A safety bar can range in price from $100 to a couple hundred dollars. Alan Blum, aka Dr. Grab Bar, recommends installing one for getting in the shower and another for while you’re in there.
An inexpensive installation could be the difference between broken bones or remaining happy and safe in the home as we age.
Grab bars, according to elder safety experts, are one of the simplest yet most effective tools one can implement to improve safety while aging in place. The bars, which are usually made from stainless steel and enable one to maintain balance while maneuvering, can help reduce deadly falls, which are on the rise, and a $100 same-day installation could help you save thousands of dollars in hospital bills.
“I think grab bars are the new seat belt,” said Fritzi Gros-Daillon, director of education and advocacy for Age Safe America. “The goal is to make our homes easier and safer — this is vital to allow us to age in place without having to make larger financial decisions about alternative places to live — and grab bars help us achieve this. Everyone remembers wearing seat belts when they were first installed in cars. There was a common belief that you would rather be thrown from the vehicle than belted in, but now you don’t leave the driveway without your seat belt on. That’s really what is happening in our homes. There should be safety bars in every bathroom.”
The bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house, according to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. Nearly 22 million Americans age 15 and older were injured in the bathroom in 2008, with falls being the cause of 80% of those incidents and those 65 and older having the highest rate of injury. Only 19% of homes had grab bars at the time, but the study suggested that “adding grab bars both inside and outside the tub or shower might help prevent bathroom injuries.”
According to Gros-Daillon, the first step to older adult home safety for those aging in place is being able to assess a situation and think to yourself, “What are the different ways I can make small but effective changes?” But it also takes action. This fact was crystalized for her years ago when she visited her mother to discover that she didn’t have any safety bars in her house — so Gros-Daillon had them installed. Her mother, she recalled, thanked her and told her that she had wanted them for a while so she could feel safer in the shower but didn’t want to bother anybody.
But grab bars aren’t just for the bathrooms. They’re a tool that can be used to help with balance as needed throughout the house and can be tailored to an individual’s specific needs, according to both Gros-Daillon and Alan Blum, a bathroom safety specialist who owns the Sarasota company Dr. Grab Bar. Common uses for them outside of the bathroom include as a railing in the garage to help people get in and out of the house and also in any places where there are steps.
Regardless of how they are used, Blum urges people to be proactive in their approach to fall prevention when choosing to age within the home.
“About 90% of my customers are coming to me from a hospital or a nursing home after a fall,” Blum said. “If you don’t have them in the right place, you’re going to end up in the hospital and then have to get them. It’s either you get them now or you get them later.”
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This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.