Grab bars are one of the most common types of aging in place home modification – ranging from suction-cup styles that people can install themselves, to a simple one or two strategically located and installed ones by a contractor or handyman, to a more complete bathroom layout including several of them. They are one of the most requested jobs for contractors to complete.
While they are very popular as a sign of preparing for advancing age and remaining in one’s home long-term, the reason they are popular is a little narrow in focus.
Grab bars are generally accepted as a way to makes homes safer for seniors but often aren’t considered in a broader application of safety. Many people seem to think by putting grab bars in now that they will have prepared their homes to be usable in the future as mobility limitations may make their use necessary – a pre-emptive measure to be ready for potential future needs. While this is true, that should not be the prevailing opinion.
Putting grab bars in now for future use is fine, but there is no reason they shouldn’t factor into current plans. Grab bars go by many aliases for those who find the term grab bar associated with aging and limitations or to be too medical or institutional for their liking. They also are called assists, safety assists, safety rails, handrails, safety bars, and shower rails, among others. Think of the times we have ridden mass transit or even a tram at the airport and a sudden acceleration or stop had us reaching for the nearest grab bar for support. Did we sense that this was institutional, an ADA mandate, or just there for our safety?
The point is that they serve a very useful safety feature. We may not need it very often, but when it is needed, it’s there. That’s why we put them in. Some people need them every day. Others need them quite infrequently. Nevertheless, they can be there at-the-ready for when they are helpful.
Likely none of us, or anyone else we can think of, has gone through life thus far without wishing that there was something to hold onto or that we could have used to steady ourselves getting in or out of the tub or shower at least once, and likely considerably more than this. Think of the times we overexerted ourselves at the gym or playing with the dog or the kids. Maybe we have a sore foot from stepping on something. We might have turned an ankle in any number of ways. Maybe we had a lower leg, knee, or foot surgery and were required to keep our foot or lower leg dry. Maybe we felt dizzy from a cold or medication. There are many reasons why additional support could be helpful, including just slipping on a wet floor.
In the absence of a grab bar – especially one strategically located vertically near the entrance to the tub or shower at a height a little lower than our outstretched arm – people try to grab the wall (which has nothing to hold onto because it is flat and possibly wet) or use the closest thing available, including a towel bar or ring. A soap dish, faucet handle, or shower door handle. These are poor substitutes for the real deal.
There is no reason for any of us or our clients to wait to begin using grab bars – particularly the strategic one near the entrance of the tub or shower. Putting several in now because we think they might be necessary at some future point may be a good idea, but we don’t know what those needs might be. We already know that from a safety standpoint a grab bar to assist us entering and exiting the shower or tub is something that is nice to have – and it doesn’t look out-of-place, overdone, or signal any type of special need.
Grab bars done for this reason are considered to be universal design or visitable design because they are attractive (make sure to choose something that compliments the décor), can be used by anyone, don’t appear to be for any type of special need, and allow anyone coming into that space the ability to use them.
Don’t think that these are just for the master bath or the hall bath. They can be used in any bathroom in the home where there is any type of tub or shower – regardless of the presence of a curb or side and the height of it.
No wonder grab bars are popular, but when they are installed for actual usage rather than as part of planning for future events, they become even more valuable.