Clear, practical advice on daily living equipment
If you are experiencing difficulty using your stairs and considering a stairlift or alternative equipment then an individual assessment with an occupational therapist is strongly recommended, your safety on your stairs is paramount. There may be individual factors which determine which stairlift, which stairlift features or alternative equipment, best suits your needs. The information provided here is not an alternative to an individual assessment.
Adjustable seat height
Some stairlifts can be pre-adjusted to different seat heights. This assists you to transfer in and out of the stairlift from/to a seat height that suits your specific needs. Being able to choose a specific seat height can also be useful for sliding transfers from/to wheelchairs and if you have received a hip replacement and been advised not to sit with your knees above hip level.
Audible 'off-charge' warning / alert
A warning sound to alert you that your stair lift is not parked in the position required to recharge the batteries.
Battery isolation switch
A switch which allows the user to isolate the chairlift from the mains electricity supply when not in use for long periods of time, such as holidays.
A call station is a unit, which usually has two buttons (up and down) located away from the chair of the stairlift. Call stations are usually found at the top and bottom of the staircase so a user can 'call' or control the stairlift. Users may need to control the stairlift bringing it to them at the top or bottom of the stairs so they can get on it or a carer may use the call station to operate the stairlift for the user. Some call stations are linked with wires to the stairlift, others are remote controls using infra red or radio signals.
On stairlifts with a 'flip up' rail the lower section of the rail folds upwards and out of the way to prevent the rail causing an obstruction or tripping hazard.
A key-switch is a small key operated switch which is usually located in the stairlifts armrest. When the key is removed the stairlift is completely immobilised. This is a useful safety feature if, for example, there are small children in the household who may try and operate the stairlift
Mains or Battery Powered?
The vast majority of stairlifts are powered by rechargeable batteries. The stairlift is permanently plugged into the mains supply to recharge the batteries, some lifts charge constantly, others when the lift is parked at the top and bottom of the stairs. With battery power the lift will continue to function in the event of mains power failure. Batteries will eventually need replacing, but should last 3-4 years. It is essential that the power supply is always connected to enable regular recharging, consequently stairlifts are usually wired directly to the house electrical circuit rather than use a plug. The mains should be left on even if you go away on holiday or the bateries will drain and may need replacing.
One step folding
When you fold up a seat on stairlifts with this feature the arms and footrest simultaneously fold up. When you put the seat down the arms and footrest simultaneously come down. This saves you from bending down to fold up /down the footrest.
'Over speed governor'
This is basically an emergency brake that prevents an uncontrolled descent of the stair lift seat.
Seatbelt or Harness
For most stairlift users a standard lap seat belt will be sufficient. Users with certain ailments and disabilities may require a harness, there is range of harnesses available but not all manufacturers are able to fit them.
Soft Start and Soft Stop
This feature prevents sudden, jarring starts and stops giving a smooth ride.
This means you can swivel the chair at the top and bottom of the stairs. This helps at he bottom of the stairs as you have more room to approach the stairs and sit down, it also helps when you reach the top of the stairs as if you swivel the chair you are facing away from the staircase when you get off. This makes it both easier and safer to get on and off the stairlift and the chair acts as a barrier if you were to loose your balance, you would not fall down the stairs. A swivel seat is a standard option on most stairlifts, but you can choose between manual and powered swivel seats. With manual powered seats you need to turn the seat yourself by twisting your body in the same way you turn while seated in a standard office chair. With a powered chair you maintain pressure on the lever or switch which operates the stairlift and the chair is turned automatically by electric motors. If a powered swivel seat isn't necessary at the moment but could be useful in the future ask whether the seat can be adapted in future.
Note: For safety the seat should always be locked in position before sitting or standing from it, regardless of whether the swivel is manual or powered.
Read Cyril's experience of obtaining a stairlift or if you would like further 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.
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.
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