Low Rise Stairs For Seniors

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How To Increase Stair Safety For Seniors

Simple Stair Exercises | For Seniors

Elizabeth PT | Design, Modifications, Planning

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Stair safety for seniors is one of the biggest concerns for the elderly since most homes have steps of some kind. According to AARP, most older adults prefer to continue living at home as they age, so finding ways to make stairs safer is critical.

Although steps can be hazardous for anyone, they are especially dangerous for older adults and people with limited mobility. Age-related factors such as strength deficits, poor vision, chronic pain, impaired mobility, poor balance, and functional decline all increase risk of falls.

Thankfully, there are many ways to make a stairway safer for seniors so that you and your loved ones can live at home safely and independently.

Maximize stair safety for seniors with solutions such as sturdy stair railings and in-step lighting. Clearing clutter from steps also helps to improve senior safety on stairs.

Finding solutions to improve stair safety for seniors is a primary concern for those who want to Age in Place, as steps are one of the most problematic issues of living at home during ones Golden Years.

Steps are not only challenging to navigate but can be quite dangerous. Staircase remodels, and stair alternatives can be expensive.

How To Design Safe Functional Beautiful Stairs

Ive lived in homes with open wood staircases, sans railing. While I love the look, stairs like this are often an accident waiting to happen. Proper design should demand safe, functional, beautiful stairs in our homes. And meeting building code should be a minimum requirement.

All stairs feature treads and risers, but theyre definitely not created equally. Some have dizzying patterns or slippery surfaces. With the growth of tiny homes and small footprints, many homeowners are reverting back to the steep, ladder-like stairs that still grace some older homes.

Why is this a concern? With an ageing world population, the incidence of trips and falls on stairs is bound to increase if we dont improve our stairway design.

What can be done to create safe, functional, beautiful stairs in all spaces? Here are some key considerations.

Question: How Can I Shorten The Drop From Step To Step On My Stairs

4 July 2015 bonita said: I am no longer able to walk down stairs with the standard drop. How can I make my drop from step to step shorter?



When I’m no longer able to make it safely up and down stairs to my office I will probably install a chair lift – see STAIRWAY CHAIR LIFTS

The problem is this: you can indeed re-build a stairway to reduce the riser height but to do so the depth of each tread has to increase significantly too. That means that the entire run of the stairway will get much longer than it is now, perhaps double.

In the interior of most homes, doubling the run of a stairway between floors would be horribly expensive – if it would fit at all, or making a long stairway that winds or turns – taking more room in other dimensions.

I suspect that the cost of a stair rebuild indoors would be much higher than the cost of adding a stair lift.

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Other Financial Assistance And Payment Options

  • Other possible sources of assistance include low interests or conditional loans from state assistive technology programs. While all states have assistive technology programs , not every state has a loan program. Contact information for each states assistive technology program is available here. Some state programs also offer equipment lending programs. It is possible that some programs could have stair lifts available for long term borrowing. Of course, installation and customization costs would still exist.
  • If a family is retro-fitting an entire home to accommodate an elderly or disabled resident with other expensive modifications, such as wheelchair ramps and walk-in tubs, a reverse mortgage might be an option.
  • There may be other very localized financial assistance available as well. One should check with their local Area Agency on Aging.
  • Some stair lift manufacturers or resellers offer financing which can spread the cost of a stair lift over many months.
  • Should the cost of a stair lift come out of pocket, it is tax deductible as a Medical and Dental Expense.

Improves Mental And Emotional Health

Adjustable Rehabilitation Steps

Another risk that comes with old age is deteriorating mental health. People in their late 60s to 80s have a high risk of memory loss, dementia, Alzheimers, and other brain-related complications.

Studies have shown a correlation between exercise and improved brain health this happens in three ways.

  • first, physical activity, which you can achieve by walking and climbing stairs, increases the amount of blood pumped into the brain in doing this, your brain gets the necessary oxygen and nutrients, which helps you think clearly
  • secondly, physical activity helps expand the size of your hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory
  • finally, it helps improve the nerve connections in your brain, boosting your memory and preventing injury and brain disease

That is not all, since thirty minutes of walking or climbing stairs can help you overcome other emotional issues like bad moods, anxiety and depression, ADHD, and PTSD.

Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin enzymes, and other chemicals that improve our moods and energize our spirit. For example, a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that walking could help you reduce the risk of major depression by 26 %.

