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How to buy the best stairlift

Should you get a stairlift?

By Joanna Pearl

Article 1 of 4

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Should you get a stairlift?

Find out whether a stair-lift is the best option for you and why, in some cases, it may be better to wait before you buy.

A stairlift lifts people (and sometimes wheelchairs) up and down staircases. Motorised domestic stairlifts are relatively straightforward devices, although they become more complicated if you have a curved or unusually shaped staircase.

Contrary to popular perception, stairlift tracks normally (although not in all circumstances) fit to the treads of the stairs, not to the wall next to the staircase.

Most stairlifts run on rechargeable batteries, which recharge automatically, but some are mains-powered. Brands include Acorn, Handicare (the brand sold by Age UK) and Stannah.

Find out which firms have been voted the best stair-lift brands in our independent customer survey, as well as the best places to buy stairlifts.

A stairlift can be good if you struggle with stairs – maybe because of a medical condition, hip replacement or pain – and want to keep using your whole house. But think twice if you’re not sure you’ll be able to get on and off or use the controls, or if it might not work with your weight or the type of stairs you have. In some cases it may actually be better to keep using your joints.

Joanna Pearl,
Principal Health Researcher

Who are stairlifts for?

Stairlifts are designed for people with limited mobility who struggle to walk up and down staircases – for instance, people with conditions such as a heart problem or arthritis, those who have had hip replacements, and those with significantly reduced strength and flexibility from old age or following an operation.

If your home is on more than one floor, stairlifts can enable you to access upper floors and retain your independence.

An occupational therapist (OT) can initially assess whether a stairlift would be suitable for your wants and needs. And if it's a case of when, not if, then an OT can tell you when it is the right time to get one. 

You can make an appointment with an OT through the NHS, or privately via the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.

Visit our Later Life Care website for more advice on getting an occupational therapy assessment.

Reasons why a stairlift may not be suitable

Stairlifts aren't right for every condition or lifestyle, and it's worth finding this out before you buy.

Many people who invest in a stairlift regret not getting one sooner. However, they are not right for every condition or lifestyle, and it's better to find this out before wasting money and time on having one installed. Also, some staircases may not be able to accommodate them.

We have the information you need on different types of stairlifts and what will suit your stairs. The prices can vary considerably – between curved and straight stairlifts, for example.

Personal restrictions on stairlift suitability

Mobility

If you still have a fair degree of mobility and do not experience pain when climbing the stairs, it may be best to wait before getting a stairlift – in some cases, people’s joints degenerate faster if they're not used regularly. 

To use a stairlift, you normally need to have a certain degree of mobility to enable you to get on and off the seat. 

You also need to have enough dexterity to be able to use the controls and the footrest, although there are workarounds such as a joystick or toggle for someone who can't hold down a control button or an automatic footrest.

Weight

Most stairlifts have maximum weight capacities, which normally range from 20 to 30 stone.

If you weigh more than a certain amount, you might be limited in your choice, or may not be able to get a stairlift at all. 

  • Acorn - straight stairlifts suit people of up to 20 stone, and curved machines up to 25 stone. 
  • Handicare - can accommodate people weighing up to 30 stone.
  • Stannah - straight stairlifts can accommodate people of up to around 21 stone, and curved stairlifts up to 25 stone.

Your future health

It's really worth thinking about your needs beyond here and now before you invest in a stairlift.

For example, if you have a worsening condition, is it better to spend the money on a solution that will future-proof your home, such as a downstairs bedroom? 

Again, an OT can help you decide whether a stairlift is a suitable longer-term option or not.

Home restrictions on stairlift suitability

Although most staircases can be fitted with a stairlift, occasionally it's not possible due to the narrow width of the staircase.

In such cases, it may be better to consider rearranging your house so that you spend most of your time on one floor.

Other considerations

Even if your staircase can accommodate a stairlift, it's worth thinking if installing one will allow others in the household to safely use the stairs around this potential obstacle?

Stairlifts are slow to use, too, so you'll need well-positioned smoke alarms and a thought-out escape plan, in case of a fire.

Stairlifts are expensive, costing between £2,000 and £7,000 (or more) when bought new. 

If this is a concern for you, visit our Later Life Care website to read about financing home alterations. You can also find which brands offer the best value in our guide to Acorn, Handicare and Stannah stairlifts.

How stairlifts work

Most domestic stairlifts are easy to use and maintain, and pretty reliable. While it's unusual for problems to occur, there are some things you need to know to keep yours functioning properly.

Stairlifts consist of a seat (or standing platform), a footrest, the operating controls and the tracking rail that the lift moves along. To use them, you usually:

  • 'Call’ your stairlift from its call station if it's parked at the opposite end of the staircase to where you are, by pushing a button on the wall (or on a remote control).
  • Sit on the seat, put on your safety belt, and rest your feet on the footrest.
  • Push the button or lever/joystick to send the stairlift in the direction you want to go, and it will start to move.

Stairlifts have built-in safety sensors designed to detect obstructions on the staircase – such as objects that have been dropped by pets. The stairlift will automatically stop in such instances, so you can remove the object. This is the only time stairlifts are likely to stop halfway – any other instances are very rare.

Discover which brands make the most reliable stairlifts, according to our independent customer survey.

Stairlift seats

Most seated stairlifts come with height-adjustable, padded swivel seats, so that you can easily get on and off them without having to turn or twist your body. Some swivel seats are motorised; all lock in place when required. Most also have armrests that you can use to gently push yourself off the seat.

Seats also fold up when not in use, so that the stairs are still accessible to non-stairlift users.

Stairlift controls

Stairlift controls are very simple, normally consisting of a key that is inserted into the machine (and which remains there while the stairlift is in regular use) and either push buttons or a lever/joystick that moves left and right. Most controls can be set up on the armrest on either side of the lift, depending on whether you are right or left-handed.

If you want to immobilise your stairlift for a short time – for instance, if you have children visiting – you can do this by taking the key out.

Stairlift batteries

Most stairlifts run on rechargeable batteries, with a small number running on mains electricity. Neither are at risk of failure during a power cut, because stairlifts that are mains-powered have back-up batteries.

Stairlifts that run on rechargeable batteries are designed so that the batteries automatically recharge each time you use the stairlift. 

The charger is located at the designated ‘parking spot’, either at the top or bottom of the staircase. You need to return the stairlift to its parking spot (using a remote control or button on the wall) after you have used it so that the batteries can recharge; a warning sound should alert you if you forget to do this.

To read about more products to help you move around your home, visit our guide to walking frames and wheeled walkers.

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