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Stairlifts and stair safety

Find advice on stairlifts, wheelchair lifts, hand rails and walking sticks, with guidance on avoiding common hazards on stairs and stairways.
5 min read
In this article
Stairlifts and how they may be able to help you  Wheelchair lifts Common hazards on stairs and stairways to look out for 
How to reduce the risk of falls on the stairs Hand rails Using walking sticks when going up and down stairs

Stairlifts and how they may be able to help you 

Although stairlifts can be relatively expensive, they are a good solution for people with limited mobility as they help them to stay living independently in homes with stairs and may well avoid having to move the bed downstairs.

 

Stairlifts are designed for people with limited mobility who struggle to walk up and down staircases – for instance, people with conditions such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis, and those who have had hip replacements, as well as those who have significantly reduced strength and flexibility simply from old age or following an operation. An occupational therapist (OT) can initially assess whether a stairlift would be suitable for your wants and needs.

 

Is a stairlift right for you?

 

If your home is on more than one floor, stairlifts can enable you to have continued access to the whole property and retain your independence. An occupational therapist can initially assess whether a stairlift would be suitable for your wants and needs. And if it’s a case of when, not whether, then they can tell you when it’s the right time to get one installed.

 

A stairlift may be a good option if you struggle with stairs – maybe because of a medical condition, hip replacement or pain – and want to keep using your whole house. Think twice though if you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to get on and off or operate the controls, or whether it would be better to keep using your joints. It's also important to think whether one would accommodate your weight or suit your stairs.

If your home is on more than one floor, stairlifts can enable you to have continued access to the whole property and retain your independence. 

How to buy the best stairlift

 

Although there are lots of different types available, stairlifts basically fall into two main categories: straight and curved. The latter are the more bespoke products, with the stairlift rail having to fit around the shape of your stairs.

 

Most stairlifts’ controls are easy to use, and can be set up on either side of the lift, depending on whether you’re right or left-handed. The best way of familiarising yourself with the different types available – and how they work in practice – is to arrange to try one out at a Disabled Living Centre (DLC), a local mobility centre or manufacturer’s showroom.

 

Read about how to buy the best stairlift in the Which? product reviews for mobility and disability aids. We look at the different types of stairlifts that are available as well as giving advice on buying, installing and maintaining a stairlift.

Wheelchair lifts

A stairlift isn’t compatible with wheelchairs, but it may be possible to fit a wheelchair or platform lift instead. These are specifically designed for domestic environments, usually travelling from the ground floor to the floor above. Installing such a lift will almost certainly require a degree of home adaptation and will take up space on both of the floors it travels between. Costs start from around £8,000.

Common hazards on stairs and stairways to look out for 

There are many common hazards on stairs and stairways that can increase the risk of a fall, these include:

  • open treads (staircases that have gaps or hollow spaces between each step): it’s much easier to trip, and they can be disorienting to people with poor vision
  • ‘nosing’, or protrusions over the edge of the step
  • worn, frayed or loose carpet or stair runners
  • loose floor boards
  • unsecured rugs placed at the top or bottom of the stairs
  • poor lighting along the stairs
  • a lack of adequate stair rails or loose/poorly attached stair rails
  • furniture placed on the stairs, or objects temporarily left on the stairs.

How to reduce the risk of falls on the stairs

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 occupational therapist or physiotherapist will be able to demonstrate these techniques in more detail. A physiotherapist can also suggest exercises to improve strength, balance and mobility to help with going safely up and down stairs.

 

Other ways to reduce the risk of falls on the stairs include:

  • colour-contrasted nosing on the edge of each stair will make it easier to see the edge
  • carpet colour that strongly contrasts with the walls will make it easier to use the stairs. If this is not currently the case, consider replacing the carpet for one of a different colour or re-painting the walls
  • a small degree of forward planning can potentially reduce the number of times that stairs need to be used during the day
  • lighting should cover the entire stairway, as well as at the top and bottom, such as landings
  • if you have had a fall, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of it happening again – our article on falls prevention explains what to do.

Hand rails

Having hand rails (also called stair 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 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, as some are easier to grip than others. 

Using walking sticks when going up and down stairs

If you need to use a walking stick to help with going up and down stairs, there’s a specific technique to this. It’s important to master this because using a walking stick incorrectly on the stairs could put you at greater risk of a fall. It’s something best explained and demonstrated by a physiotherapist. For more advice, read our advice on how to use a walking stick.

If you use a walking frame, leave one at the top of the stairs and another at the bottom. Trying to carry a walking frame up and down the stairs is unsafe.

Further reading

Safety around the home

Use our checklists as a starting point to think about the basic safety aspects of your home – such as lighting, ...

Ramps for the home

If getting in and out of your home is a challenge, fitting a ramp could help. We explain the different types of ramps, ...

Grab rails

If you’re having difficulty moving around your home because of poor balance or decreased mobility, it may be helpful ...

Last updated: 18 Sep 2018