A Guide to Walk-In Showers for the Elderly
Aging in place has many benefits, including retaining one’s independence, the comfort of staying in one’s long-time community, and avoiding the hassle, stress, and expense of moving to a new residence. It makes sense that most seniors hope to age in place; a National Council on Aging survey found that three out of four seniors plan to live in their current home for the rest of their lives. But while aging in place has its benefits, it also has its drawbacks, the most important of which is safety.
While seniors who age in place get to enjoy the social and emotional benefits of remaining in their homes and communities, they may find that their longtime home no longer meets their needs or presents safety hazards. Many seniors struggle with mobility and balance, and homes with stairs, slick surfaces, and high shower ledges can lead to falls and associated injuries. In fact, falls are the leading cause of both death and non-fatal injuries among seniors in the United States.
To prevent the risk of falls and make aging in place safer, it’s a good idea to make home modifications that allow seniors to enjoy the benefits of aging in place while lowering their risk of falls. Bathrooms tend to be a focal point for these modifications due to their slick floors and counters and a high potential for slippery surfaces. Plus, bathrooms are essential to completing one’s daily tasks, making it a high-priority for many seniors making their home more aging-friendly.
One popular modification is converting one’s standard bathtub or shower to a walk-in. But, deciding that you’d like a walk-in in the bathroom is just the first piece of the puzzle. Below, we provide some more details about walk-in showers and their benefits, paying for a walk-in shower, and how to choose the right shower for your home.
Walk-In Shower Basics
Walk-in showers offer a safer bathing experience for those who find it challenging to climb in and out of a tub or struggle to step over a ledge into the shower safely. Most walk-in showers have an “entry threshold,” or ledge, of less than 3 inches, so the risk of falling while stepping in or out is reduced.
Walk-in showers are a home modification project rather than a product that you go to a store and buy. That is, people convert their existing shower or bathtub into a walk-in shower with the help of a skilled contractor. This enables one to choose exactly which features they would like their shower to have or how they would like it to look. In addition to making showering safer, walk-in showers can help create the illusion of more space in the bathroom and allow people to make their bathrooms safer and more aesthetically pleasing.
Walk-In Shower Safety Features
The most notable safety feature of walk-in showers is, of course, the low ledge height. Eliminating the need to climb over a high ledge to bathe makes showering safer. It can also help older adults maintain their hygiene by making it easier for them to independently get in and out of the shower. Other safety features can vary on a model-by-model basis, and not all walk-in shower users will need all of the safety features. Still, the features listed below are commonly found in walk-in showers and can make the bathing experience even safer.
- Grab Bars: Grab bars placed in and around the shower provide another way for walk-in shower users to enhance their safety stepping in and out of the shower. Even if the person doesn’t use the grab bars regularly, the presence of grab bars can be useful in the event of a fall and provide a way for users to steady themselves.
- No-Slip Flooring: Some walk-in showers still have the same slick flooring as standard showers and bathtubs. But others outfit their walk-in with no-slip flooring made of slip-resistant material, oftentimes with grooves or other features that offer more traction. Another option is to add a no-slip mat to a walk-in shower with standard, slick flooring.
- Anti-Scald Faucets: Anti-scald faucets prevent overly hot water from escaping the faucet and burning those with more sensitive skin, such as seniors. Different faucets use different mechanisms, but anti-scald faucets always prevent dangerously hot water from exiting the valve, usually using water pressure or temperature to regulate water flow from the tap into the shower. Anti-scald faucets help prevent burns and eliminate the risk of falls that can occur when the person tries to move out of the way of the stream of hot water quickly.
- Shower Seat: Shower seats make bathing easier for those who struggle with balance or find it challenging to stand for long periods of time. They can also come in handy on the off chance that one feels unsteady on their feet on any given day, and can enable seniors who otherwise would need assistance to bathe independently.
Benefits of Walk-In Showers
Walk-In Showers Can Help Reduce the Risk of Falls in the Bathroom
Of the millions of household falls that occur each year, falls in the bathroom may be the most dangerous. A 2014 analysis found that falls in the bathroom are twice as likely to cause injury as falls in the living room. Given this high risk for injury, reducing fall risks in the bathroom is crucial for older adults who wish to age in place, especially those who struggle with mobility and balance.
