One of the primary reasons senior citizens are forced into assisted living or nursing homes is a fear of falling or slipping and causing serious injury to themselves. As individuals age, they develop conditions that make them more prone to falling. In fact, at least one-third of all seniors experience a fall every year. Preventing falls is critical to allowing individuals to remain independent in their homes, as falls can lead to many more serious complications.
- In 2010, direct medical costs related to falls were $30 billion.
- One out of three adults ages 65 and older falls every year.
- In 2010, 2.3 million fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency rooms.
The bathroom poses the most threats to safety—it is the primary location where falls take place because of slippery floors and conditions such as poor balance, decreased vision, and loss of strength. Because of this—as aging in place trends continue to grow and more and more baby boomers age into the senior demographic—the importance of bath safety will grow as well. After all, it’s one of the first areas of the home that is modified, especially with items such as grab bars, to help prevent falls and aid in sitting and standing. Making homes safe for aging seniors is key when it comes to mobility and independent living. Therefore, a well-equipped bathroom is an important requirement for independent seniors, those who are recovering from certain procedures or those who live with the assistance of a caregiver. Types of products available for the bathroom include: grab bars, tub rails, toilet safety rails, elevated toilet seats, shower chairs or benches, transfer benches and bath lifts. Each product provides a different type of assistance that addresses various user needs. The addition of safety bars will make it easier to maneuver the space without dangerous, and possibly life-threatening, falls. Grab bars provide extra support through anchoring systems that can support hundreds of pounds of pressure—some up to 500 pounds. When installing safety grab bars, it’s best to consider locations where balance is most likely to be lost during movement. Grab bars represent a major portion of the home health care bathroom safety category. These products come in a variety of materials, colors and lengths to accommodate different needs.
- Materials—Grab bars come in different metals (chrome, polished nickel, stainless steel, powder- coated steel) and are also available in heavy-duty plastic (though metal versions are sturdiest). Metal grab bars also require permanent installation because they are drilled into place. The powder-coated steel kinds are most often white and appear less institutional than other varieties. Some grab bars offer a non-slip grip feature for extra security.
- Installation—Metal grab bars are typically installed by screwing them into the mounting surface. Suction cup grab bars, usually made of plastic, offer tool-free installation, and can be used for travel as they are not permanently attached to walls and other surfaces. (These types of grab bars should be used for balance only, as they are not weight-bearing.)
- Shape—Most often grab bars are straight, but they can also be found in an L shape or a rotating configuration. A rotating design uses a suction cup for installation flexibility and movability.
- Lengths—Grab bars come in a variety of lengths (12, 16, 18, 24 and 32 inches) that generally suffice for home use. Some are adjustable to accommodate use in various locations.
Grab bar designs range from utilitarian to highly stylized, which is what many baby boomers are looking for. Understanding the user’s needs puts a retailer in a position to suggest the right combination of products to create a safe bath. As with any cash item, stocking a variety of grab bars is an opportunity to make more sales on an item that is always in demand. Grab bars represent a strong revenue opportunity, and are installed in several areas of the bathroom, including:
- Tub/Shower—Grab bars installed at a lower level help bathers raise and lower them into the tub. A waist-level grab bar is good to help with stepping in and out of the tub, as well as to hold for extra balance while washing and shampooing in the shower.
- Toilet—It is important to install a grab bar near the toilet for support while sitting and standing. Some models on the market are toilet paper holders that double as safety bars, which give a more streamlined look.
- Towel racks—Many seniors automatically reach out for the towel rack to balance themselves when drying off or picking up dirty clothes off the floor. These bars aren’t designed to support that kind of weight, and eventually they will detach from the wall and could lead to an injury. Safety towel bars or towel shelves are available in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors to fit bathroom spaces and to provide necessary support.
Despite all the risk and evidence of injury, it is many times difficult to convince seniors to install grab bars. Whether it’s pride, vanity or simply stubbornness, many just do not want their homes to feel like a hospital or nursing home room. To help with this, many companies have created decorative bath safety products for this market, aiming to replace traditional, sterile grab bars. They include smaller elements such as soap dishes, toilet paper holders and corner shelving to larger modifications such as towel bars, grab bars and bath/shower seating. Custom finishes and other selective offerings mean these safety products fit into the bath without standing out as industrial features. Consider the Invisia Collection by HealthCraft (invisiacollection.com), aging in place lines from Moen (moen.com) and Kohler (kohler.com) or a number of handsome options from Best Bath (best-bath.com) or Grabcessories (grabcessories.com). Because this arm of the bath safety market is developing quickly, it’s imperative to develop this profitable business opportunity into cash growth. Consider partnering with a contractor or designer to aid clients. Even though some of these decorative bath safety products are sold at big box retail chains, the angle for HME providers is safety expertise and a firm grasp of the needs of their customers. No mainstream hardware store can touch the knowledge and support a provider can offer. Safety grab bars can be both functional and beautiful. Most importantly, they will help prevent and greatly reduce falls in the bathroom giving caregivers, family members and users peace of mind. Think about finding your niche in the universal design and aging in place market now by looking into partnerships and education programs that will reinforce your business.