What You Need To Know When Buying Equipment To Get Access Up The Stairs !

The Options

If it has become hard  for you to use the stairs, you will have a choice of options:

1- Living downstairs.

This option may not be practical because, although it may be possible to move a bed downstairs, fitting a bathroom facility can prove difficult and costly and the downstairs living space will be reduced.

2-Moving to a bungalow or ground floor.

Moving is not cheap but may result in the loss of good friends and neighbours when you relocate.

3- Installing adaptations, such as rails.

Installing adaptations such as hand rail  is often the most practical and economical option, but it doesn’t work out for everyone

4- Installing Stairlift.

The aim of this article is to help you with information on buying a stairlift. and details about different types of stairlifts.

Before making any decisions about buying a stairlift, it is advisable to contact a community Occupational Therapist (OT), based at your local social services/social work department. You may be eligible for a free assessment with social services which may include the provision of certain aids or minor adaptations. However, there are eligibility criteria based on an assessment of needs and you may have to pay towards the cost of equipment. The criteria and charging policies vary between authorities. The OT can advise on your requirements and suggest possible solutions. He/she may also give you information about DFGs or may arrange for a company representative to come and talk over possibilities. It may be important that you have an individual assessment as there are many factors that can affect what is appropriate for you. For example, stair rails may not be appropriate for installing on the walls in your home or your staircase may be too narrow for you to use a seated stairlift. Thus you may wish to discuss your difficulties with a health care professional before considering purchase of this kind of equipment. You can contact your local social services and ask about an occupational therapy (or trusted assessor) assessment.  Find your local social services on the GOV.UK website

Second hand stairlifts

It is possible to save some money by buying a second hand stairlift. It is advisable to purchase from a stairlift manufacturer, or an authorised company dealing in re-conditioned stairlifts who will have checked that the stairlift meets current safety standards, and will provide a guarantee.

The tracking for straight stairlifts can usually be re-sited. The track of a second hand curved stairlift cannot be re-sited in another house. However, with some makes, a new track can be made to fit your house and the second hand seat unit and motor can be used in conjunction with it.

If you are considering buying a second hand stairlift privately, e.g. via the local paper or adverts board, it is advisable to get the original stairlift manufacturer, or company dealing in re-conditioned stairlifts, to assess the stairlift for its suitability for your use in the new location, service it, and, if all is satisfactory, actually carry out the installation. You should not attempt to wire up and install it yourself. Always check that the manufacturer is still in business and/or parts are still available should anything go wrong.

Once the stairlift has been installed, it is advisable to set up a service/maintenance contract with a company who you will be able to call on 24 hours a day if mechanical difficulties arise. Annual maintenance is recommended.

Stairlifts are powered lifts mounted on wall or stair fixed tracks which follow the line of the stairs. Straight tracks are available for straight staircases and curved tracks for staircases with a bend/s or curve. Straight tracked stairlifts are significantly cheaper than curved ones. The Consumers Association Which? states that as a general rule, every corner in your staircase will double the initial price of a stairlift (Which?, 2014).

Stairlifts are usually cheaper to install than through floor lifts as building alterations are not normally required. Stairlifts can usually be installed in a day and can be removed if no longer required leaving little trace.

Rechargeable batteries Most stairlifts have rechargeable batteries that are continually topped up from charging points at the top and the bottom of the stairs. Thus they will operate if there is a power failure. The chair requires re-siting at the charging point and will give a warning bleep if it is in the wrong place. Batteries will eventually need replacing, but should last 3-4 years. It is essential that the power supply is always connected to enable regular recharging, consequently stairlifts are usually wired directly to the electrical circuit of the house rather than pluged in at a socket.

Remote controls A call station is a unit, which usually has two buttons (up and down) located away from the chair of the stairlift. Call stations are usually found at the top and bottom of the staircase so a user can ‘call’ or control the stairlift. This allows users to bring the stairlift to them at the top or bottom of the stairs so they can get on it, or a carer may use the call station to operate the stairlift for the user.

‘Flip-Up’ rail On stairlifts with a ‘flip up’ rail the lower section of the rail folds upwards and out of the way to prevent the rail causing an obstruction or tripping hazard. This may be essential if there is a doorway in the wall beside the bottom of your stairs.

Key switch A key-switch is a small key-operated switch which is usually located in the stairlifts armrest. When the key is removed the stairlift is completely immobilised. This is a useful safety feature if, for example, there are small children in the household who may try and operate the stairlift.

Walking aids Walking sticks may usually be carried on a stairlift with care, if you use a larger walking aid, it should not be carried on the stairlift and therefore two aids will be required – one at the bottom and one at the top of the stairs.

The following types of stairlift are available:

Seated stairlifts

These tend to be the most common type of stairlift used in a domestic setting. You must be able to sit safely on the seat while traveling up/down the stairs and transfer on and off at the top and bottom of the stairs.

