Should you get a stairlift?
A stairlift carries people (and sometimes wheelchairs) up and down staircases. Motorised domestic stairlifts are relatively straightforward devices, although they become slightly more complicated if you have a curved or unusually shaped staircase.
Stairlift tracks usually fit to the treads of the stairs, not to the wall next to the staircase, although there are some exceptions.
Most stairlifts run on rechargeable batteries that recharge automatically from the mains. This means they will still function in a powercut. Some are mains-powered, but will still have a small back-up battery in case of a powercut.
The UK's main brands include Acorn, Handicare (the brand sold by Age UK and Companion) and Stannah, as well as smaller brands Bespoke, MediTek and Thyssenkrup.
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.
Reasons why a stairlift may not be suitable
Many people who invest in a stairlift regret not getting one sooner.
However, they are not right for every condition or lifestyle, and some staircases may not be able to accommodate them.
Personal restrictions on stairlift suitability
If you still have a fair degree of mobility and don't 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'll normally need to have enough mobility to be able to get on and off the seat yourself.
You'll also need to have enough dexterity to be able to use the controls and the footrest. There are some workarounds, though, such as a joystick or toggle for someone who can't hold down a control button or an automatic footrest.
If you weigh more than 20 stone, you might be limited in your choice or unable to find a stairlift to suit your home.
- Acorn Straight stairlifts can accommodate people of up to 20 stone, and curved machines up to 25 stone.
- Handicare Straight stairlifts can accommodate people weighing up to 31.5 stone, curved stairlifts up to 21.5 stone.
- Stannah Straight stairlifts can accommodate people of up to around 21.5 stone, and curved stairlifts up to 25 stone.
Your future health
It's really worth thinking about your needs beyond the here and now before you invest in a stairlift.
For example, if you have a worsening condition, you might decide the money is better spend on a solution that will mean you can stay at home even longer, such as adapting a downstairs bedroom and bathroom.
Again, an OT will be able to help you decide whether a stairlift is a suitable longer-term option for your needs.
Home restrictions on stairlift suitability
Although most staircases can be fitted with a stairlift, occasionally it's not possible if the staircase is particularly narrow.
In such cases, you may need to consider rearranging your house so that you spend most of your time on the ground floor.
If you live with others, you'll need to make sure that they can safely get around the stairlift to use the stairs.
Because stairlifts are slow to use, you'll need well-positioned smoke alarms and a thought-out escape plan, to make sure you know how to safely exit your home in case of a fire.
Stairlifts are expensive, and can cost between £2,000 and £7,000 (or more) when bought new. If this will be prohibitively expensive for you, visit our Later Life Care website to read about . You can also find which brands offer the best value in our guide to , and stairlifts, as well as , including Bespoke, MediTek and Thyssenkrupp.
How stairlifts work
Most domestic stairlifts are easy to use and maintain, and are 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 using 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. 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.
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.
The seats fold up when not in use, so that the stairs are still accessible to non-stairlift users.
Stairlift controls are very simple to use, usually 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.
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 backup 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.