The combination of slick surfaces and a high step can make getting in and out of the shower a dangerous activity for some seniors. Converting one’s standard shower to a walk-in, especially one with no-slip flooring and grab bars, can make this task much safer and reduce the overall risk of falls in the bathroom.
Walk-In Showers Can Enable Independence for Seniors
When seniors begin to struggle with mobility and balance, showering can become difficult. As an activity of daily living (ADL), bathing is often one of the first things seniors need assistance with as they age. Safety-focused walk-in showers can enable seniors to continue to shower independently when they would otherwise need help. Retaining as much independence as possible is a top priority for many seniors, so a walk-in shower can be a welcome modification to many seniors’ homes.
Walk-In Showers Can Fit Almost Any Bathroom
One problem seniors may run into when they want to make home modifications is a lack of space. Luckily, walk-in showers do not take up any more space than the shower one already has, making walk-in showers accessible to almost anyone, no matter how large or small their bathroom is. If replacing a standard bathtub with a walk-in shower, you’ll likely end up with even more free bathroom space. For reference, a bathtub tub takes up an average of 15 square feet, while a walk-in shower uses just 12 square feet of floor space.
Walk-In Showers Can Be Customized for Each Home
Walk-in showers not only make a bathroom safer, but it can also make it more aesthetically pleasing. Seniors can custom-pick shower elements like the tiling, door style, shelf placement, and more. If budget permits, installing a walk-in shower can become both a home modification for safety and a home improvement project to make the bathroom more modern and comfortable.
Financial Assistance for Walk-In Showers
A walk-in shower’s cost can vary dramatically depending on the size, materials used, and included features. The most basic models of walk-in showers without any special features range in price from $800 to $2,500. But larger or more high-end models can be quite costly, with prices ranging from $4,200 to $8,500, according to Home Advisor. These costs include labor and installation, so prices can also fluctuate based on location and average labor costs in your area.
Walk-in showers are sometimes too expensive for seniors to pay for entirely out of pocket. And, many are surprised to learn that Medicare does not cover walk-in showers or any other home modification. However, there are other financial assistance options available for walk-in showers.
Standard Medicaid does not cover home modifications like walk-in showers. However, many states offer Medicaid Waiver programs, which extend Medicaid coverage in that state. One type of waiver program, the Home & Community-Based Services waiver (also known as a 1915(c) waiver), is designed to help seniors remain in their home or community rather than move to a skilled nursing facility due to financial reasons. Thus, the waivers offer coverage for services or items that aren’t covered under standard Medicaid but can still benefit seniors. All states have their own independent waiver programs, but home modifications like walk-in showers may be covered under an HCBS waiver in some states. To learn more about your state’s Medicaid program, visit the official Medicaid website.
Government Programs and Grants
The U.S. government offers some non-Medicaid assistance programs to help seniors with home modifications. One such grant is the Property Improvement Loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This program makes it easier for homeowners to secure loans for home improvement projects and modifications, such as installing a walk-in shower. Rather than directly loaning the funds to the homeowner, HUD insures loans given out by approved lenders, making it easier for homeowners to access the loans they need to improve their properties. The maximum loan amount is $25,000, which is more than enough to cover the cost of a walk-in shower. To access this program, you’ll need to work with a HUD-approved lender. You can find approved lenders using the HUD Lender List Search.
Another option for seniors who live in rural areas is the Single Family Housing Repair Loans & Grants program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Also referred to as the Section 504 Home Repair program, this grant helps low-income adults in rural areas finance home improvement projects to remove health and safety hazards. The program offers both loans, which do need to be repaid, and grants, which do not. You can learn more about eligibility and how to apply on the USDA Rural Development website.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers several programs for elderly veterans to help support their health and well-being in the home. In addition to monthly pension and other monthly benefits, the VA offers several grants for home modifications and improvement. The most relevant for walk-in showers is the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant, which provides veterans with funds for medically-necessary home improvement projects. You can learn more about eligibility and the application process on the VA website. The VA also provides a useful infographic demonstrating the process of getting a HISA grant.
