According to a 2021 Home and Community Preferences Survey by AARP, 75% of people over age 50 plan to live in their current homes or communities for the rest of their lives. Aside from their unwillingness to move, older adults prefer aging in place as it allows them to retain their independence and is exponentially more affordable. However, one of the main concerns of aging in place is safety.
Unfortunately, most longtime homes cannot meet the seniors’ needs or present safety hazards. Since seniors often struggle with mobility and balance, they have a higher risk for falls. According to the Centers of Disease and Prevention(CDC), falls are the leading cause of death, and non-fatal injuries among adults 65 years of age or older.. This highlights the importance of home modifications to lower the risk of falls and make aging in place safer for seniors.
Seniors aging in place should consider modifications for the bathroom. One popular option is to convert a bathtub into a walk-in shower, making it easier and safer for seniors to enter and exit the shower. Keep reading to learn more about walk-in showers, their benefits, how to pay for them, and how to choose the right one for your needs.
What is a Walk-In Shower?
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 safely step over a ledge into the shower. Most walk-in showers have an “entry threshold,” or ledge, of less than 3 inches, lowering the risk of falling while stepping in or out.
Walk-in showers are a home modification project rather than a product you buy at a store. This means converting a shower or bathtub into a walk-in shower with the help of a skilled contractor. Usually, you can customize the features and appearance of the walk-in shower. In addition to safety, walk-in showers can help make the bathroom look more spacious and aesthetically pleasing.
Walk-In Shower Safety Features
The most notable safety feature of walk-in showers is the low ledge height because it eliminates the need to vault over a high ledge when bathing. This promotes proper hygiene and independence since seniors can shower safely without assistance. Safety features can vary by model, while some are optional add-ons. Below are some common walk-in shower features:
- Grab Bars: These are graspable bars that help seniors maintain balance and lessen fatigue while showering. Strategically-placed grab bars in the walk-in shower can prevent slipping and falling.
- No-Slip Flooring: Many falls that happen in the bathroom are due to slippery surfaces like shower floors and tile walls. No-slip flooring, such as slip-resistant bath mats, provide a stable surface that reduces slips and falls in the bathroom.
- Anti-Scald Shower Valves: Anti-scald shower valves regulate water pressure and temperature fluctuation to help prevent burn injuries and lower fall risks from escaping the stream of hot water quickly. This mechanism prevents dangerously hot water from exiting the valve by using water pressure or temperature to regulate water flow from the tap into the shower.
- Shower Seat: These seats improve accessibility in the shower by allowing seniors with limited mobility to stay seated while showering. They lower the risk of falling and enable seniors to shower in comfort.
Types of Walk-In Showers
There are several types of walk-in showers to choose from, depending on the number of panels or enclosures used.
- Conventional Open Walk-In Shower: This is the most common type of walk-in shower with no doors and just a single glass panel on the side for splash control. It is best for small bathrooms.
- Walk-In Shower With Enclosures: This unit features two glass enclosures: short and long. It’s essentially a bathroom stall, with two sides being the bathroom walls, and two frameless glass panels forming the third and fourth walls.
- Wet Room: A wet room is a specially-designed bathroom with no walls, doors, or curtains. Everything in the bathroom can get wet without being ruined (with waterproofing), and the shower is leveled with the rest of the floor.
- Barrier-Free Walk-In Showers: This type of walk-in shower helps seniors with limited mobility by being easier to access and exit. Barrier-free walk-in showers may have a fiberglass curb measuring 1-1/4 inches high or a curbless design.
Benefits of Walk-In Showers
Walk-In Showers Can Help Reduce the Risk of Falls in the Bathroom
Of the millions of household falls each year, bathroom falls are the most dangerous. An analysis published in Injury Epidemiology found that bathroom falls are twice as likely to cause injury than 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 slick surfaces and high steps make it unsafe for seniors to get in and out of the shower. 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
Lack of space is a common concern when making home modifications. Fortunately, walk-in showers can fit in the space of an existing traditional shower, making them 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 have even more free bathroom space.
Walk-In Showers Can Be Customized for Each Home
Walk-in showers not only make a bathroom safer, but they can also make it more aesthetically pleasing. Seniors can custom-pick shower elements like tiling, door style, shelf placement, etc. If budget permits, installing a walk-in shower will improve your bathroom space’s overall safety, aesthetic, and comfort.
