Many people are installing grab bars in their homes themselves or having them done for them by professionals. This is being reported among many national surveys as the number one improvement people are making to their homes to prepare them to age in place. This is particularly popular among those over 65.
However, grab bars can’t make people safe in themselves. They have to be used in order to provide any benefit. To be used effectively and to be beneficial, people have to know where the grab bars are located. They have to have a sense of where they are so that they don’t have to consciously look for them when they are needed. Thus, people should use them in non-emergency situations so they can develop trust in them and begin to rely on them. Also, attractive styling and finishes may help people accept them and have them fit into the individual home environments more easily.
People can develop a peace-of-mind just from knowing that they have installed grab bars in their homes to protect from mishaps. This is a great benefit, but even better, is knowing that this assistive hardware will protect them. Primarily, this comes from using them and developing a confidence in their ability to support someone and keep them from a dangerous fall.
Grab bars can be considered as a type of insurance policy. Particularly in the bathroom, although they can be used other place, grab bars can prevent a slip or fall on wet surfaces, such as on damp or wet flooring or in the tub or shower. It could also be a slip or stumble caused by a floor mat sliding on the floor or from a towel or other item left on the floor.
While grab bars are noteworthy for helping people avoid falls from slipping, that is a very limited role for them. There are many other times when grab bars can be useful. Consider the number of times that we might catch our foot stepping into or out of the shower when there is a curb, threshold, or side of the tub present. Ideally, all showers are curbless, but this is not the case for so many people. They still have a tub, a tub with a shower in it, or a stall shower of various dimensions with a raised curb at the entry. Some have glass enclosures or sliding showers doors attached to the tub or shower to retain the water inside the shower.
Once inside the shower or tub area, moving about can cause a slip. Grab bars that can be reached and used can be quite helpful.
Besides the possibility of tripping on the threshold of the tub or shower, there are many other common conditions to consider. Any of us at various times can feel momentarily dizzy or awaken this way. Dizziness or light-headedness that might affect our balance can result from colds, the flu, sinus infections, or some medications (the ones that advise us not operate machinery or drive while using them). We could have a sprained ankle, sore foot, or pulled calf muscle from too much exercise at the gym, walking or running, from heavy yardwork, or from playing outside with the dog. We might have stepped in a hole that was concealed by the grass or just stepped wrong and rolled our ankle. Then, we could just be overly tired or fatigued.
There are many practical reasons for having a grab bar installed vertically near the entrance to a tub or shower – preferably just to the outside so it can be used on the way in and held onto to assist exiting. Having them inside the shower, likely horizontally (although some prefer a diagonal installation), provide additional safety for other areas inside the tub or shower.
Nevertheless, our clients (and us) actually need to use the grab bars occasionally for additional support to get the feel of what they are like when they are used. After a time, people will reach for them instinctively and use them for additional support – much the way they get into a car and reach for the seatbelt.
We have to teach our clients to reach out for the grab bar at the first instance of a slip – after they have gained confidence in their location, purpose, and feel. This is why they must get used to them before they are needed in an emergency. If it’s dark, or their vision is obscured by soap or shampoo in their eyes, they need to reflexively be able to locate and latch onto the nearest grab bar for their own safety.