Jane Fonda in Grace and Frankie
In the show “Grace and Frankie,” Jane Fonda’s character looks for alternative solutions to lift herself off the toilet without help. Image courtesy of Netflix.
Netflix show takes on difficulties of getting older
by Hannah Wolfson

On screen, the scenario plays out much like it does in many homes: A senior, still independent, begins to struggle with a few tasks—including being able to lift herself off the toilet. She’s too embarrassed to ask for help, at least at first. 

What’s different in this case is that the senior is the actress Jane Fonda, playing the character of Grace in the Neftlix sitcom “Grace and Frankie.” And instead of struggling in silence, she goes on to invent a self-lifting toilet seat—and take the made-up product onto another TV show, the entrepreneurial reality contest “Shark Tank.” 

She needn’t have gone to the trouble, as there’s already a solution to this common problem. About three years ago, EZ-ACCESS introduced the TILT Toilet Incline Lift, a patented toileting aid that’s sold both online and through home medical equipment (HME) providers. 

“We had a dealer call us (after seeing the show’s trailer) and say, ‘You guys aren’t going to believe this,’” said Don Everard, CEO of EZ-ACCESS. “What are the odds?” 

Right now, pretty low. A study from the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative found that a wide swath of TV shows aired in 2016 and 2017 only had 151 speaking characters age 60 and above, fewer than 10% of all roles. The authors said that lack of representation was a letdown for seniors and the general public.  

“As a sizeable and significant portion of the population, seniors have a wealth of stories to share and perspectives to present,” they wrote. “Incorporating characters and storytellers in their later years will give viewers of all ages the opportunity to watch more vibrant, diverse and compelling stories on screens both large and small.” 

However, as writers, directors and actors age, there may be more realistic depictions of later life, such as shows like “The Kominsky Method,” starring 73-year-old Michael Douglas and 84-year-old Alan Arkin, and “Grace and Frankie,” which tackled a tricky topic in a lighthearted way.  

“The funny part is, season six could not have done a better job of explaining the value and the need for the product,” Everard said. “They couldn’t have done a better job. Just the idea that she had the problem, she was embarrassed by the problem and her dignity mattered.”

Taking the TILT Off-Screen

That’s why his company came up with the TILT, which blends the functions of a heavy duty commode and a lift chair, with a handheld control to make lifting in the bathroom easier for users. The product retails for around $800 on Amazon. 

Everard said he wished more HME dealers were aware of the TILT and willing to carry the product, which he said could be a valuable revenue-generating opportunity for retail stores, is a strong cash product and even has rental potential. 

“For the amount of people out there who have this problem, we’re surprised it hasn’t gotten more traction,” Everard said. His theory is that, just like Jane Fonda’s character on the show, most people don’t want to tell their family members that they’re struggling to get up from the toilet—nor do they know there’s an easy solution. 

The company hopes the show helps raise awareness. To that end, they’re promoting the connection on social media and doing some search engine optimization so a Google query for “the Grace and Frankie Rise Up toilet” pops up information about the TILT. They’ve even thought about reaching out to Fonda’s “people” for discussion. 

“It’s out in the open now, thanks to the show,” Everard said. “I can’t think of too many episodes or shows that have dealt with the need for solutions that allow safe aging in place, and I thought they did a great job.”

Hannah Wolfson is editor of HomeCare Magazine.