Stability – Tools to prevent inadvertent mobility

by tim1bgdpo

Grab bars

Very useful and I highly recommend them.  We’re talking about those two-inch diameter metal bars that are mounted on the wall near your toilet, bathtub, or in your shower.  You can find them in many styles, finishes, and configurations.  See examples here (simple) , here (fancy), or here (complex).  Use your search engine;  you have many choices.

If you are in your dream home and your mobility limitations are long-term, purchase bars that you will be happy with for the long-term.  That is not our situation, so we use the simple, plain stainless steel finish bars.  They are readily available and less expensive.  Your local Home Depot, Lowe’s or hardware store should have them in stock.

Mounting grab bars

You should be able to install these bars yourself on many surfaces and you can find excellent resources online to guide you, for example here.

I won’t try to provide comprehensive mounting instructions, but I have punched many holes in my drywall over the years and here are a few observations and recommendations:

  • Studs are your friend.  Mount your grab bars solidly into studs, if at all possible.  You are going to put a lot of stress on these bars and you don’t want to pull them out of the wall.
  • However, some of my home builders have been free spirits, unencumbered by the stodgy tradition of installing studs 16″ on center.  Even if the builder was a traditionalist, the lengths of available grab bars are rarely integer multiples of 16″  … it is unlikely that you will be able to mount both ends of the grab bar solidly into a stud.
  • My solution for installing a bar on a traditional drywall and wooden stud wall:
    • Position the bar where it will be most useful
    • Adjust the position (compromise) to make sure one end can be screwed into a stud with at least two wood screws
    • If the other end of the bar is on drywall (not backed up by a stud), use this type of drywall mounting anchor.  I use the heavy-duty metal versions of these anchors, not the lighter duty plastic versions.  The light duty plastic versions are great, but you want the largest weight-bearing capacity when you mount your grab bar.  There are several brands that are similar and they are available at all hardware and big box home stores.  These anchors are strong, easy and fast to install, and also easy to remove.  Buy the big package, you will eventually use all of them and the unit price is lower.
      • Anchor Installation Tips:
        • Use your electric drill/screwdriver set on low-speed.  It’s much easier and faster than installing them by hand.
        • Give the anchor a little starting help.  These are all listed as “self drilling” and they will work without pre-drilling a starter hole, but I always give them a helping hand.  No, I don’t actually change to a twist drill bit, drill a starter hole, and then change back to a phillips driver bit to install the anchor.  Once I mark the hole location, I just take a small flat bladed screw driver and make a small starter hole by using the screwdriver like a punch and whacking the handle with my hand.  The anchor only needs a little help to get started reliably and the starter hole only needs to be large enough to get the pointy end of the anchor started, not the full diameter of the anchor.  (This is much faster and easier to perform than to describe in words!  Try it, you’ll like it.  Hey, it’s just drywall … have some fun.)
      • I have tried all kinds of toggle bolts, plastic drywall inserts, and expanding drywall anchors over the years.  None of them has worked as well as these screw-in anchors.  My tool box is full of half-used packages of poor performing wall anchors that I will never use.  Give the screw-in anchors a try, I’m confident you will like them.
  • You still have to find those friendly studs
    • Use an ultrasonic stud finder like one of these
      • I have owned several of these, still have most of them, they all work quite well, and mine have all had about the same accuracy and sensitivity.  I don’t think I ever spent more than $25 for one of mine and those have all been just fine for home use.
      • The only downside to these tools is that I usually end up with a wall full of pencil marks showing the position of the studs as I plan out the project.  Cleaning up the pencil marks takes extra time and
    • If you don’t like to clean up pencil marks, use rare Earth magnets
      • Drywall is held to the studs with nails or screws, and magnets will stick to these fasteners even when the wall is finished with drywall compound and paint.
      • Purchase a couple dozen disc magnets from a place like this.  Discs about 3/8″ in diameter and about 1/8″ thick are inexpensive and convenient for this application but almost any size will work.  However, these magnets are really strong.  If you buy magnets that are too small (to save cost), they may be too small to grip and pull apart.  If you buy magnets that are too big (think Tim Allen, “More power!”) you may not be able to separate them due to their strength.  Seriously!  These are cool magnets.
      • Carefully separate one magnet from the stack (they WILL be stuck together) and slowly slide the magnet over the drywall until it sticks to one of the hidden nails or screws.  Once you have found one, stick more magnets to the screws above and below the first magnet and on the studs to the left and right.
      • You will end up with a pattern of magnets stuck to your wall clearly showing the location of all the studs.  This makes it easy to decide where to mount the grab bars and the magnets can easily be removed without leaving any marks on the wall.
      • SAFETY PRECAUTION: SEE HERE OR HERE.  The magnetic strength of these magnets is very strong and the metal is brittle.  If you let them snap together under their own attraction, the magnets can break and fling out sharp shards of metal.  Wear eye protection.  DO NOT let children play with these.  They can cause serious pinch injuries and larger magnets can actually break bones.  If swallowed, magnets can pinch a fold of internal organ tissue and cause severe internal injuries.
      • Rare Earth Magnet Use Tip:  Give each magnet a handle:
        • I use clear plastic packing tape (but almost any kind of tape will work)
        • Cut a piece of tape about 2″ by 4″ and lay it sticky side up on your table
        • Pry one magnet off the stack and stick the single magnet in the center of the right half of the tape
        • Fold the left half of the tape over the top of the magnet and seal it up. You will end up with a little envelope of plastic around the magnet.
        • Repeat with more pieces of tape and the other magnets.
        • The tape makes it easy to handle the magnets and easy to slide them over drywall to find the screws.  The tape serves as a handle to pull the magnet off the wall or to separate single magnets from your stack of magnets, and the strength and effectiveness of the magnets is largely unchanged.

