Stairlifts To Heaven
By John Fowler
Many elderly people face a difficult choice in their later years, as their ability to tackle the stairs in their houses becomes more difficult. Do they sell the houses they love and move into a bungalow or sheltered accommodation or do they 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 is to provide safe and secure access to their upstairs facilities by using installing a stairlift.
The purchase of a stairlift is quite a daunting prospect since it is something that you have probably never done before and will never do again. What should you look for in a stairlift and do you understand all of the facilities 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.
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. If someone has passed away in you locality and their stairlift is for sale cheaply, it is tempting to buy it. However, remember that there are strict safety standards to adhere to, and that installation may not be straight forward. Just consider the tracking for a moment, is it a straight run, is it on the same side of the stairs, are the stairs the same dimensions, or is the tracking actually curved. With stairlifts you are not just buying a mobility product, you are also buying peace of mind. Make sure you deal with suppliers who have years of experience in advising customers and installing their products.
When considering actually what type of stairlift you require, most people opt for the seated version of the product although other types are available including a standing stairlift and one with a large platform to accommodate a wheelchair. For the rest of the article we will consider the most common type, the 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.
There is a 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.
Installation Design Considerations
If your staircase has a sub-landing at the top, with a few steps to the left or right, most companies can fit a manual or motorised folding platform which bridges the gap between the top of the stairlift and the landing, although the number of stairs and the amount of available headroom will need to be taken into consideration. This allows the user to get off the stairlift and walk straight onto the landing, avoiding the need to have a curved or two straight stairlifts installed.
Some people may find the platforms unnerving as they are quite high up over the staircase. If the track for the stairlift cannot continue beyond the bottom or top step of the staircase, usually because it will obstruct a door, some companies can provide a fold-up, hinged rail to overcome this problem. Can other members of the household easily use the stairway when the lift is folded against the wall?
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.
Straight stairlifts are available with a battery backup option in case of power failures. Most standard straight stairlifts are powered from the mains. Most curved stairlifts run from rechargeable batteries, which are continually topped up from charging points at the top and the bottom of the stairs. This needs accurate re-siting at the charging point because of a warning bleep if it is in the wrong place.
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.
So, in summary, my advice is to consider all of the points above and then contact a reputable supplier of stairlifts and go and discuss your requirements with them. Most have expert staff on hand to answer your technical queries and build a tailor made solution to fit your needs. Products to make someone more mobile are often bought by, or for, the vulnerable or infirm - take the risk out of the purchase and talk to experienced care advisors that have been specially trained to understand their customer's needs and requirements. More information on stairlifts and mobility aids can be found at www.services-professional.co.uk/Retailer-Magbility.html
About The Author
John Fowler trained as a Mathematician and has worked in the IT industry for over 30 years, much of the time in sales related functions.