Accessible bathrooms are key to baby boomers aging safely
In 2011, the first baby boomers reached the traditional retirement age of 65, and by 2025, baby boomers will comprise about 25 percent of the total U.S. population. As this demographic group ages, one of their primary decisions will concern how their homes can accommodate them.
According to a 2003 AARP study, more than three quarters of respondents said it’s important to have non-slip floor surfaces and bathroom aids such as grab bars or a bathing stool. But, while 80 percent feel that bathroom aids are important, only about one third have them in their homes.
Recognizing a need in the market, bath companies are providing elegant and high-tech options for the elderly or disabled. Accessible bathtubs take into account the needs of customers in addition to aesthetics.
”One of the things that people who are aging often have to sacrifice is that they can no longer enjoy a deep soak,” says Diana Schrage, senior interior designer at the Kohler Design Center. “But the latest accessible bathtubs allow the aging to bathe in a tub that’s not only high-tech and safe, but includes elderly specific features.”
An accessible bathtub needs more than just a few grab bars. These tubs usually incorporate a deeper soaking tub style, built-in seat and walk-in door. This way, the bather doesn’t need to risk losing balance by stepping over the high bathtub wall.
The typical walk-in bath has a hinged door that can easily be latched and unlatched. A new alternative is a rising wall bathtub, in which the entire outer wall of the bathtub raises and lowers easily. The extra-wide door opening allows a person to lift legs in and out of the bath and transition from a wheelchair.
Besides accessibility, bath manufacturers add other features that appeal to aging customers. The Kohler Elevance rising-wall bath has an elevated seat to minimize motion required to sit and stand, deck-mount faucets and hand shower within arm’s reach of the user. American Standard’s walk-in tubs have air spa and combination massage options.
“Those who are less agile can safely enjoy a bath in a spacious tub and have in their reach hydrotherapy controls, an integrated grab bar, and more,” says Kalpesh Nanji, business development director for American Standard’s safe and accessible baths.
A concern that some people forget with walk-in tubs is the need for quick drainage.
“In order to get out of a walk-in bath, you have to open the door — but before you can do that, the water has to drain, which can take six to seven minutes in a typical tub,” says Nanji. “That’s quite a bit of time to sit in the water, but the quick draining feature eliminates water in under two minutes in a normal-sized tub.”
To ease aches and pains, many accessible tubs offer jetted features that are said to provide hydrotherapy benefits — the use of water in the treatment of disease. The term can encompass a few techniques, “everything from air jet systems to an invigorating jetted system to vibroacoustic technology, which is the use of sound to produce mechanical vibrations,” Schrage says.
Nanji suggests researching the effectiveness of these features for various tubs before investing. “Really look into the type of feature you want and research which tubs offer those,” he suggests.