Stairlifts & Accessibility Issues
After his stroke, my Dad spent around four months in both acute and skilled nursing facility-based rehab facilities. The physical and occupational therapists did an amazing job teaching him again to walk, eat, use the bathroom, and assist with dressing. For years, Dad had insisted that he wanted to stay at home as long as possible, so Mom and I agreed that we’d try caring for Dad at the house and see how it went.
My parents lived in a large, two-story Colonial house. First-floor living wasn’t a viable option, since the half-bath on the first floor had no shower. We decided to make accessibility modifications, including installing a stairlift. If this is a path you are considering, here are some things to keep in mind:
Continuous Stairways. It is typically less expensive to install a stairlift in homes with a straight stairway, rather than in homes with stairs that are curved or angles. In my parents’ house, there were three steps from the foyer to a landing. The staircase then took a 90 degree turn and went upstairs directly to the second floor. To reduce the expense and complication, we installed one stairlift up the straight section. My Dad was able to manage the three steps from the landing to the foyer reasonably well.
Used vs. New Stairlifts. We worked with an accessibility company that allowed us to rent a used stairlift. The used unit was considerably less expensive than a new one. In our case, renting made sense because no one really knew if my Dad would be able to stay at home for a long period of time. Ultimately, we applied the rental fees to buy the used unit outright. I paid for annual maintenance to ensure that any issues were addressed proactively.
Stairlift Brands. Research brands and reach your own conclusions about which stairlift will meet your budget and needs. The companies that I dealt with had sales reps who came to the house to provide an estimate for installing the equipment. They also had showrooms where it was possible for me to see and try the stairlifts.
Electricity and Stairlifts. Stairlifts require an electrical outlet that’s located within a certain distance of the unit. I hired an electrician to install a new outlet on the stairwell. My parents’ stairlift had a battery that would work for a certain number of hours if the power went out. In the Northeast, winter storms often cause multi-day power outages. If this is an issue where you live, you should think about how your family member would cope without the stairlift for multiple days.
Grab bars can make bathrooms and other areas safer. We had several installed at my parents’ home. The same accessibility company that provided the stairlift also installed the grab bars.
If your parents have a long-term care insurance policy, check to see if it has a “stay at home” benefit. These funds can often be used to make accessibility modifications that support in-home care.
With the stairlift and grab bars, my Dad was able to remain in his home for three and a half years. In hindsight, I wonder if it was the right decision – that time was difficult and stressful for my Mom (and me as well). On the other hand, I think we would have regretted moving my Dad directly to a skilled nursing facility from rehab. Everyone’s situation will be different. All you can do is try to make the best decision in the moment with the information you have at hand.
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