Do you want to live in your home as long as possible? Most people do, according to the National Council on Aging, nine out of 10 seniors plan to live in their own homes for the next five to 10 years. But when it’s no longer as easy to move around or do things for yourself, staying in your own home might become difficult. Fortunately, home accessibility options exist, including additions like stairlifts.
These days, people are living longer. In fact, the life expectancy of 68 years back in 1960 has jumped to an impressive 79 years of age in 2017, according to the Population Reference Bureau. But that extra decade tacked onto life expectancy in the United States comes along with some challenges, such as a growing rate of obesity among the 60 and older set. This can mean more medical problems, which can necessitate close attention to home accessibility for those who want to stay at home as long as possible.
One important aspect of home accessibility is the ease of moving from one room to another. If you have a home with more than one level, how will you safely access the upper floor? Stairlifts provide a safe solution to that problem.
How Stairlifts Work: The Basics
Stairlifts might seem complicated, but how they actually work is pretty straightforward. A stairlift is a chair that travels along a track or rail. This rail is mounted to a stairway. The chair’s movement is powered by a motor in the base of the chair. The motor turns gears that are firmly seated within the geared strip on the track or rail. With the push of a button or the flick of a switch, the motor kicks on, and the gears begin to turn. This moves the chair up or down the stairs.
Parts of a Stairlift
To better understand how a stairlift works, you’ll need to understand how each component fits together. You might find a variety of bells and whistles in a stairlift, but the basics are always going to be the same. Here’s what you can expect.
- Seat. This is the heart of the system. The chair seat should be comfortable and large enough to accommodate those who will use it. Some models have folding seats that help minimize the space the stairlift takes up.
- Armrests. These lift up or down to make it easier to get into the chair. This is also where the movement control of the chair is located.
- Seat belt. This is an absolute must for the person using the chair. They must be buckled in to avoid the potential for a dangerous or even deadly fall.
- Foot rest. This makes the chair more comfortable and provides some stability for the user. Many foot rests have sensors in them that will stop the chair’s motion if it hits anything on the stairs. They fold up when not in use.
- Track. This might also be called a “rail” but regardless of the name, it serves the same purpose: to support the geared strip that moves the chair up and down the stairway.
- Track extensions. Also known as overruns, these are extensions to the main track that will allow you to move the chair beyond the stairs to a landing, where a person can get out of the chair without worries about falling down the stairs.
- Power supply. Most stairlifts are battery-powered. You’ll need to have a ready power supply through a typical outlet to keep the batteries charged. Some stairlifts run on power from the home with backup batteries; in that case, you might need a dedicated outlet for the stairlift.
- Switch or button. This will be located on the arm of the chair. It allows you to control the movement of the chair while sending it up or down the stairs.
- Motor. This sits underneath the chair seat and attaches to the gears. It’s what runs the stairlift up and down the track or rail.
- Battery. Batteries are found underneath the chair seat too. In most models, these batteries will last for years with proper charging and maintenance. Even if the chair is hard-wired to the electrical system, the batteries will still be there in the event of a power outage.
- Battery charger. Speaking of charging, the charger for those batteries is usually located at the lower end of the track. Most of them work automatically as the chair rests at that location while not in use.
- “Call” or “Send” controls. These are controls separate from the chair itself, usually mounted on the wall at each end of the track. This allows the user to call the chair up or down when needed. This can also be used to carry items up and down the stairs, like a basket of laundry. It can also be used to hide the chair away at the top of the stairs if you don’t like the way it looks when kept downstairs, or you need the extra space for foot traffic.
Safety First When Operating a Stairlift
Staying safe when on a stairlift is of utmost importance. That’s why it’s so important to follow these rules when riding one:
- Ensure the seat is locked into place. Lift the armrests if necessary.
- Stand with the back of your knees touching the seat. Then lower yourself down slowly.
- Manually fold the footrest down (unless your model comes with an automatic footrest).
- Lock the armrests into place for better security.
- Latch the seat belt and make sure it is firmly around your waist.
- Press the button or flip the switch. Keep your hand on it in case you need to stop it in an emergency, such as a pet running down the stairs toward the chair.
- When you reach your destination, swivel the chair until it locks into place in a direction that will allow you to exit safely.
- If you ever feel as though your chairlift is not safe, call the manufacturer or a contractor for assistance.
Let us help you with your aging in place concerns. Modernize can connect you with contractors in your local area who can not only help you with the installation of a stairlift, but might be able to modify your home in other ways to help ensure your safety. To learn more about aging in place and ways to improve your home accessibility, check out the National Institute on Aging.