Disabled people with mobility impairments can find that as their condition develops it becomes more and more difficult to get around – even in their own homes. In a way, their home ‘shrinks’ and can become difficult to live in. Fortunately, assistive technology can be utilised to make sure home can be well and truly ‘lived in’ for years to come.

Often, when people lose their mobility they can find themselves cut off from the stairs and upper floors. This is an issue that has potentially huge ramifications since ordinarily it’s where the bathroom is. Whilst you could look at the expensive process of trying to install something downstairs it’s got to be worth seeing whether the mobility issue can be solved more easily (and cost effectively). A stairlift could well be the answer although you’ll need to assess whether it’s suitable for both the house – and you. It’s probably a good thing to start with ‘you’ since if you start with a solution that fits your house, you’ll try to start fitting yourself around ‘it’ and that misses the point.

You’ll need to consider if you’re able to bend your knees and travel in a seated position and if you’re able to transfer easily from a wheelchair or a standing position. (Stairlifts are available for people that stand while travelling – you need to think about headroom.)

You’ll also need to have enough hand dexterity to operate the stairlift remote control which can include a push button, joystick or toggle.

Naturally, you’ll need to get your staircase measured as part of a professional assessment before discussing what’s possible. Assuming your staircase is wide enough, other issues such as curving staircases or obstacles such as radiators can be worked around with curved or hinged tracks – and you don’t always need a supporting wall since normally (though not in all circumstances) the stairlift will be fitted to the steps of the staircase, not to the wall.

Through floor lift

A stairlift isn’t for everyone. For instance if you don’t find transferring from your wheelchair easy or for people that need to be accompanied as they go upstairs. Through floor lifts are both wheelchair accessible and arguably safer for people that don’t have good balance or who experience uncontrolled movements of their limbs etc. (Some lifts can accommodate a carer as well.)

Again, you’ll need to know if a through floor lift is a suitable solution for you – in your current home. Although a lift will sit in a space not much bigger than its own footprint you’ll need space both upstairs and downstairs to be appropriate (and of course those spaces must line up with each other vertically). Once the lift has left a floor the space is usable (not dead) although it wouldn’t be sensible to move a chair there, etc.

You also need to figure out if there’ll be room for the user(s) to manoeuvre into it since this will likely involve reversing from directly in front of the unit. Some retailers recommended a size approximately 1,000mm in width and 1,500mm in length for the lift plus an area of the same size to allow room to approach the lift in a wheelchair and open the lift door.

As you shop around you’ll begin to hear about the two main drive systems: ‘hydraulic’ and ‘traction’. Individual retailers will have views on the pros and cons of each method including reliability and noise factors. You’re best to see a few in action and make your own mind up.

You may be surprised to learn that some lifts are regarded as adding value to a property should you wish to sell your house – or that you can have a through floor lift taken out and installed somewhere else without scarring its original position too badly.

Track hoist

Track hoists (or tracking hoists) need to be appropriate for the space you’re proposing tousethemin–andforyou–andfor carers. The starting point needs to be an assessment of how safe and sensible it is to lift the person in question by a hoist. (Also remember that whichever model/type you select, the user will need to be trained to use it properly to avoid accidents.)

There are a number of scenarios where a track hoist is a very sensible option for moving people. In small spaces or for moving people that are too big for the carer to handle a track hoist is far better than a mobile hoist, for example. An assessment should always be carried out before undertaking any new moving and handling procedure and should consider: the needs of the person being moved, how heavy they are, available space and the equipment being used.

An OT can advise specifically but when pushing forces upon the carer’s lumbar spine exceed 20 Newton’s (men) and 15 Newton’s (women) whilst using other moving methods, it’s time to get a track hoist.

There are several different sorts of track hoists to consider, such as: single track systems, X-Y systems, installed systems and gantry systems. Generally, track hoists are easier for carers to use since the weight of the person they’re moving is held by the hoist – enabling the carer to slide them around almost effortlessly. (Most systems are manual but for heavier people, powered versions are available.) You’ll need to take specific advice about the type of sling and interface (how it attaches to the track mechanism) required for an individual.

Single track systems take a patient to and from fixed points along a single straight, angled or curved track, whereas an X-Y system is a track positioned between two other parallel tracks thus allowing for use in any spot within the range of the tracks.

Finally, you’ll need to choose between an ‘installed’ and ‘gantry’ system. An installed system is permanent and will be subject to survey results. Indeed, if your property isn’t suitable a gantry can become a temporary or semi-permanent alternative.