You’ll need a thorough assessment of both the layout of your home and your own physical problems in order to choose the best stairlift for you. These are some of the main points you should consider:
Is your stairway straight or curved? Several types of stairlift are available for stairs that curve either at the top or at the bottom.
Do you want a swivel seat?
Swivel seats are designed to make it safer to get off a stairlift. They work like an office chair and swivel at the top of the stairs so you end up facing the landing. These seats also have armrests for you to grip, making them easier to get out of. Swivel seats have a control, allowing the chair to swivel when you want it to, but some people with hand, arm or wrist problems find these difficult to use, so the 'try before you buy' rule applies.
If a door or passage at the top or bottom of the stairs could be blocked by the stairlift track, there are a number of models designed to overcome this problem. But remember that if you choose a model whose track stops short of the top of the stairs, the lift will also stop short of the top. This might make getting off dangerous. A folding track is available for the bottom to give access to a doorway, but you’ll need to make sure that you’re able to fold and unfold it.
Folding and unfolding the chair
Some stairlifts make it difficult for others in the house to climb the stairs. In these cases the footplate, seat and armrests need to be folded out of the way. You can select a design where the footplate and armrests automatically lift out of the way when the seat is folded up. Some models need the user to push the seat up, so you should check that you’re able to do this if necessary, but other types can lift the seat using the remote control. If you want to be able to fold the footplate yourself, check that you can do so safely and easily, as you may have to do it several times a day. Be aware that folding and unfolding the footplate can be tricky or even dangerous, especially at the top of the stairs.
Your physical problems
Hand or wrist problems can make it difficult to keep the drive button pressed for the whole trip. You may find using a joystick easier. Check that you can easily use both this and any lever that allows the seat to swivel.
If you have any hip, knee or back problems the height of the stairlift seat is important. Check that it’s right for you at both the top and bottom of the stairs. Some people find a swivel seat with sturdy armrests easier to use because they can use the arms to push up from. If you’re unable to sit upright because of your arthritis, check that your knees or feet won’t get caught against the opposite wall or banisters, as this could be dangerous. Curved-rail lifts have to cut the corner on bends, which may mean that your knees brush against the staircase post.
Don’t take a stick or walking frame (Zimmer) with you on the stairlift. It might catch on the steps or banisters while the lift is moving. Ask for another walking aid so you can have one at the top of the stairs and one below. A handrail near the stairlift may also be useful if you feel unsteady on your feet. Your local Social Services department may be able to provide this.