Steven starts out be recalling how Baby Boomers and their parents remember getting into, riding in, and driving cars without seat belts - or in clicking them closed and sitting on top of them. Some would snap them together behind the seat, and some would just let them dangle to the side.
In the late 1960s there were many misconceptions concerning seat belt usage such as people saying (and believing) that seat belts would prevent passengers from escaping their cars if submerged in water or in the case of a fire or collision. Some even felt it was actually safer to be thrown from a car in an accident than to be somewhat trapped inside.
Today, he advances, few would argue that seat belts are an effective injury-reducing device that saves lives. While not as universally accepted (and not mandated by law as is seat belt usage), Steven goes on to compare grab bars as a similar effective safety feature.
Over the years, America’s two oldest generations (the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers) have had quite a love affair with the automobile, but until seat belts were widely accepted and even made mandatory in 49 states, thousands died in preventable traffic fatalities. He advocates a new message that “Grab Bars Are The New Seat Belts." While most people today would not think of driving without buckling-up, we want people to be just as committed to reducing preventable fall injuries in the home.
HUD reports that on average, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall every 11 seconds, and an older adult dies from a fall every 19 minutes - some 3 per hour. Moreover, falls account for 40% of all nursing home admissions, and nearly half of those people will never again return to independent living.
By simply installing grab bars in strategic locations, Americans can significantly reduce trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults, and the skyrocketing cost of fall-related injuries. In 2015, four times as many Americans 65 and over died of unintentional falls than in auto accidents,
As was the case when seat belt usage was new and was being encouraged as a safety measure, we hear people lament that grab bars look institutional. They certainly don't need to be considered this way, with the variety of colors, styles, shapes, lengths, and finishes available. Also, there are towel bars, toilet paper holders, small corner shelves, and soap dishes that function as they need to but also double as an effective assist. People grab for a towel bar in a panic slip anyway so why not have the towel bar be designed to support their weight and function as an assistive device?
Companies like Health Craft Products with their "Invisia" line, Delta Faucets with their Decor Assist products, and Moen have developed bathroom safety products that do double duty as assist bars and functional items such as towel bars.
There are so many times when any of us would be thankful to have something to hold onto when we slipped or had a misstep getting in or out of the tub or shower. It can happen to anyone and for a variety of reasons. Illness, medications, carelessness, a distraction, glare, overexertion, and other causes can trigger a slip or loss of balance. It would nice to have the comfort and security of a solid grab bar to reach for and support us. Without it, there is a towel bar or ring that is not designed for such a purpose or just a smooth wall that can be held.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist - Master Instructor and best-selling author of aging in place books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.