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Why you need grab bars in the bathroom

Here's how to protect yourself in the most dangerous room in your home

Last updated: January 30, 2015 03:15 PM
Photo: Moen

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You might think the kitchen, with its hot stoves and sharp utensils, would be the most dangerous room in your home, but it’s actually the bathroom. According to a 2011 report from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls­—the No. 1 problem—most often occurred in or around the bathtub, shower, or toilet.

"We get lots of calls for slips and falls in the bathroom," says Howard Mell, M.D., a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians who works at several hospitals in Cleveland.

The bathroom is especially hazardous for women, who are at a higher risk than men for falling and getting hurt, perhaps because of lesser body strength and bone mass.

For those age 65 and older, falls often cause more serious injuries, such as hip fractures. Seniors, according to the report, were also more likely to be injured getting on or off the toilet. Standing after sitting for a long time, especially if you’re dehydrated or taking certain med­ications, can result in a sudden drop in blood pressure that can cause light-­headedness or dizziness.

But few of us have bathrooms that are equipped with grab bars, a secure safety device that looks like a railing and could prevent falls. Here are other modifications you can make to your bathroom to make it a safer place.

Safety solutions

  • Install grab bars in showers and tubs and next to toilets so you don’t reach for towel bars, sliding glass doors, or other unstable fixtures.
  • Replace slippery bathroom floors with nonslip tiles. The Tile Council of North America has recently adopted a new slip-resistance test called the Dynamic Coefficient of Friction (DCOF). This number is sometimes on tile packaging or information. Look for 0.42 or higher* (the higher the number the better the slip resistance). But too much can be a problem too, so consult your health professional.
  • Use nonslip mats inside bathtubs and showers and on floors.
  • Add a shower seat with rubber tips on the bottom if you’re unsteady on your feet.
  • Install a handheld showerhead set on a sliding bar with a 6-foot hose that can be used standing or sitting.
  • Install a “comfort height” toilet, which is about 2 inches tall­er than a standard model and is easier to get off of.
  • Lower your water heater to 120° F to prevent scalding from faucets.

—Sue Byrne

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the January 2015 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

*Clarification: An earlier version of this article said to look for a manufacturer's slip coefficient of 0.06 or higher.

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