Financial Assistance for Walk-In Showers
A walk-in shower’s cost can vary dramatically depending on the size, materials, and included features. The most basic models of walk-in showers without any special features range in price from $800 to $2,500. But more extensive or higher-end models can be expensive, 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 may be too costly for some seniors to pay out of pocket. Moreover, Medicare does not cover home modification projects, including walk-in showers. Thankfully, other financial assistance and resources are available that may cover 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.
All states have independent waiver programs, but some states may cover home modifications like walk-in showers under an HCBS waiver. To learn more about your state’s Medicaid program, visit the official Medicaid website.
Government Programs and Grants
The U.S. government offers non-Medicaid assistance programs to help seniors with home modifications, such as the Property Improvement Loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This program allows homeowners to secure loans for home improvement projects and modifications, including a walk-in shower installation. The maximum loan amount is $25,000, enough to cover the cost of a walk-in shower. Rather than directly loaning the funds, HUD insures loans from approved lenders, making it easier for homeowners to qualify. 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 and grants, but the former requires repayment. 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 pensions and benefits, the VA provides several grants for home modifications and improvement. The Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant is the most relevant for walk-in showers, 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 helpful infographic detailing the process of getting a HISA grant.
Some nonprofit organizations may assist seniors with funding home-improvement projects, including a walk-in shower installation. 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 a suitable walk-in shower for your needs can take time and effort. While the many options for walk-in showers make for a customizable experience, it also means many decisions 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 determining your needs. This means considering whether you genuinely need a walk-in shower for safety purposes or simply for convenience and aesthetics. 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. A healthcare professional like an occupational therapist can assess a senior to determine limitations related to showering and other ADLs and provide suggestions about modifications required in the bathroom to increase safety.
Who Is a Good Fit for a Walk-In Shower?
Seniors who fit the following criteria are good candidates 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 none of the above applies, you can still install a walk-in shower for comfort and convenience and focus less on safety features. However, remember that your needs may change over time, especially if you plan to age in place. Including some safety features like non-slip flooring and grab bars can help future-proof your bathroom for safety.
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 promoting independence for seniors. However, some key differences can help you determine which is better. 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, suppose your bathroom is smaller and without a bathtub. In that case, it’s unlikely that a walk-in tub will fit, making showers the better option.
- Ability: While walk-in showers can be outfitted with a bench or chair, walk-in tubs are typically better for seniors struggling with balance or standing without assistance. Consider whether you can stand for several minutes while showering; otherwise, a bathtub with a seat is preferable. If you plan to age in place, consider how your mobility and balance may change.
- Preferences: If your bathroom size and mobility allow you to choose between a shower or tub, consider your preferences. Ultimately, it will come down to whether you prefer standing while you shower or sitting and lying in a bath. Some may feel a walk-in tub is more comfortable, while others prefer the shower experience.
- Resale Value: If you intend to sell your home eventually, consider how a walk-in shower or tub impacts the home’s resale value. Most realtors recommend that homeowners keep at least one bathtub to appeal to more potential buyers. However, converting your only bathroom into 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 can help you identify which features are important to you and what you’re willing to pay for. With a budget, you can narrow your options and make shopping easier. Although walk-in showers can be expensive, remember that there are available financial aids and resources for home modification projects, and many programs offer financing options.
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.
- Non-slip flooring
- 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 and sitting in the shower
- Shower chairs to retain balance
- Anti-scald faucets and shower valves
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
When researching walk-in showers, you should look into the manufacturer and their installation options. Some manufacturers may require that you use their installation team, while others may let you choose a third-party contractor. Before deciding, read reviews if available or talk to anyone who has had a walk-in shower installed about their experience. Additionally, compare installation costs. Some installation options are less expensive than others, freeing up some money for shower features. Ultimately, take your time when evaluating walk-in showers and installers to get a unit that best fits your needs and budget.
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’re also ideal for those who want the convenience of a step-in shower or like the aesthetics of a modern walk-in shower. Conversely, walk-in showers are not recommended for homes with young children and only one bathroom.
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 don’t have limited 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 advantages of a walk-in shower include improved safety, smaller size, and the ability to customize. Safety is essential 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. Since home modifications are not considered durable equipment, they’re not covered under Medicare, even with a doctor’s recommendation. However, other financial assistance options are available to help cover the cost of home modifications, like walk-in showers and tubs. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to find out what programs are available in your area.