Page Reviewed / Updated – December 17, 2020

Many people with limited mobility find that going up and down the stairs in their homes is a challenge, yet they would prefer not to leave the place where they’ve spent decades creating memories.

Stair lifts and other home modifications, such as walk-in tubs, help seniors retain their independence and remain in their own homes for as long as possible. Stair-related injuries are common across all age groups, but the highest prevalence is among children and older adults. Using a stair lift may help prevent serious injuries and give those who aren’t confident in their ability to navigate stairs the peace of mind they need to stay in their home.

Weight limits vary from 265 pounds for basic stair lifts from popular manufacturers, including Stannah and New Brooks, up to 350 pounds for a Starla or Siena Stannah stair lift. Some manufacturers offer premium lifts for larger adults.

Stair Lift Safety Considerations

Stair lifts are a useful accessibility modification for a home, but they must be properly installed and maintained. It’s also important to choose the right design to ensure that the intended user can safely get into and out of the chair.

Modern stair lifts are designed with safety in mind and include a number of features for the protection of users, including:

  • A footplate to detect obstructions on the stairs and stop the lift automatically
  • Seat belts to keep the rider secure
  • Batteries that are constantly trickle-charged, so the lift can be used in the event of a power cut
  • Enclosed motors to prevent loose clothing or other objects from getting caught in the mechanism
  • A folding rail for support
  • Swivel seats that point away from the stairs for ease of getting into and out of the seat
  • Powerful motors and seats to support the weight of the rider, with generous weight limits

Even with these safety features, lifts must still be properly cared for and maintained.

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Stair Lifts for the Elderly – Frequently Asked Questions

Are there heavy-duty stair lifts for larger adults?

Weight limits for stair lifts vary depending on the design and the brand. The operational limit of the stair lift, however, is not the only thing that a larger senior should be thinking about when choosing a brand.

In addition to having a more powerful motor that can transport a heavier person, seniors may also wish to think about how the chair is designed. Larger adults may require some of the following features to use their stair lift not just safely, but comfortably:

  • Swivel seats that assist with weight-bearing transfers
  • Longer seat belts
  • Wider/longer armrests
  • A deeper and wider seat

Don’t forget to take into account the style of the stair lift. Straight stair lifts are used on single flights, while curved stair lifts can take users up multiple flights, curving around the landing. Curved lifts require a more specialized design.

What does “final limit” mean on a stair lift?

Stair lifts have a lot of safety features to ensure that, in the event of a power cut or excessive weight load, the lift will fail safely, reducing the risk of injury to the user. These safety features cause the lift to cut out and stop moving.

The most common problems with stair lifts involve flat batteries or failing batteries. Most stair lifts charge when they’re parked at the top or bottom of the stairs and will beep if they are left unparked for too long, warning the user that they need to correctly park the lift.

Sometimes, a stair lift will freeze at the top or bottom and won’t move in any direction. This is known as a “final limit” situation, and it occurs if there’s debris in the lift shaft or one of the sensors has failed, so the lift cannot detect its position or status.

How often should I have my stair lift serviced?

Stair lifts should be serviced once every 6 to 12 months to ensure they’re operating safely and properly. Many companies offer services free of charge for the first two years on the purchase of a new stair lift. After that, customers should arrange for a reputable company to inspect the stair lift at least once a year, more often if they use the lift regularly.

Owners should always follow the usage and charging recommendations on the stair lift and respect any charging restrictions.

Can stair lifts accommodate wheelchairs?

Traditional stair lifts have a chair, and the expectation is that the user can either walk up to the stair lift or transfer themselves from their wheelchair to the lift without difficulty. While this sort of system is suitable for many seniors, some wheelchair users are unable to perform unassisted transfers and may prefer an inclined platform lift instead.

Inclined platform lifts are similar to stair lifts but have a large platform for wheelchair users to drive on to, with safety barriers around the platform. When the lift is not in use, the platform and barriers can fold unobtrusively out of the way.

The weight limits on these platforms tend to be much higher than those on stair lifts to take into account the additional weight of the chair.

Can I get financial help to get a stair lift installed?

Seniors who receive Medicaid may be eligible for help with the cost of a stair lift under Medicaid’s Home and Community-Based Services Waivers for Home Medications. Waiver availability and eligibility requirements vary from state to state, but many states offer financial support for seniors to make modifications to their homes if those modifications help the senior avoid premature nursing home placement.