From stair rails to walking aids and stair lifts, there are many ways you can help your relative to get up and down stairs safely.

Depending on the cause (or causes) of the problem, there may be one or more options available to make using the stairs easier: a brief overview of these options is given below.

Get professional advice

If your relative is having difficulty using stairs, it is a good idea for them to be assessed by a qualified healthcare professional, such as an occupational therapist (OT) or physiotherapist. For more information on finding and contacting such a specialist, see Falls prevention professionals.

There are various techniques and devices that can help older people walking up and down the stairs. A good piece of general advice is to lead with the stronger leg when going up the stairs (‘the good goes up’), and let the weaker leg lead when going down the stairs (‘the bad goes down’). An OT or physiotherapist will be able to demonstrate these techniques in more detail.

Stair rails

Having stair rails (also sometimes called hand rails) on both sides of the stairway can offer good support when using the stairs. Many staircases have a hand rail on one side, but not both – if this is the case in your relative’s home, you may want to consider having one fitted on the other side. The length and style of the rails (there are various types) can be important, too. For more information, see the Disabled Living Foundation’s guide on our Useful organisations and websites page.

Physiotherapy and rehabilitation

In many cases, exercises for helping older people go up and down stairs, preferably provided by a physiotherapist, can help to improve strength, balance and mobility.

Walking aids

If your relative needs to use a walking stick to help with going up and down stairs, there is a specific technique to this too. It’s important that they learn this, because using a walking stick incorrectly on the stairs could put them at greater risk of a fall. Again, this is something best explained and demonstrated by a physiotherapist. For more walking stick advice, read our guide to How to use a walking stick.

If your relative uses a walking frame, leave one at the top of the stairs and another at the bottom, as trying to carry a walking frame up and down the stairs is unsafe.


Although stairlifts can be relatively expensive, they are a good solution for people with limited mobility as it allows them to stay living independently in homes with stairs, and may well avoid having to move the bed downstairs. For more information, see our guide to How to buy the best stairlift in the staying independent at home section of the Which? website. We look at the different types of stairlifts that are available together with buying, installing and then maintaining a stairlift.

Through floor lifts

It may be possible to fit a domestic through floor lift in your relative’s home. These are lifts specifically designed for domestic environments, usually travelling from the ground floor to the floor above. Installing a through floor lift will almost certainly require a degree of home adaptation, and the lift will take up space on both of the floors it travels between; costs start from around £8,000. They may be a good option for wheelchair users, or in homes where a stair lift cannot be fitted.

Other home adaptations

If your relative’s home has two (or more) floors, it may be possible to adapt the space so that all the necessary and desired amenities/rooms are on the ground floor. Bathrooms and bedrooms are often situated upstairs in a home: ‘moving’ – or recreating – these rooms downstairs could remove the need altogether for your relative to use the stairs.

If it is not possible to move all rooms to the ground floor, it may still be useful to have a downstairs bathroom or toilet, which could considerably reduce the number of daily trips up and down. This option would suit someone who can still manage the stairs, but does not wish to use them frequently, perhaps because it is slightly painful or tiring.

The complexity and cost of these adaptations would depend on the home’s existing layout and the scope of the changes needed.

More information

Page last reviewed: March 2015
Next review due: November 2016