Seat height Some stairlifts can be pre-adjusted to different seat heights. This assists you to transfer in and out of the stairlift from/to a seat height that suits your specific needs. Being able to choose a specific seat height can also be useful for sliding transfers from/to wheelchairs.

Swivel seat This means you can swivel the chair at the top and bottom of the stairs. This helps at the bottom of the stairs as you have more room to approach the stairs and sit down. It also helps when you reach the top of the stairs, as if you swivel the chair you are facing away from the staircase when you get off. This makes it easier and safer to get on and off the stairlift, as the chair acts as a barrier if you were to loose your balance so you would not fall down the stairs. A swivel seat is a standard option on most stairlifts, but you can choose between manual and powered swivel seats. With manual seats you need to turn the seat yourself by twisting your body in the same way you turn while seated in a standard office chair. With a powered seat swivel you maintain pressure on the lever or switch which operates the stairlift and the seat is turned automatically by electric motors. Check that you will be able to operate the seat swivel mechanism.

If a powered swivel seat isn’t necessary at the moment but could be useful in the future ask whether the seat can be adapted in future. Note: For safety the seat should always be locked in position before sitting or standing from it, regardless of whether the swivel is manual or powered. .

If you will not be able to transfer on/off the seat independently seek expert advice as assisted transfers at the top of the stairs could be very dangerous and should be avoided. Remember that it may also be very difficult for a carer to pass you whilst you are seated on the stairlift at both the top and bottom of the stairs.

Armrests Armrests are helpful to push up from when standing, or for support when sitting or travelling on the stairlift’s seat. Lift-up armrests will allow more space when the stairlift is not in use.

Footrest Stairlifts have a footrest to support your feet whilst in transit. As with the armrests this can be folded up when not in use. Check that you are able to fold the footrest, seat and armrests without bending. Some are linked together so that raising the armrests also raises the footrest, others have power assisted operation. This saves you from bending down to fold up/down the footrest.

Standing and perching stairlifts

These can be used if you are able to walk to the stairlift and stand while travelling up and down stairs. These may be chosen in preference to seated models if the staircase is exceptionally narrow or if you have a stiff leg/s and are unable to bend your knee/s when seated. These stairlifts usually have one or two guard rails that you can hold onto during transit.

Perching stairlifts are very similar to standing stairlifts except that they provide a small amount of additional support underneath the buttocks. You will travel in a perched position, i.e. between sitting and standing. These stairlifts usually have one or two guard rails that you can hold onto during transit. These eliminate the need to transfer out of a wheelchair and onto a stairlift. Instead you wheel, or are pushed, straight onto the platform. Although most of the platforms fold up against the wall when they are not in use, this type of stairlift takes up a lot of room on the stairs and many domestic stairs are not wide enough to accommodate them.

Stairlifts designed for external outside use are also available.

Considerations when choosing a stairlift Before deciding on the most suitable form of stairlift consider the following: Your needs: if you have a condition that could deteriorate, consider what the best long term solution will be. Although you may be able to use a seated stairlift now, it may be wise to consider installing a through-floor lift so that in future the option to travel in a wheelchair is available. are you able to bend your knees sufficiently to travel in a seated position? does the lift need to be operated by you, your carer, or both? Remote controls are available to allow users and carers to operate the lift but it will be easier to order these during the initial installation. other users of the stairs, e.g. children, pets, visitors with reduced mobility or standing tolerance. will you need a special seat with extra support, for a child, or with a harness? If so, seek specialist advice. Moulded seating systems may need to be removed before the seat can be folded. which direction do you need to face when seated on the stairlift? Most seats face sideways, but if you have a stiff knee, or a narrow staircase you may need to face forwards to give you more room. Some stairlifts are available with seats which face forwards

Your home environment / dimensions:

If a standing stairlift is preferred, is there sufficient headroom? Your home environment (e.g. doors or thresholds near the staircase, bulkheads or banister rails, radiators near the staircase). If the track for the stairlift cannot continue beyond the bottom or top step of the staircase, usually because it will obstruct a door, some companies can provide a fold-up, hinged rail to overcome this problem. This rail may be manually or electrically operated. Alternatively some stairlifts are designed to work with a lot less room at the bottom of the stairs than others. It is advisable that the stairlift covers the whole staircase. If your staircase has a sub-landing at the top, with a few steps to the left or right, some companies may suggest fitting a manual or motorised folding platform which bridges the gap between the top of the stairlift and the landing. This can lead to problems, e.g if the platform is down and someone else tries to walk up the stairs. if you have a staircase consisting of two straight flights of stairs with a landing area between them it may be cheaper to purchase two straight stairlifts instead of a curved one as long as you can transfer between them. Can other members of the household easily use the stairway when the lift is folded against the wall? This may depend on the width of your staircase.