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What to Know About Grab Bars

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 29, 2022

Grab bars are common in public restroom stalls, but you’ve probably never considered putting one in your home unless you have a disability or you’re experiencing age-related physical changes. If you’ve noticed stiffness in your joints or you feel a bit unsteady on your feet, you can reassure yourself that these are probably normal signs of aging. In contrast, you might have a medical condition like arthritis that severely impacts your movement.

Many people have never considered what they need to do to make their home accessible for a disability or even for expected signs and symptoms of aging — but they should. It's more likely for a home to be the residence of someone with a disability over its lifespan than not: Up to 60% of new homes will eventually be occupied by someone who has a disability and needs accommodations like grab bars in bathrooms. 

Fortunately, you’ll be able to make repairs and install appliances to make your life easier and safer throughout your golden years if you choose to age in one place. Read through the following guide to learn more about grab bars, which are a crucial first step for having handicap accessibility in the home

What Are Grab Bars Used For?

If you’re below the age of 65 and you don’t have a physical disability, you might have never given a second thought to the grab bars you’ve seen in public restrooms. It might surprise you to know that the bathroom is the most common place for falls and injuries in the home. For older people, falls, slips, and accidents are a few of the leading causes of injury and even death. 

If you slip on the bathroom floor without a grab bar to steady yourself, you might find yourself waking up in the emergency room with a head injury, hip fracture, or worse. Installing accessibility features in your home like grab bars next to high-risk areas — for instance, next to the toilet, bathtub, or shower — can help prevent these tragedies from happening.

What Are Common Types of Grab Bars?

At the cheaper end, grab bars will set you back about $20. If you wish to install a more elaborate grab bar or tension-mounted pole, though, you might expect to pay over $150. Consider your needs and take a good look at your bathroom’s risky areas before you decide which type you need. 

Consider the location. If you want to install a grab bar by your toilet, you might purchase a horizontal wall-mount device. In contrast, a grab bar inside the shower may look different. There are three common types of grab bars:

  • Horizontal grab bars: These are basic grab bars that you might find in a public restroom right next to the toilets. They’re best for people who need to move from sitting to standing (or vice versa) without losing their balance.
  • Vertical grab bars: If you’re getting out of the shower, it’ll be hard to grab onto a slick, horizontal rail. Vertical, textured grab bars, though, are perfect for steadying yourself when you’re stepping from the shower or tub to the bathroom floor.
  • Diagonal grab bars: If you don’t know whether to place a vertical or horizontal grab bar, consider using a diagonal. This type of bar can help you form a grip at both a sitting and standing position if you're unsteady on your feet. Placing a grab bar at an angle can be helpful when there isn’t enough room for a horizontal grab bar next to a toilet.

Consider the surface. Before you buy a grab bar, carefully consider where you’re mounting it and why. Do you want to place it in the same spot forever, or do you want the option to move it around?

  • Suction grab bars: These versatile grab bars are ideal for showers, and they often have special grips that allow for safer grabbing. They don’t adhere to every surface, though, and they won’t guarantee as much stability as the type that you screw into the wall. That being said, you can reposition this bar, and you can also take it with you if you travel frequently or stay with a loved one for the holidays.
  • Wall mount grab bars: This type of bar, when properly mounted, is the safest and most secure.

Consider the extra features. You can choose from wavy grab bars, textured surfaces for easier gripping, and grab bars that come with built-in shelving underneath. You might want to factor in the weight of the person using the bar, as well as how hard they will need to pull to stand up or exit the shower.

How Do You Install a Grab Bar?

Grab bars need to stay on the walls, or they won’t keep you safe. It’s often recommended that you learn how to install a grab bar safely by securing it to the studs already in the wall — as opposed to the drywall — to provide stability. If you’re building a house or renovating an older home, you might also consider installing a sheet of metal blocking behind the wall to securely fasten the grab bar to the wall.

You might want to check with your city and state’s guidelines to ensure that you’re building a room that’s up to the local codes. For example, your new grab bar may have to be of a certain length, height, or material for safety reasons.

How Else Can I Make My Home Safer for Aging?

Creating a more accessible home depends on respecting your individual needs and following a few standard guidelines for safety. For example, in addition to installing grab bars where you personally are most at risk, you can go through the following checklist to make your home safer as you age:

  • Eliminate hazards you’ll trip over or slip on. This includes clutter on the floor and area rugs.
  • Use nightlights and have an electrician place more light switches around your home — especially at the top and the bottom of your staircases.
  • Install handrails outdoors if you have a porch or patio with steps.
  • Replace uncomfortable switches, handles, and knobs with ones you can easily turn.

While many older adults can safely age in place — with the appropriate accessibility measures installed, of course — sometimes, it’s better to consider a different option like in-home care or assisted living. You’ll have to make this choice for yourself. 

If you wish to create a more accessible home, it won’t cost you much time or money to do so. Start by installing grab bars near the toilet and the shower, and consider other accessibility options like walk-in bathtubs, shower chairs, and stair lifts to create a safe environment as you age.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Aging In Place: “A Guide To Bathroom Grab Bars,” “Best Grab Bars for Showers.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Common Injuries as We Age.”

City & County of San Francisco: “Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Toilet, Bath Tub and Shower Grab Bars.”

Consumer Reports: “Why you need grab bars in your bathroom.”

Mayo Clinic: “Aging parents: 8 warning signs of health problems.”

National Institute on Aging: “Aging in Place: Tips on Making Home Safe and Accessible.”

WHO Housing and Health Guidelines: “Housing accessibility.”

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