Bathtub clamp-on handle

We have a metal handle that clamps onto the edge of a regular bathtub.  It is similar to this one, but ours is by a different manufacturer.

It clamps very securely to the tub and provides a strong handle to help step in and out of the tub.  The clamping surface is rubber coated so it does not mar the tub.  We have a walk in shower in the master bath, but with my cast, I find it easier to shower in the tub in the hall bath.  We leave this handle clamped to that tub.

When we travel by car, we take this handle with us so that if a handicap accessible room is not available for an overnight stay, we can shower in relative safety.

Shower chair

Showering with a cast and keeping it dry is inconvenient.  The best solution I’ve found is to use the tub shower with the clamp-on handle (see above) and sit on a shower chair similar to this one (ours does not have the chair back).  The chair is aluminum and plastic, unaffected by water, and adjustable.  The side handles also can be removed if we just want a stool.

Bed under-mattress handle

Each of us has a handle on our respective sides of the bed.  The handle part looks just like this one, but I don’t recall if this is the same brand.  The handle is mounted securely to a board that is about 18″ by 30″ and about 5/8″ thick.  You just hold the unit in one hand, lift up the edge of the mattress with the other hand, and slide the board under the mattress until the handle is flush with the side of the mattress.  Trivially easy to install and remove and remarkably sturdy as a handle.

My Wife found this handle extremely useful after her knee replacement.

At first, I didn’t think I would find it all that useful or necessary during my foot surgery recovery, but I have changed my mind.  It is very comforting to hang onto this handle as I move from bed to knee scooter and back.  It definitely helps me keep all weight off the surgery leg.

Toilet-mounted grab bars

Before we had a full set of wall-mounted grab bars, we purchased and installed a set of toilet-mounted grab bars like this.  It mounts to the toilet using the bolts that hold the seat and seat cover to the bowl.  When installed, the handles are strong, secure and well suited to pushing up to a standing position.

We preferred the wall-mounted grab bars and eventually removed this unit, but it worked well.

Suction cup grab bars

We tried the plastic grab bars that stick to smooth surfaces with suction cups.  There is a lever at each end of the bar that activates the suction cup.

I found these to be unreliable and unsatisfactory.  They come loose with little pressure applied.