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It's likely that your relative is going to be sitting down for increasingly long periods of time, so it might be good to check on the comfort of his or her furniture. It might be time to look at riser recliner chairs too.

This article covers several aspects of sitting comfortably and safely, including:

1. Time for a new chair?
2. Riser recliner chairs
3. Getting in to and out of a chair
4. Positioning a chair
5. Sleeping in an armchair or on a sofa
6. Foot stools

Unfortunately, many sofas and armchairs are often the wrong shape for a good sitting position, and people can be uncomfortable for a number of reasons – more often than not because the height and depth of the seat is not correct for them. This may be due to the style of the furniture, such as chairs that are too narrow or too wide, but it may also be that the furniture is old and the filling in its upholstery has compacted. 

A ‘wrong’ sitting position can become uncomfortable quite quickly, potentially making it harder to get out of the chair again – for example, if certain joints have become stiff or cramped. Over time, sitting in the same wrong position could lead to more serious physical problems with posture, balance and flexibility.

Time for a new chair?

If your relative is unable to find a comfortable or correct sitting position in their current sofa or armchair, it might be worth investing in a new one.

There are many different styles of armchair and sofa available, and finding the right one for your relative will depend upon a number of factors – their height and body shape, for example, along with any specific issues affecting their flexibility or posture. Seek the opinion of an occupational therapist who can advise on which styles of furniture are most suitable.

The Disabled Living Foundation’s Living Made Easy website has a useful guide to the different types of chair best-suited to older or disabled people, ranging from riser and recliner chairs (see below) to chair beds and chairs with high backs. Important factors to consider include:

  • Seat height: a higher seat will make it easier to get in and out of the chair, but if too high, it will put too much pressure on the back of the thighs and the feet won't touch the floor, making it more uncomfortable when sitting. 
  • Seat depth: this needs to be sufficient to support the full length of the thighs, but not be so deep that the person has to lean back. If the chair is too deep, a comfortable way to shorten the seat is to add a cushion behind your relative's back.
  • The height of the armrests: these should allow the arms to be rested without raising or dropping of the shoulders. 

For further information, see our Checklist for sitting properly.

Riser recliner chairs

These incorporate elements to help people stand up and sit down, to recline (even to a lying position), or both. Three main types are available and some incorporate features for pressure relief, useful for people who spend a long time sitting in one position. 

  • Riser chairs can be manually operated or electrically powered, and have a seat base or structure that rises or falls; but note that manual risers are less suited to people with poor balance.
  • Recliner chairs feature a reclining backrest and a rising leg rest, and can also be manually operated or electrically powered; some will recline to a fully flat position.
  • Riser recliner chairs combine the features of both. 

Read about how to buy the best riser recliner chair, riser recliner chair features explained and how to use a riser recliner chair in the Which? products reviews for staying independent at home.

Getting in to and out of a chair

For the safest ways to get in and out of a chair, remember the following tips:

  • When sitting down, always feel the chair or seat on the back of your knees before lowering into the seat.
  • Reach for the arms and lower yourself down gently and evenly; don’t be tempted to use a walking aid for support.
  • To get back up again, wriggle forward so that your feet are directly under or behind your knees.
  • Make a wide base with your feet.
  • Sometimes, rocking forwards and backwards will help you find the momentum to get up.
  • Ensure that you look up, and lead with your head.
  • Use the chair arms, and push up evenly with both your arms.
  • Give yourself a moment to find your balance before walking away from the chair.
  • Do not pull on walking frames or furniture when standing, as these can move, causing you to potentially lose your balance.

Positioning a chair

It is important not to place a chair too close to a fire or fireplace - especially for older people who like to fall asleep in front of the fire, increasing the risk of scorching clothes or skin.

A person who is sometimes unsteady on their feet would also be at greater risk of burn injury if they fall when getting in and out of their chair close to a fire.

Sleeping in an armchair or sofa

It’s best for your relative not to get into the habit of falling asleep in an armchair (or on the sofa), either during the day or at night. Try to encourage them to move to their bed for a rest and at bed time, to give their body a chance to lie stretched out.

Foot stools

Foot stools are sometimes recommended for older people with certain conditions that can be eased by keeping their leg(s) elevated. The important thing to remember with foot stools is that they must be moved out of the way before attempting to stand, otherwise they can be a trip hazard. Chairs with wooden legs – as opposed to solid bases – often allow for the foot stool to be stowed underneath. If this isn't possible, move the stool to one side, but where it can still be seen.

More information

Page last reviewed: November 2016
Next review due: November 2018