submitted By Tom Wells, Tom Wells Construction, www.tgw-construction.com
I believe that someone who claims to have “no regrets” has either gone through life asleep or never lived life at all. Everyone has regrets. One of mine is that I didn’t do more to make my parents’ home more senior-friendly before my dad died at age 92 in 2007. It’s a mistake I have vowed not to make with my mom.
If your goal is to prepare a home for senior living, you will be glad to know that you may not have to make a major financial commitment right away. You may not have to install a first floor bathroom immediately. You might just need to replace your current banister with one that is more senior-friendly and install strategically placed handgrips or grab bars around the house.
Let’s consider banisters first. Millions of homes were built with banisters that can only be grasped by the fingers holding on to the top or the sides. The problem is that as we age, we lose gripping strength. If you have one or more banisters like this, the solution is to replace them with ones that are senior-friendly, or add an additional one on the other side of the stairs.
To be effective, the palm of the hand must be pushing against the top of the banister, with the forefinger and thumb almost pinching together underneath. Round or oval handrails are best. The handrail should be between 32 and 36 inches off of the floor.
Next let’s consider strategically placed grab bars. I once tore a leg muscle and had to do about a month’s worth of physical therapy sessions at St. Mary’s. There are grab bars all over the place there. We’ve all seen grips like them, if only in a public restroom with a stall for folks with diminished abilities. They are inevitably “brushed chrome” affairs with a distinctive institutional look.
There may be some homeowners out there who could not care less, but most people care passionately about how their homes look. They would never in a million years agree to install “hospital-style” grab bars in any room, with the possible exception of the bathroom. That’s why they’re always so pleased when they see lots of very attractive options.
Grab bars are offered by many well-known companies, including Moen, Delta, and Kohler. For a fairly comprehensive list, visit www.mrgrabbar.com.
They are available in a wide variety of “decorator” styles and colors. Typically, they are rated to support a person weighing up to 300 pounds. Many use a mounting system that does not require being located on one or more studs. This last detail is really quite important, for it opens the door to the question: “Where should I position my new grab bars?”
I’m going to leave the placement of bathroom grab bars for a future column and zero in here on where they should be placed throughout the other rooms of the house. When I addressed this challenge for my Mom, determining where the grab bars should go was relatively easy. All I had to do was to watch how she moved through the house and take note of the chair backs, doorframes, or other pieces of furniture she instinctively reached for at each point.
If you’re going to install grab bars for yourself, you can pretty easily do the same. Falling when you’re of “a certain age” can have extreme consequences.
To my mind, it just makes sense to think ahead when it comes to banisters and grab bars.