In addition, exercising this way helps relieve body tension and stops the impact of negative distractions.

These, in turn, promote calmness, improve your wellbeing and mental sharpness, and reduce the risk of degenerative brain diseases.

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Spiral And Helical Stairs

This article or section appears to contradict itself on the difference between spiral and helical stairs. Please see the talk page for more information.

Spiral stairs, sometimes referred to in architectural descriptions as vice, wind around a newel . In Scottish architecture, they are commonly known as a turnpike stair. They typically have a handrail on the outer side only, and on the inner side just the central pole. A squared spiral stair assumes a square stairwell and expands the steps and railing to a square, resulting in unequal steps . A pure spiral assumes a circular stairwell and the steps and handrail are equal and positioned screw-symmetrically. A tight spiral stair with a central pole is very space efficient in the use of floor area.

Spiral stairs have the disadvantage of being very steep if they are tight or are otherwise not supported by a centre column, for two reasons:

The term “spiral” has a more narrow definition in a mathematical context, as a mathematical spiral lies in a single plane and moves towards or away from a central point. The mathematical term for motion where the locus remains at a fixed distance from a fixed line whilst moving in a circular motion about it is “helical“. The presence or otherwise of a central pole does not affect the terminology applied to the design of the structure.

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Improve Or Add Stair Treads

Make sure stair treads are in good condition and are well secured.

For open tread stairs, consider adding a rear tread. If a rear tread is present, make sure it is secure.

When treads are loose, secure them. If any nails are sticking out, make sure to hammer them flat.

Wood, tile, or cement steps are slippery and require skid resistance on the stair treads. There are a variety of ways to add slip resistance.

  • Use adhesive strips or anti-slip tape to provide traction.
  • Apply a surface treatment to give the steps a rough texture. Heres a tutorial for anti-slip paint treatment.
  • Install rubber stair treads, carpeted treads, or stair carpeting. Always choose non-slippery carpet material.

Purchasing Used Stair Lifts

Senior & Beginner Workout – Walking Workout 25 minutes 2800 steps!

Unlike many home medical products, purchasing a stair lift used makes good sense. The designed lifespan for most stair lifts is approximately ten years, and the average stair lift is only used in the home for three years. For those paying out of pocket, buying used can save 25% 50% off of purchasing the product new. Buyers can expect a product price of between $500 and $1,500 for a used stair lift. It should be emphasized that unless one is buying from a professional refurbisher, this price very likely does not include installation.

One challenge, when buying used, is with curved staircases. It is much easier to match a straight staircase stair lift to a different house. With curved staircases, very few are exactly alike and buyers may be required to purchase additional pieces of track from the manufacturer to make the stair lift fit their home.

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Stair Building Code And Tread Requirements & Compliance With Building Standards

Stair code requirements vary slightly between commercial and residential buildings. When beginning construction on a new building or doing renovations on an existing structure, it is important to be familiar with the different regulations and inspector practice. This includes ensuring that the correct dimensions are being used, based on the type of building or home. This applies to both an interior or exterior stair. The International Code Council supervises many various codes, including two which are specific to stairs.

Building Code For Stairs

Whether you are building new stairs or renovating old stairways, it is important to understand applicable stair codes. Codes vary by type of stair . In this article, building codes for stairs will be broken down to give a general understanding of stair code requirements. Remember to check your local building codes for stair specifications to ensure proper compliance.

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Improves Bones And Muscle Health

Conditions like osteoporosis affect older adults the most. Bone and muscle loss are some of the biggest problems for older adults. The loss of muscle reduces your strength and further makes you susceptible to bone loss.

Ive written an article on do you lose muscle mass after 40?

Weakened bones increase the risk of bone fractures, which is why seniors are more susceptible to hip fractures.

Bone mass density peaks between 25 -30 years of age, and from there, your bone density starts decreasing, and they get weaker as you age. To help prevent osteoporosis, you have to engage in regular physical activity, which is challenging for most older adults.

One study found that by walking 30 minutes daily, seniors could reduce the risk of hip fracture by 40%. Climbing stairs, which is more intensive than walking, has even more significant benefits.

Walking and climbing stairs place your body weight against gravity creating the resistance needed to promote bone and muscle growth.

If youre looking for other exercises to help with osteoporosis, Ive written an article Is Resistance Training Good for Osteoporosis?

Advantages Of Straight Stairs:

Portable Folding Step For Elderly
  • Straight stairs tend to be the easiest to go up and down, or, ascend/descend, as we say in the industry.
  • They are typically the easiest to build, however, this depends a lot on the level of detail in the design.
  • Straight stairs only need to be connected at the top and the bottom .
  • They work well with minimalist designed homes due to their inherent simplicity.
  • No landing is required if the number of risers is kept under 16 or the overall vertical height is less than 12 feet.
  • Its relatively easy to build railings and handrails for straight stairs.
  • Measuring for railings for straight stairs is simpler than for other stair designs.

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How Many Types Of Staircases Are There

Staircases can be designed in an almost endless combination of different forms and types to best fit the space, function, and aesthetic of your project. Different types of stairs architecture provide different kinds of visual appeal and also take up varying amounts of space. Some types of stairs are more common in residences, while others are more commonly seen in commercial or industrial settings.

Staircase design can range from a simple straight bolted access stair case to a grand bifurcated or split staircase featured in elegant homes and buildings. Even the parts of a staircase can vary depending on the function or style. For example, instead of a standard riser , an open riser can be used to provide a more open and spacious look. Different types of stair treads, such as wood, glass, tile, or steel, can affect both the function and the visual appeal of the stairs.

Bottom line. The kind of stair and the shape of the stair must fit the space requirements and the function of the staircase. The stair and tread style depends on the architecture and design of the project.

Straight Stairs With Top Landing

This version of the straight stair has a landing at the top of the staircase extending to the floor. With the landing at the top, the stair can run parallel to the floor for added flexibility of the stair arrangement.

Straight stairs with top landing applications

Straight stairs with top landings can be used in commercial and residential buildings and are very common for industrial equipment access, mezzanine stairs, and loading dock stairs.

Straight stair with top landing advantages and disadvantages


Give the designer flexibility to position the stair flight parallel to the floor or extend out beyond the floor.


The extra landing is an extra cost over a simple straight stair design.

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Modifying Stairs For The Elderly

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Whether your own home has 2 steps or an entire staircase of steps, indoors or outdoors, if you are an older person, its important to make the necessary changes to make those steps as safe as as they can be to reduce the risk of accidents.

What is needed for modifying stairs for the elderly? The 5 main components to make stairs safer for senior citizens are:

  • making the steps non-slippery
  • adaptive equipment as needed
  • remove any clutter on the steps
  • There are several ways that you or the family members of elderly people can modify staircases to make them more senior friendly.

    Sometimes a couple of small changes can reduce the risk of falling, other times several new safety measures are needed it just depends on the physical and cognitive status of the older individuals you are trying to make the stairs safer for.

    Alternating Tread Stairs Or ‘witches Stairs’

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    Where there is insufficient space for the full run length of normal stairs, alternating tread stairs may be used. Alternating tread stairs allow for a safe forward-facing descent of very steep stairs. The treads are designed such that they alternate between treads for each foot: one step is wide on the left side the next step is wide on the right side. There is insufficient space on the narrow portion of the step for the other foot to stand, hence the person must always use the correct foot on the correct step. The slope of alternating tread stairs can be as high as 65 degrees as opposed to standard stairs, which are almost always less than 45 degrees. The advantage of alternating tread stairs is that people can descend face forward. The only other alternative in such short spaces would be a ladder which requires backward-facing descent. Alternating tread stairs may not be safe for small children, the elderly or the physically challenged. Building codes typically classify them as ladders and will only allow them where ladders are allowed, usually basement or attic utility or storage areas not frequently accessed.

    Alternating tread stairs have been in use since at least 1888.

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    Reader Question: How Do I Design An Outdoor Stair For A Low Slope Long Run Situation

    Perhaps one of the experts here could give advise on this. What are the rules for a low angle staircase? I am planning an exterior staircase on a slope too steep for a ramp.

    My rise is 78 in. over 28 ft. and there is additional room for a landing at top and bottom. I am considering 3 ½â risers and 16â treads .

    What rules-of-thumb should I follow to build a comfortable walk-able low angle staircase?

    If there is some formula to the ideal cadence I would form this in concrete in order to achieve it

    . I do not want to feel like I am taking âbaby stepsâ or alternately taking a âstep-and-a-halfâ all the way up and down. – Tom 6/23/12

    Our photo illustrates construction of a low-slope stairway located in the “Jewish Quarter” in Girona, Spain. These steps are several hundred years old, are worn, and have a bit of a slope to them.

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