As we get older, things we formerly took for granted, like climbing stairs, become increasingly difficult and for many people with impaired mobility, climbing a flight of stairs is extremely dangerous if not impossible. A stair lift can give wheelchair-bound individuals or those with impaired mobility due to age, illness or injury access to all of their home, rather than leaving them stuck on the ground floor or forcing them to move elsewhere. What is a stair lift? How does it work? Are stair lifts dangerous?
What is a Stair Lift?
Sometimes called a stair elevator, a stair lift carries a person up an incline by means of a rail that is mounted to the stair treads or wall and a carriage that houses the lift mechanism and the wheelchair platform or seat. Stair lifts have been commercially available since the 1930s, but have only become widely used more recently, since improvements in design and technology have made them safer and more affordable.
Electrically driven, the carriage of a stair lift is fitted with rollers that fit securely within the tracks, enabling the lift to glide up the stairs by means of a rack and pinion or pulley system. Stair lifts come with several optional features that make them suitable for use in a variety of situations:
- Straight rail systems are designed for straight stair runs.
- Curved rail systems can follow the configuration of a curved staircase.
- Some stair lifts are designed to carry wheelchairs, while others have seats attached.
- Stair lift rails can often be mounted against a wall, when stair treads are not appropriate or when the lift is needed for a stairless incline.
Most domestic stair lifts have passenger seats instead of wheelchair platforms. Usually, the passenger sits facing the side of the stairs rather than towards the top or bottom of the stairs. Depending on the make or model, chair lift seats can be fitted with a number of safety and comfort features, including:
- Adjustable seat height.
- A 45 or 90 degree swivel mechanism that allows the occupant to enter and exit the seat safely. This mechanism must be locked into place before the lift can operate.
- Armrests and footrests provide comfort and an added measure of safety.
In addition, there are specially designed stair lifts for persons with spinal injuries and "perch" stairlifts that the rider stands on.
Stair Lift Safety Features
All stairlifts are electrically driven. Since there is always a possibility of a power outage, manufacturers have taken steps to ensure that the lift does not have to only rely on mains power to operate. Some models are fitted with backup batteries that automatically or manually take over when a power outage occurs while others operate on rechargeable batteries alone. Warning devices are included that ensure the battery is always charged, so regular inspection is not necessary.
If you or someone you know is finding negotiating stairs difficult or impossible, look into stair lifts. They are surprisingly affordable and are far more affordable than many other options that may be available, such as full time care or a change of residence. Outdoor versions are available, too, which are ideal for homes with stairs leading to the front or back doors.