Stairlifts: Questions and answers

Stairlifts: Questions and answers



I'm not sure if my staircase is straight or curved.

Click on the following link to view examples of straight and curved staircases Staircase guide

How do I know if my staircase is wide enough for a stairlift?

A common problem which prevents the installation of a stairlift, is the width of the staircase. A minimum staircase width of about 750mm (29") is required by most individuals if they are to use a stairlift safely and in comfort.

To gain an idea of whether a stairlift is practical with the width of your stairs you could place a chair on the hall floor at the bottom of your stairs with the back touching the wall. Sit on the chair with your back as far back on the chair as is comfortable and sit with your knees as close to the edge of the seat as you can. You should then be able to see how much clearance you would have for your feet and knees if you had a stairlift installed.

I have a staircase with spindles joining the stairs to the banister, can I have a stairlift fitted?

If you have open banisters/ spindles under your banister then they should be infilled. This is because open banisters/ spindles present a safety hazard as the users feet may slip on the footrest and become stuck in the gap between the spindles. A sheet of perspex or mdf board can be used to infill the banister.

I have difficulty bending at my knees or hips, can I still use a stairlift?

If bending at the hip or knees causes you difficulty then a perching or standing stairlift could be of assistance. These stairlifts can also be used on staircases that are too narrow to accommodate a standard seated lift. However, to be able to use standing / perching stairlifts safely you must have good balance (the journey from top to bottom may take a whole minute) and be able to get on and off safely. Standing / perching stairlifts are not suitable if you are prone to dizzy spells. To view standing and perching stairlifts click on the picture below.

I have arthritis in my hands, will I need to keep a button pressed down while operating the stairlift? I would find this difficult!

To use a stairlift you have to keep a control button pressed for the whole length of the trip. This can be quite painful if , for example, you suffer from arthritis. A joystick or 'toggle' control could be easier to use as it can require less pressure on your fingers and wrist.
Attendant controls are also available so an attendant / carer / relative can control the stairlift as it goes up and down with you sat on it. Attendant controls can be fixed to the wall or kept in a safe place near to the stairlift and used like a remote control.

I live with my partner who doesn't wish to use the stairlift. Will he/she be able to get past when walking up /down stairs?

With most stair lifts you can fold up the chair part of the lift when your not using it. This enables someone to walk past the lift safely. Depending on the model, the arms of the chair, seat and foot rest can all be folded. However, this can be difficult for some individuals to manage, see the following question.

I've heard that the arms and seat of a stairlift are hard to fold away and that you have to bend down to fold the footrest away. I'm worried I will not be able to manage this.

The arms of stairlifts are very light and most people are able to lift them with ease. However, people struggle with folding the seat and footrest. Some stairlift models have a link between the footrest and the seat or the arms of the lift, when you raise the arm or seat the footrest folds up as well. This avoids the need for you to bend but does require some strength to lift. If this is too difficult then there are models with powered footrest raisers that will raise the footrest at the touch of a button, or when a little pressure is applied to raise the stairlift's arms.

There is a doorway to my lounge at the bottom of my stairs. A stairlift will block the majority of the door and be in the way.

If you have a door or passageway at the top or the bottom of the stairs which may be blocked by the rail of a stairlift, there are options designed to resolve this problem. A 'folding track' or 'hinged rail' stairlift allows the bottom section of the rail to be folded out of the way when the stairlift is not being used. Once folded this will enable access to a door that would otherwise be blocked by a normal rail. The folded rail also removes the potential tripping hazard if you have an open passageway at the bottom of the stairs.
Consider whether you will be able to fold the rail manually or if you require a motorised folding rail / 'powered hinge'.

I do not get up or downstairs to my toilet in time. Will a stairlift enable me to get to my toilet quicker?
Installing a stairlift may be an option to consider. However, a stairlift or through floor lift is not necessarily a quick way to get to the toilet. It can take a minute for the lift to get to the top of the stairs and additional time for you to safely transfer on and off the lift.

What are the alternatives options to stair rails, stairlifts, and through floor lifts?

For some people moving home may be an alternative solution to stairlifts or through floor lifts. A bungalow or ground floor flat, all on one level, may be ideal for you if you are willing to move. However, moving can be very stressful and costly. If you don't wish to move, you could consider converting your own home to make life easier for you.
You may consider installing a downstairs toilet or bathroom. If you are already sleeping downstairs then a bathroom and/or toilet downstairs may mean you can avoid needing to use your stairs at all. If you sleep upstairs then you will still need to go up/down stairs in the evening but will not need to go up/down stairs so regularly during the day. You may consider installing both a ground floor toilet and a stairlift.
A downstairs bedroom may be an appropriate solution if you already have a toilet downstairs and / or have to spend most of your time in bed and would otherwise be isolated upstairs. However, this solution may not be desirable if there is no downstairs toilet, or if you share the house with other family members and only have one living room.

How can I enquire about an assessment with an occupational therapist?

Either contact your local social services department or the directory of occupational therapists in independent practice. For more information and contact details visit our Occupational therapy assessment page

If you would like similar advice regarding stairlifts then you could try the stairlift section of AskSARA. AskSARA is the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF)'s free online self assessment tool. AskSARA will ask you questions about yourself and your environment (in this instance your staircase) and then offer relevant advice, stairlift product suggestions and supplier details.

click here for AskSARA's stairs section

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement