The alternatives to buying a stairlift

By Chris Clayton

There are some alternatives to installing or buying yourself a stairlift for your house, that you can consider, but unfortunately none of them is ideal.

Getting a stairlift, but not buying one

The first option you have is getting a stairlift installed, but not paying for it (or not paying for all of it) yourself. Some people will be entitled to getting a stairlift installed by the government. In the UK this is through local councils, while in the US this is normally through the Medicaid programme.

Whether you are entitled or not to full or partial assistance towards the installation of a stairlift in your home mainly depends on your income and your level of disability. Once you have applied for getting a stairlift through the council or Medicaid programme, you will be assessed to see if you meet their criteria for assistance.

Unfortunately, due to bureaucracy it normally takes many months and a lot of paperwork from applying to getting funding for or getting a stairlift installed. Also, a high proportion of people's application are rejected (around 30%) because they don't meet the criteria.

I would recommend that if you are on a low income or the need for getting a stairlift isn't urgent (you can still manage getting up and down the stairs) that you consider this option first. Contact your council or Medicaid for details of the criteria they use to see if you will be entitled for help or not and ask them how long it will take for installation if you application is successful.

Handrails on both sides of the stairs

If you only have a little difficulty getting up and down the stairs, getting handrails attached to both sides of the stairs may be an alternative to installing a stairlift. It is no surprise to learn that this will be a lot cheaper than getting a stairlift.

But for most people who have reached the point of considering to get a stairlift, having two handrails is probably not going to be enough I'm afraid. If you are considering this option, I recommend that you contact a health professional to see if this is an appropriate option for you to take.

Living downstairs

I'm sure you've thought about this already. Living on just one floor is in theory a good (and for some people a cheap) option for anyone who is having major problems using the stairs. Having everything on one floor, makes it easier and safer to move around. But whether this option is suitable (or the best to go for) depends on the house and the opinion of the person who struggles on the stairs to not being able to easily have access to half of their house.

If the house already has both bathroom facilities (a toilet and a shower/bath) and a room which can be converted into a bedroom downstairs, then it will be cheaper than getting a stairlift installed and something you should consider doing. If there is a room that can be converted into a bedroom, but no bathroom facilities, it will end up costing you a lot more to get those installed than getting a stairlift.

Adding an actual lift/elevator

Instead of installing a stairlift, you could fit a type of lift which moves vertically between the floors of the house (like a normal lift/elevator). A 'vertical platform lift' (that's what they are called) is a type of lift/elevator that is designed to be installed in normal houses. Although these types of lifts/elevators are normally bought by wheelchair users who want to move both themselves and their wheelchair between the floors of their house, they can have a seat added to be used by non-wheelchair users.

Unfortunately, these are far from ideal and not possible in some houses. Not only are they are very expensive (you are looking at paying at least £10,000/$13,000 to fit one), but you'll also have to get a section of the floor upstairs removed (so the lift can move between the floors). Unlike with a stairlift, this means that major structural changes will need to be made to your house to install one.

Moving house

The last option you have, is to move to a property which is suitable for someone who struggles with the stairs. There are plenty of options available to choose from (some purposely designed for people with restricted mobility and others not). But the best would be a bungalow (a house with only one floor) or a flat/apartment.

But even though they will make every day life easier (with everything being on one floor), it is a very drastic solution to take for overcoming a problem with using the stairs.

In conclusion

I wish I could tell you there was a good alternative to getting a stairlift, but I honestly can't. Buying a stairlift can be expensive, but in most cases (apart from adding two handrails), it'll be cheaper and less disruptive to your life than any of the alternatives.

If the reason for not wanting a stairlift is a financial one, then you should see if you are entitled for full or partial help for paying for it from the government. If you are not or not willing to wait to get one (it will take you many months to get one or the financial assistance in paying for one from the government), then unfortunately you'll have to buy one.

But there are some things which you can do (like getting quotes from different companies) to substantially reduce how much you'll end up paying for it. To learn how to do this, read my article on 'Lowering the price you pay for a stairlift'.