By Mary Jane Carroll
Recently, my friend Dorothy called to ask about easy, inexpensive home modification options to help her 90+-year-old parents’ to age comfortably and safely in place. Specifically, she was concerned with renovation options that might be available that wouldn’t negatively impact the re-sale value of their property and that would allow her parents to remain in their two-story, split-level home for as long as possible. Did I know
of any off-the-shelf products that might work? Would expensive renovations be necessary? Could she find solutions that would be aesthetically pleasing yet provide
the necessary safety features?
Dorothy is not the first person to ask me questions about strategies for aging in place in recent months. With the longer life expectancy of the average Canadian (approximately
81 years) and the majority of older adults who wish to age in place (70% plus), more and more people are looking for answers about home modifications that make sense financially and aesthetically.
My response to questions such as these is always the same: begin with the most dangerous room in the house, the bathroom. Slipping, tripping or stumbling can have serious consequences for all of us, and older adults are the most vulnerable of all groups. Studies show that falling injuries are more likely to occur in the bathroom than in any other room of the house. Falls can lead to reduced mobility, loss of independence, and hospitalization and are the leading cause of fatal injuries for adults 65 and over.
The simplest, most straightforward way to help prevent falls in the bathroom is to install grab bars. Grab bars provide the necessary support for people of all ages with balance issues. Although they are one of the best safety solutions, grab bars have the reputation for also being one of the ugliest. In my experience, people don’t want their homes to look like hospital rooms or institutions and are reluctant to install anything that suggests diminished health or capability. Add to this the cost and disruption factors associated
with installing traditional grab bars and you are left with too many older adults using
sinks and towel bars to support themselves – objects that are incapable of supporting
full weight in a fall.
What many consumers aren’t yet aware of is a new grab bar technology that has transformed traditional grab bar design and installation. Through the use of super strong suction cups this new generation of grab bar is easy to install, easy to use and is affordable by most people (average cost is about $30 depending upon the length of the bar you need and on the supplier you choose.) And they are available in most home improvement and bathroom supply stores, and not just in medical supply stores as with the older version. The new grab bars can be installed and removed without tools and without professional help. They aren’t permanent and there is no damage to bathroom walls. Additionally, they can be positioned and re-positioned for custom placement.
You can even take them with you on holidays if you like.
Suction cup grab-bars also tend to be more attractive than their more permanent counterpart. They come in a range of colors from the more traditional white and chrome
to bright colours such as blue, green or orange.
Remember, when choosing a grab bar consider:
- Grip diameter – make sure the diameter of the bar fits comfortably in your hand.
- Placement – most common areas to place a grab bar are near toilets, and on shower and bathtub walls.
- Orientation – horizontal grab bars are good for pulling up from a seated position. Vertical and diagonal accommodate for users of varying heights, including providing support for children.
- Length of bar required – measure before you buy.
Finally, when installing grab bars of any type, be careful. Ensure that you follow the manufacturer’s directions closely. Also, note that most of these suction cup grab bars must no cross the grout line in order to maintain strong suction, and that they must be installed on a non-porous surface. And finally, you get what you pay for. Less expensive versions may not be as satisfactory as the slightly more expensive version.
Mary Jane Carroll is a professor in the Bachelor of Interior Design program at Sheridan College. She developed a specialized post-diploma program at Sheridan called “Aging
in Place Design Specialist”. Mary Jane was published in “Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments,” and has presented her papers on Universal Design in England and the USA.