Some nonprofit organizations devote their time and effort to home-improvement projects and may be able to assist in funding or installing a walk-in shower. One such organization is Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conducting repair work to provide “safe and healthy housing” for those in need. The group of about 100,000 volunteers conducts approximately 10,000 home improvement projects each year. Its Safe at Home program provides no-cost home modifications so that seniors can retain independence and safely age in place. You can search for similar nonprofits using a nonprofit organization search tool, such as this list compiled by charities.org.
Non-Medicaid State Assistance Programs
In addition to HCBS Medicaid waivers, some states offer other financial assistance programs for seniors and home modifications. Unfortunately, not all states offer these programs, and the specific benefits can be very different between different states. To help give you an idea of what some of these state assistance programs provide, we’ve created the table below outlining state assistance programs for home modifications throughout the East Coast. Use the Eldercare Locator tool to find contact information for your local department on aging and find out if your state offers any similar assistance programs.
Provides a monthly subsidy to help seniors pay for necessities like medical supplies, medications, assistive devices, and home modifications that enhance safety and accessibility.
Helps older Georgians access and pay for services and home modifications that will enable them to safely age in place.
Provides assistance for low-income homeowners with home improvement and modification projects, such as walk-in showers for the elderly.
Provides zero-interest, deferred loans for seniors to make accessibility-related home improvements.
Offers seniors financial assistance to pay for a range of services and items such as in-home care services, medical supplies, and home accessibility adaptations like a walk-in shower.
Provides financial resources for seniors to make home modifications that enable them to age in place.
Helps seniors age 60 and over maintain independence and improve safety in the home with grants to fund home modification projects, among other services.
Completes home modifications in the entryways and bathrooms for Vermonters of any age living with a disability such as Parkinson’s or long-term effects from a stroke.
Provides in-home safety adaptations to reduce the risk of falls.
Choosing the Right Walk-In Shower
Finding the right walk-in shower for your personal needs can be a confusing process. While the many options available for walk-in showers make for a customizable experience, it also means that there are many decisions to make and features to consider. Below, we walk you through the steps of selecting the best walk-in shower for your situation.
Determine Your Need for a Walk-In Shower
The first step to selecting the right walk-in shower is to determine your need. What this means is to think about whether or not you truly need a walk-in shower for safety purposes or if you are simply interested in the convenience and aesthetics of a walk-in shower. Figuring out which category you fall into can help you decide which features to include, the style of walk-in shower you need, and if you need any add-ons for safety purposes.
Who Is a Good Fit for a Walk-In Shower?
The following situations indicate that someone is a good candidate to benefit from a walk-in shower:
- You have mobility and balance challenges
- You have some difficulty transferring independently
- You have a history of falls in the home or have had some close-calls
- You currently struggle to get in and out of the shower or bathtub
- You want to age in place and make your home more aging-friendly
If any of the above apply to you, you are a good candidate for a walk-in shower for safety reasons. If none of the above applies, you can, of course, still install a walk-in in your bathroom, but you can focus less on safety features and more on comfort. However, keep in mind that your needs may change over time, especially if you plan to age in place. Even if you’re interested in a walk-in shower for convenience or aesthetic reasons, including some safety features like non-slip flooring can help ensure your safety for years to come.
Walk-In Showers vs. Walk-In Tubs
Walk-in tubs offer many of the same benefits as walk-in showers, such as improved safety and enabling independence for seniors. However, there are some key differences that can help you determine which is better for you. Below, we explain four things to consider when deciding between a walk-in shower and a walk-in tub.
- Bathroom Size: Walk-in tubs are almost always much larger than walk-in showers. If you already have a large bathtub like a jacuzzi, a walk-in tub should fit well in your bathroom. However, if your bathroom is a smaller space and does not have an existing bathtub, it’s unlikely that a walk-in tub will fit, making showers the better option.
- Ability: While walk-in showers can, and often are, outfitted with a bench or chair, walk-in tubs are still typically a better option for those who really struggle with balance or standing independently. Consider whether you can stand for several minutes while you shower or if a bathtub with a seat is preferred. If you plan to age in place long-term, also think about how your mobility and balance may change in the future.
