Sometime after we humans decided that shower grab bars were a good thing, we also decided that they were only needed by older people. This would make perfect sense if only people over the age of 65 had the ability to slip on a wet soapy bathtub. But as anyone who has ever shaved their legs in the shower or who has jumped into the tub without making sure the suction cup tub mat was stuck to the porcelain can tell you, it is entirely possible to have a Wile E. Coyote arm waving moment of slippage at any age. So why we don’t we put grab bars in all our bathtubs and shower stalls?
The grab bar debate is reminiscent of the seat belt debate. Remember when we didn’t wear seat belts because we didn’t want to wrinkle our clothing? According to The Hotly Contested History of Seat Belts, until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was established in 1966, not only did most cars not have seat belts, they also didn’t have shatterproof windshields, headrests to prevent whiplash and energy absorbing steering wheels. Now 85% of us wear seatbelts and we can have cars with airbags, backup cameras and lane drift warning devices. Somewhere along the way we decided that not getting launched through the windshield was a better idea than worrying about whether our gabardine got rumpled. So why don’t we feel that way about shower grab bars?
It’s not like bathroom injuries are rare. The CDC gathered info from hospitals on patients that were treated for non-fatal bathroom injuries and crunched the data to find out how often, where and how people were accidentally injuring themselves.
Here’s what they found in their 2011 report:
“In 2008, an estimated 234,094 nonfatal bathroom injuries among persons aged ≥15 years were treated in U.S. EDs, for an injury rate of 96.4 per 100,000 population. The rate for women was 121.2 per 100,000 and was 72% higher than the rate for men (70.4 per 100,000). Although approximately the same number of cases occurred in each 10-year age group, injury rates increased with age. Falls were the most common primary cause of injury (81.1%), and the most frequent diagnosis was contusions or abrasions (29.3%). The head or neck was the most common primary part of the body injured (31.2%). Most patients (84.9%) were treated and released from the ED; 13.7% were treated in the ED and subsequently hospitalized.”
And their recommendation?
“Persons in all age categories sustained bathroom injuries, especially when bathing or showering or when getting out of the tub or shower. Raising awareness about potentially hazardous activities and making a number of simple environmental changes, such as installing grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to toilets, could benefit all household residents by decreasing the risk for injury.”
Installing a grab bar isn’t all that complicated, it’s a “simple environmental change.” But convincing yourself to add one even though you aren’t an older person can take a little bit of inner dialogue. But seriously; which is more embarrassing—having a grab bar in your shower or explaining the big contusion on your face to everyone because you didn’t have one?
If you decide to add a grab bar, make the full commitment and install one screwed into wall. There are bars that work with heavy duty suction cups, but we all know suction cups are finicky and unreliable. Go ahead and do the job right. For you DIYers, The Family Handyman has info to get you started.
Oh, and while you’re installing that grab bar, go ahead and install a handrail on both sides of your cellar stairs…but that’s a topic for another time.
(You can read the whole CDC report here, charts and all.)