Stair lifts, or stairlifts, are electric devices that carry a person up and down a flight of stairs. It is one of the most costly assistive devices but can make a major difference for a person’s independence particularly in a multi-storey home. Stair lifts are mainly considered for a person who is disabled and dependent on mobility aids like medical walkers or wheelchairs for movement. However, negotiating a flight of stairs with these aids can be dangerous and sometimes impossible and therefore devices such as stair lifts need to be considered.
Stair lifts usually have a chair or carriage on which the user can sit. However, some stair lifts are platforms that can accommodate a wheelchair without the user having to move off the wheelchair and onto another seat. The stair lift is an electric device running off the home AC supply or may use DC power through rechargeable batteries. The latter has the advantage of operating even when there is a power outage.
Different types of stair lifts need to cater for the stairs that are to be negotiated. It depends on the degree of the incline and whether the staircase is straight or curved. Narrow staircases can pose a problem as well but with modern technology, this is not usually an obstacle for installing a stair lift. Since stair lifts run on rails, the more important consideration is whether a continuous rail can be installed to run from the bottom to the top of the stairs. There is a minority of cases where the stair architecture is such that a stair lift cannot be installed.
Stair lifts are very safe devices. It moves slowly, has safety mechanisms to prevent the stair lift from sliding downwards at a speed and ensures that the user is secured within the carriage. It is simply a matter of the user controlling the lever to travel up or down the stairs. The chances of falling of a stair lift or some other mishap occurring is negligible unless a stair lift has been purposely tampered with.
Falls are among the most common types of injuries that the elderly sustain. It also has very serious implications when there are fractures as the bones may not heal quickly or completely. Furthermore falls can lead to concussions or bleeding within the cavity of the skull and be fatal. The most common site of a fall, second to slippery floors, is the staircase. A stair lift can therefore drastically reduce the chances of these mishaps when negotiating stairs. In this regard it should be as a safety device intended to prevent accidents that may have fatal consequences.
A stair lift should be used by any person who cannot safely ascend or descend a flight of stairs without assistance. Hand rails may help a person who still has significant muscle strength, balance and stability to climb up and down stairs. However, in a person without these abilities, a stair lift may be the only option to negotiate stairs.
Although a person may be stable and mobile on a flat surface, climbing up and down stairs takes significantly more effort. There is also increased strain on the lower limbs, particularly the lower leg and feet and if there is any problems with these parts of the body, climbing stairs may be a very difficult task. A stair lift may not always be necessary – a person could possibly remain on one floor without having to negotiate the stairs. However, this reduces a person’s independence and lowers the self-confidence of the elderly.
In these instances a stair lift may not be a necessity but a convenient aid to allow for freedom of movement.