one. This rising seat allows the user assistance with sitting and getting back up while making the rest of the process the same as a regular walk-in tub.
More complex powered assistance bathtubs exist, targeting people with higher mobility impairments. The third type offers lateral transfer from a wheelchair to a bath, for those with little or no lower body mobility. The more basic tubs of this model still require the user to enter the bath unaided, while enhanced versions offer powered transfer from seat to bath for those with upper body mobility or strength impairments.
A fifth type also exists. This one offers a fully-powered chair that the user can sit on, which is then moved right inside the tub and lowered. It’s the most complex of the lot and is most suitable for people with very low mobility. As one would expect, this is also the most expensive of them all.
What other features are there?
Just as with regular bathtubs, showers, or Jacuzzis, walk-in bathtubs can have about any extra feature one can think of. The most common ones are bubbles, water massage, or the addition of a showerhead so the tub can have a double function. Less common additions are aromatherapy and chromotherapy, usually found in the higher-end models.
What else should I know?
A walk-in bathtub can be a great investment depending on your type of disability. It can make the process of bathing unaided easier and, in some cases, allowing the user to completely forego a caretaker. However, they’re not perfect – and not without dangers either.
For one, walk-in bathtubs generally have their users sit in an upright position. This means that the full immersion you enjoy in a regular tub is impossible to attain in these – and at best you’ll have water up to, but not covering your shoulders. Also, depending on your height, some of these tubs might cover too little – or too much – of your body for comfort or for ease of breathing.
Also, since most walk-in bathtubs fill up and empty with the user inside, you have to wait while the tub fills and empties before starting and after finishing your bath. This implies sitting naked in the tub for up to ten minutes in each process, which can be problematic if exposure to cold is a concern.
Safety can be an issue, too, particularly if the user lives alone or is left alone for a long while. While rare, walk-in bathtub doors can, like all doors, get stuck, keeping people locked in. Just as well, if the doors open to the inside and there’s a problem with the draining, the user might find themselves unable to leave the tub. While both issues can be fixed, they require external help that might not be available immediately.
Are there limitations worth considering?
Whether any specific model of the walk-in bathtub is worth it for you depends on yourself and your disability.
While there are certain warnings to be wary of, being able to submerge oneself in hot water can be medically helpful with such ailments like arthritis.
Some people who have recently gone through amputations also report that submerging in hot water can help soothe phantom pain.
A walk-in bathtub isn’t always a complete replacement for a caretaker, but it can be a fitting compromise for a person suffering from movement impairments. For some people, the sacrifices, risks, or costs might not be worth it. However, for others, they’re not only worth it, but these tubs enhance their quality of life.
It’s all in the person dealing with the disability and the related or specific needs. In all cases, however, you should try to see the model you’re buying before committing to it. Models that look ideal might not be, so testing them yourself in-store is the best way to go.