Placing a grab bar in a bedroom or bathroom takes more than just drilling a couple holes into the dry wall. Specific items that cater to the home as well as the user’s needs must be considered to make all of the work worth it. For the sake of limiting confusion, all measurements that we’ll discuss will be metric and according to the Australian Standard for grab bar installation. For people who are unfamiliar with construction and are somewhat uncomfortable with mathematics, it would be best to hire a contractor with specific knowledge regarding grab bar installation.
The following is a list of tips for appropriately measuring a home for grab bar installation:
1. Installation in proximity with the toilet: The Australian Standard requires the following measurements for public buildings, but only recommends the same measurements for private homes: horizontal grab bars placed beside a toilet with an angled or vertical section is about 100 to 150 mm. past the front of the seat. The distance from the wall to the toilet should be between 450-460 mm in order to prevent extensive reaching of the user’s arm and increasing the risk of a fall. If the wall happens to be further, then installing a seat raise with a fixed rail (i.e. toilet riser with bilateral rails) may be a better option. Horizontal bars should be placed between 800-810 mm from the floor and vertical bars 800-1400 mm from the floor. Of course, the measurements will depend on the size of the user as well as the stud placements in the walls.
2. Installation in a shower/bath stall: The Australian Standard recommends a continuous horizontal rail around the shower walls. The start of the rail has to be about 100 mm from the entrance of the shower and at a height of about 800-810 mm for seated users. A continuous, horizontal rail may be hard to install in home settings depending on the size of the shower and whether or not the shower is a stall or a shower/tub combination. Some users choose to bite the financial bullet and install new shower stalls that already come with pre-installed rails and seats. That way, users and their caregivers can avoid drilling into shower stall materials and possibly causing unnecessary damage.
3. Installation near a bed: Mounting grab bars near a bed would follow a similar measurement pattern as seen for bathroom grab bars. However, if the bedroom space does not allow for mounting a grab bar into the wall for getting in and out of bed efficiently, then caregivers and users should be looking into bed rails. Bed rails are a different category of durable medical equipment and can be easily researched and purchased online. The majority of available rails for home use can be installed to standard beds with very little effort.
4. Installation in hallways/foyers: According to the Australian Standard, there is no given specification about the height of the grab bars placed in hallways, just as long as it appropriately suits the user’s needs and height. The space between the wall and the bar needs to be at least 40 mm to allow for a smooth grip of the hand. Inspect the studs in the walls or hire an individual who can assess the walls’ studs and materials to determine if the structure is solid enough to hold a grab bar AND the individual’s weight. Make sure that the grab bars do not obstruct door-frames or other hallways that can cause loss of balance or falls.
5. The user’s transfer and stabilization habits: What would the user be utilizing the grab bars for? Standing balance? Sitting and standing? Walking? All of the above? Assess what transfers the individual is having trouble with, and then determine what type of grab bar you should purchase. Horizontal bars help with stabilizing standing balance and for squatting down into a seated position. Vertical bars provide leverage for users to pull up to a standing position from sitting. You can either choose separated horizontal and vertical bars, L-shaped bars (which provide both options in one), or a diagonal bar that will mildly serve the purpose of all of those transfers.
6. The user’s physical conditions: Placing a grab bar on one wall may prove unhelpful to the user depending on current medical or functional conditions. For example, if the person has left-side hemiplegia of their arm, a left arm amputation, or any other condition that has rendered their left arm useless, then placing a grab bar on the left wall next to the toilet might turn out to be a useless option. Alternatives to this problem could include the following: providing a toilet riser firmly installed on the rim with an available grab bar on the right side of the riser, a long flip-up grab bar that can cross the length of the individual’s lap in order for the right hand to pull up, or installing an overhead trapeze bar stable enough to maintain the person’s body weight using the right arm.
Analyze the users’ shoulder and arm range. Do they have the capacity to push up off of arm-rests? Can they pull up using a horizontal or vertical grab bar without causing pain? For any specific assessments or concerns prior to installing a grab bar, consult with the individual’s primary physician or occupational therapist. Both specialists may be able to provide a more thorough assessment of the individual’s upper body range and strength.
Similar to ADA (American Disability Act) regulations, the Australian Accessibility and Mobility laws do not require the above measurements for private dwellings such as a house. Rather, the measurements are guidelines for safety purposes in order to prevent falls within the home. Always be open to consulting with a contractor a medical equipment specialist prior to installation in order to provide an optimal and safe situation for the user.