Bathrooms are very hazardous—they have slippery surfaces and few dependable things to grasp onto, which greatly increases the chances for harm. Would it surprise you to learn that nearly 200,000 older Americans are treated in emergency rooms for bathroom-related falls and injuries every year?
Falls can happen for various reasons. Physical issues, such as poor muscle strength and balance, are strongly associated with increased risk. There are also certain environmental factors that can create hazardous situations and add to the risk of falling:
- Insufficiently secured towel racks that could fall when gripped for support.
- Bathtubs that are difficult to step into and out of.
- Sliding shower doors that could move unexpectedly when entering and exiting the tub.
- Slippery bathtub and shower floor surfaces.
- Slippery floor tiles, especially when wet.
Making Some Safety Modifications
When modifying a bathroom for safety, grab bars are essential. Many individuals use towel bars or shower/tub features to hold onto while climbing in or out of the shower/tub. While towel bars are good for holding towels, they aren’t built to support weight. Instead, install grab bars in easy-to-reach places to help support balance when entering and exiting the shower or tub.
Grab bars are best-suited for people with good upper-body strength who are able to hold onto them while moving or standing. All grab bars should be:
- Slip-resistant, so invest in “grip” surface bars rather than bars with a high-gloss finish (which can be slippery).
- Color-contrasted from the wall for better visibility.
- Securely fixed to the studs of the wall for adequate support. Bars that are bolted onto the wall are preferable to bars with suction cups, which could easily slip away when body weight is applied.
Here are some things to consider when installing grab bars in a bathroom:
- Location, location, location! A grab bar is useless if it’s in the wrong place and not used regularly. Look where the person normally grabs to enter or exit the shower and place the grab bar there. The trick is not to change one’s behavior, which is difficult to do, but rather to make behavior safer.
- Don’t disqualify the tub itself. If the person uses a tub to bathe, use a tub-attached or clamp-on grab bar. When getting in or out and stepping over the tub’s high sides, a grab bar securely mounted on the tub rim can supply balance support.
- Consider entry points. Placing a small grab bar vertically outside of the shower or tub entry provides added assistance when stepping to and from a wet surface.
- Test the bars yourself. Give the bar or bars a good solid yank to test their holding power. This will let you know whether the grab bar will hold up when it’s really needed to support an individual’s balance.
While you can’t always prevent an accident from happening, you can take certain measures to keep loved ones safer. Grab bars are a great way to help keep older Americans protected in the bathroom.
Download our Fall Prevention Guide today!
Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (healthcare professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dr-rein/6/759/592. If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Rein at email@example.com.