05 August 2011


Many people with mobility problems find the prospect of climbing stairs a scary event. Sometimes it seems like an impossible task, thus homeowners have to make tough decisions about living like whether or not to move from the home they love into a bungalow or sheltered accommodation or instead convert their dining room to a bedroom and live downstairs, (assuming they have a bathroom on the ground floor). Of course, there is a third option, which provides safe and secure access to upstairs facilities: Installing and using a stairlift.

The purchase of a stairlift is quite a daunting prospect since it is a lifetime investment that most people have probably never encountered. What should you look for in a stairlift? What facilities are available and which ones are most important to you? There is also the cost factor, how much do you pay to get peace of mind and should you consider second-hand or reconditioned stairlifts?

If you want to go for a stairlift, it pays to have a look at the different types of stairlifts available. Firstly, my recommendation is that whether you buy new or reconditioned that you go to a reputable supplier who can advise you on all of the issues, especially installation.

When considering what type of stairlift you require, most people opt for the seated version, although other types are available including a standing stairlift and one with a large platform to accommodate a wheelchair.

Seated Stairlift

These tend to be the most common type used in a domestic setting. The majority of users are able to walk, but find it difficult to negotiate the stairs. The person must be able to sit safely on the seat during transit and transfer on and off at the top and bottom of the stairs. A swivel seat and lift-up armrests will make transfers onto and off the seat easier.

The swivel seat can be manually or electrically operated. It is preferable that the user can transfer independently; however, in some situations it may be possible for the carer to carry out an assisted transfer in conjunction with a piece of small handling equipment. The ability of the carer to transfer the user at the top of the stairs should be very carefully considered and avoided if at all possible.

Seating Position

Seated stairlifts have the choice of fixed seats, fold-down seats, perching seats and seats which slide forward to assist access in and out of the lift. Some companies will fix the seat at the most appropriate height for the user.

Some of questions you should consider prior to purchase are:

• Will the standard seat provided be the correct size for the user?

• Will the user need a special seat for a child or a harness for a more severely disabled child? A seat unit or moulded seating system will have to be removed before the seat can be folded.

• Which direction will the user need to face? Most seats face sideways, but if the user has a stiff knee he/she may need to face forwards to give them more room.

How will the stairlift be controlled and powered?

Will the user be able to operate the standard controls, usually push button controls sited on the end of the armrest, or is an alternative method required, for example joystick or toggle controls? Will the controls need to be sited in another position? Wander leads allow the user to operate the controls from the most comfortable position or a carer to operate the lift independently. Remote controls, for a carer to operate, are also available from some companies. Lifts are available with an audible signal to alert blind and partially sighted users that the lift is at the top or the bottom of the track.

Maintaining your stairlift

Most major companies guarantee their stairlifts for one year. After this it is recommended that they are inspected every six months and serviced annually. Some companies offer an emergency call-out facility. However, check that they have fully trained service engineers on call 24 hours per day. On completion of your one year warranty most companies will offer to re-guarantee the lift for a charge. It is advisable to check these charges before purchasing.

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