- Preferences: If your bathroom size and mobility give you the freedom to choose either a shower or tub, think about your personal preference. Ultimately, in these cases, it will come down to whether or not you prefer standing while you bathe in a shower, or sitting and laying in a bath. Some may feel that a walk-in tub is more comfortable, while others simply prefer a shower experience.
- Resale Value: If you intend to sell your home eventually, consider the impact that a walk-in shower or tub will have on the home’s resale value. Most realtors recommend that homeowners keep at least one bathtub in their home to appeal to a wider range of potential buyers. If you have multiple bathrooms and bathtubs in your home currently, you can choose either a walk-in shower or tub without having much of an impact on resale value. However, if you only have one bathroom, replacing a bathtub with a walk-in shower can negatively impact the home’s value.
Set Your Budget
Walk-in showers can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to almost $10,000 depending on the size, materials, and special features. Setting a budget at the beginning of the purchase process can help you evaluate how important different aspects of the shower are and what you’re willing to pay a premium for. It will also prevent you from getting your heart set on a particular shower or feature, and having to backtrack and select less expensive options. Though the high price tag of some walk-in showers can be overwhelming, keep in mind that there are financial assistance options for home modifications and that you may be able to pay for your shower in installments.
Decide Which Shower Features Matter to You
Once you know your budget, think about which extra features, if any, you want to include in your shower. Below, we list some of the most common features of walk-in showers so you can start thinking about if you’d like to add any of them to yours.
- Non-slip flooring in the shower
- Grab bars in and around the shower
- Lighting modifications that make it easier to see in and around the shower
- Transfer benches to assist in getting in and out of the shower and for sitting in the shower
- Shower chairs where one can sit if they feel off-balance
- Anti-scald faucets
Comfort and Design Features
- Storage shelves or cubbies
- Multiple faucets
- Easy-touch controls
- Energy-efficient shower heads
- Metal finishes and luxury tiling
Research Installation Options and Compare Costs
Installing a walk-in shower should typically be left to the professionals. So when researching walk-in showers, you should look into both the shower manufacturer and the accompanying installation options. Some manufacturers may require that you use their installation team, while others may let you choose a local contractor. Before making your decision, be sure to read reviews if available or talk to anyone you know who has had a walk-in shower installed about their experience. Additionally, compare installation costs. You may find that some installation options are less expensive than others, freeing up some of your budget for shower features.
Ultimately, try not to rush the process of selecting a walk-in shower and installer. You’ll most likely use, or at least see, your new shower every day, so taking the time to make sure you’re getting the best option for your situation and budget is well worth it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Walk-In Showers a Good Idea?
Walk-in showers are a good idea for those who struggle with balance and mobility, have a history of falls, and want to age in place. They can also be a good idea for those who want the convenience of a step-in shower or like the aesthetics of a modern walk-in shower. Walk-in showers are not a good idea for those who have young children and only one bathroom, as it’s a good idea to have at least one bathtub in the home for young ones.
How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Tub With a Walk-In Shower?
A walk-in shower can cost anywhere from $800 to $8,500. The cost depends on the shower’s size, materials, features, and the manufacturer and installer. It can also depend on whether any plumbing or electric work needs to be done. If you’re considering replacing a tub with a walk-in shower, talk to local experts to get an estimate of how much it would cost in your home.
What Is a Good Size for a Walk-In Shower?
The ADA recommends a minimum size of 36 by 36 inches for a walk-in shower. This size ensures comfort for those with mobility challenges and is large enough to accommodate a bench. Even for those who do not struggle with their mobility or balance, 36 x 36 is a good size for comfort and ease of showering.
What Are the Advantages of a Walk-In Shower?
Some of the advantages of a walk-in shower include improved safety, the small size of walk-in showers, and the ability to customize a walk-in shower. The safety aspect is especially important for seniors who wish to age in place and/or have a history of falls in the bathroom.
Does Medicare Pay for a Walk-In Shower?
Medicare does not cover walk-in showers or any other home modifications. Medicare does not consider home modifications to be durable medical equipment. Thus it is not covered under this benefit even if your doctor recommends that you install a walk-in shower. However, there are other financial assistance options available to help cover the cost of home modifications like walk-in tubs. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to find out what programs are available in your area.