By Karen Schaffner
Grab bars in the bathroom aren’t just for the elderly. Just ask Denni Ann Smith.
“My (24-year-old) grandson lived with us, and he had injured his foot rather badly,” she says.
“He was a football player for the University of Arizona. The grab bar helped him when he was taking a shower.”
Then there are the guests.
“If somebody comes to visit you, like my parents, who happen to be in their mid- to late-80s, then you want them to have the comfort of having grab bars,” she says.
Bathroom grab bars made Smith’s life better, too.
“They were wonderful,” she adds. “There were a couple times when you take a step and it wasn’t exactly balanced, and so you could grab on to the grab bars.”
Here’s a rather indelicate but important question: Is your bathroom safe? It’s a valid question for everyone — especially those who want to age in place.
Companies like the Tucson and Oro Valley Mobility Plus stores can help properly equip homes so its owners/residents can remain in them longer.
“Most falls actually happen in the bathroom, getting on and off the toilet or getting in and out of the bathtub,” says Gary Ross, one of the stores’ owners.
“The goal is to prevent the fall. One fall changes your life. Most people don’t recover from it 100%, and some people don’t even return home after that fall.”
These days, mention grab bars and a rather clunky-looking bar attached to the bathroom wall comes to mind.
“It used to be that with grab bars, you had three exposed screws and then you have a line of rust down your shower after a time,” Ross says.
Not so anymore. Smith has a multiangled, two-loop grab bar. That very tool allowed her to stay home after she broke her dominant arm.
“The amazing thing was, and I consider it a major achievement especially at the beginning, is to be able to go to the bathroom (by) yourself,” she says.
Smith, luckily, had a grab bar installed that allowed her to angle it so she could comfortably get up and down when needed.
“Otherwise, I would have had to wake up my husband,” Smith says. “So, from the first day, that made all the difference.”
Grab bars come in several finishes that match bathroom hardware, such as brushed nickel, oiled bronze and good old stainless steel. They come in straight and wavy lines, and even one that encircles the round temperature control. They come as soap dish holders, corner shelves, shampoo shelves and towel bars.
Some prefer not to have a bar in the shower. In that case, there is a bar that juts out from a pole that stretches from the floor to the ceiling. This bar can easily be adjusted.
“We could put grab bars on either side of the bathtub or grab bars that swing out,” Ross says.
For those who have a hard time stepping into and out of a bathtub but aren’t prepared to install a walk-in tub, there’s an option for that.
A portion of the tub’s side wall can be neatly removed, creating a low ledge — the same height as a shower stall. Because modern bathtubs are usually hollow, a sealed, watertight cap is installed over the open sides and ledge. Then, if you still want a bath, there’s a watertight, removable hood that covers the gap. This can also be installed on a cast iron bathtub.
Getting on and off the toilet can be a challenge, but Ross has that covered.
“The simplest is just a toilet seat riser,” Ross says. “Some of them go on top of the toilet, and you sit on them. Some of them go under the seat so you still get to sit on your seat.”
Risers go from 2 to 5 inches and are made from a solid piece of composite material.
Some people, however, will want the Cadillac of toilet seat risers. It’s a device, called a toilet incline lift, operated by a remote control. This device aids those who may not have a lot of upper and lower body strength.
Safety rails come in a variety of styles. Besides the usual that hooks onto the side or stands independently of a commode, there’s a grab bar that also holds a roll of paper. Starting at $259, it doesn’t resemble a grab bar, but it’s secure.
Also available is a PT Rail, which comes right or left handed and is installed next to the commode. It can be folded when not in use.
The products are pricy but could be worth the price, however.
“Baby boomers are fiercely independent,” Ross says. “They do not want to have their independence taken. So, if we can stay in our home an extra year, two years, that’s worth (the cost). My job is to keep people at home safely.”
Mobility Plus employs its own workers and charges $80 an hour for installation. They stand behind their work and give a veteran discount. The VA turns to Mobility Plus when veterans need a bathroom remodel.
Ross came to Mobility Plus after his mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The disease robs patients of their ability to control their muscles, so standing and walking can become a challenge and unsafe, especially in the bathroom. Ross quickly realized there was an unmet need for these types of products. He bought into Mobility Plus.
Ross is aware some customers may have to think about purchasing his products, as a family member or friend may have dragged them in. He does find his work satisfying.
“You know you’re meeting people … and you’re giving them the freedom to live their lives a little bit more, a little bit longer on their terms, and that’s huge,” Ross says.
Meanwhile, Smith is happy she took care of bathroom safety before she needed it.
“Just in general, for injuries and other things, it makes a huge difference,” she says. “All those (devices) have just been invaluable. This is about living your life, and if you have injuries, you’re able to still go on and do what you need to do.”
245 S. Plumer Avenue, Suite 2, Tucson
10861 N. Mavinee Drive, Suite 155, Oro Valley