Living With Polio

Grab Bars

Grab bars are useful in many locations. For example, if a stairway has a chairlift, it is a good idea to place grab bars at both the top and bottom. Or, even if there is only a step up of a few inches at a doorway, a grab bar will help the disabled achieve the extra stability needed to enter or exit their home.

However, most of the grab bars are installed in bathrooms. Do not approach the project with set heights and widths. Rather, ask the disabled person to demonstrate how he or she maneuvers in the bathroom. Sometimes a “vertical” bar seems best, especially if the person needs to pull out of a wheelchair. Mostly we install the bars “horizontally,” because balancing and assuring secure movement are the two critical objectives. We replace all towel bars with actual grab bars. (See our method of mounting grab bars onto fiberglass tub/shower enclosures.) And, most of the time, we find it best to “ring” the whole bathroom and tub or shower with grab bars. Bathrooms demand difficult maneuvers and having multiple places to hold on to can stop a needless fall.

Other bathroom precautions and considerations
Remove all rugs. A wet rug is no safer than a wet floor. Even rugs that go almost wall to wall can bunch up and cause a trip.

Remove spring loaded or pressure mounted curtain rods. The first thing a person climbing out of a tub will grab is the shower curtain. If a curtain is needed, replace the rod with a stainless steel pipe and brackets screwed into a secure backing. A strong curtain and attaching hoops are required.

All baskets and shelves must be permanently and securely mounted. These should be strong enough to take the weight of the disabled person while he or she transfers his or her hold on to a grab bar. The popular spring loaded shelving sets are a fall in the making. Give them away.

Experience with tub seats and transfer benches. Built-in bench seats are the best. The more “fixed” the tub bench seat is, the safer it is to transfer from a wheelchair to the tub. The best transfer bench for a tub without a fixed seat is a rather large bench which straddles the tub wall creating a continuous seat which goes across the full width of the tub and extends about 3 feet over the floor of the bathroom.

Reports on tubs with doors are mixed. The risk of falling due to getting over the tub wall is avoided. There seems to be no way to avoid some water leaking out onto the floor. Showers that allow you to roll in on a chair are quite safe, but require a lot of remodeling.

It certainly seems that no matter what type of tub or shower, having help with bathing would prevent most falls. Just having someone to help get in and out of the tub/shower and to wipe up water spills would make a difference.

Baldwin Keenan, Retired Carpenters Club 108, June 2011

Retired Club 108 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has an eight year history in Orange County, California of installing grab bars and other, sometimes extensive modifications, on the homes of polio survivors, the vision impaired and others whose medical problems impair their use of their home. We donate our labor and are usually able to obtain donations for materials. Most of our projects are referred by the Dayle McIntosh Center for Independent Living. Some have come through the Braille Institute and the Post-Polio Support Group of Orange County.

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