They say home is where the heart is, and a 2021 survey from AARP confirms it for seniors: 77% of seniors said they would prefer to remain in their homes as they age—which is a good thing, as other studies have shown remaining in your own home provides benefits for mental well-being as you age.
But not every home is built for aging in place. As they age, many seniors encounter issues with mobility and stability, making the likelihood of a fall rise. However, a simple solution can reduce the risk of falls in more dangerous areas like bathrooms and staircases.
Installing grab bars in areas where your senior is most likely to need them is one simple way you can help keep your loved one safe in their own home.
When to install grab bars
Consider installing grab bars in the bathroom, staircase and any other place where your loved one will have to lower or raise themselves—but install them before they truly need them. This gives you time to find grab bars that will match your loved one’s home décor and time to install them.
Ideally, install grab bars when your loved one begins to struggle with their balance. If your senior is unsteady on their feet or uses a cane or walker to get around, the time to install grab bars is now.
If your senior is unsteady on their feet or uses a cane or walker to get around, the time to install grab bars is now.
Where to install grab bars
You can install grab bars anywhere in your loved one’s home you think they need one, but some areas tend to be more common than others.
Yahoodain also notes that landings on staircases are a popular installation area.
In bathrooms, grab bars are most often installed near the toilet and in the shower to avoid falls. In the shower, it’s best to have two grab bars installed, Yahoodain said.
“Put one directly under the showerhead,” he said. “The other will be on the other wall. This way the senior has two places to be able to hold on. Sometimes you don’t have the capability to put in two different locations, so we’ll put in a longer grab bar.”
When it comes to the toilet, grab bars are generally installed on the wall next to the toilet and horizontal to the floor.
Types of grab bars
Grab bars come in a variety of sizes and finishes. Some manufacturers will even let you customize the finish to match your existing fixtures.
Yahoodain recommends choosing a grab bar that has been proven to work, so check reviews or consult with your contractor to make the best choice for your senior’s home.
Keep in mind that shiny grab bars are often also slippery, so consider grab bars that have some type of texture on them – like etched lines or ridges – to improve grip.
How to install grab bars
Correct installation of grab bars is important to keep your senior safe. You don’t want something intended to keep your loved one safe to create a hazard for them instead. Improperly installed grab bars can give way and cause your loved one to fall.
The best way to install a grab bar is to have some type of wood backing behind the drywall to attach the grab bar to.
“Have backing available,” Yahoodain said. “You can use any type of lumber you have that’s going to make the wall flush.”
Yahoodain doesn’t recommend using anchor bolts unless there’s no other option. If you do use anchor bolts, however, make sure you follow the instructions for installation.
While installing grab bars can be a DIY project for those who are handy, others might want to call a contractor, especially if you want to put backing behind the wall.
“If you’re handy, you’re able to do it yourself,” Yahoodain said. “Most of them come with instructions, but most senior people are not going to want to do it themselves. You want to make sure that it’s not going to come out.”
While there are no national codes for installing grab bars in residential homes, the Americans with Disabilities Act does regulate their installation in commercial buildings. If you’re planning to install a grab bar yourself, the code can be helpful in determining the size and placement of the bars in your or your loved one’s home.
For example, the ADA requires a grab bar next to the toilet to be a minimum of 42 inches long and be placed 33 to 36 inches above the floor.
Whether you choose to do it yourself or hire a contractor, installing grab bars properly is an important step in keeping your senior safe—and in the home where their heart is.