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How To Get An Elderly Person Up The Stairs

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Your elderly parent(s) may be aging in place in their homes, or they may be moving in with you or a sibling.  Both of those are great options for many seniors.  But what if the particular house is multi level?  What if there are several steps to the entrance or to get to the backyard?

The question then is, how to get an elderly person up the stairs? – Using a safety belt and walking by the side of someone with a cane should work well.  If using a walker, I recommend to switch to a cane for safety.  If in a wheelchair, although one person could do the job, I recommend, if possible to have two people just in case.

I just want you to know that getting an older person up (and down) a staircase is a combination of both technique and equipment.  So, let’s get to it.

In this article we’ll go over the following:

  • How to help someone using a cane up and down the stairs
  • How to help someone using a walker up and down the stairs
  • How to help someone in a wheelchair up and down the stairs

How To Make Stairs Easier For Elderly Adults

These products listed below can help to make most any set of stairs easier for elderly adults and also can help caregivers to provide the elderly stairs assistance that their senior loved ones need.

Safety Gait BeltI used safety belts exactly like this with my patients for years. They are comfortable and extremely safe to use.

Stair TreadsOne of the easiest and least expensive things to do for your safety is to install stair treads on your indoor or outdoor steps.

Patterned Stair TreadsDress up your staircase with any variety of patterned stair treads.  There’s a large variety to choose from.

Stair Tread StripsThese clear strips will provide you with the non-slip functionality without interfering with the decor of your room.

Handi TreadsPerfect for outdoor use. These aluminum non-slip treads are built not to rust or wear out.

How To Help Someone Up The Stairs With A Cane

If your elderly loved one can stand and walk / take steps and they use a standard cane or quad cane then the best options for helping them up a stairway is…

  • To use a belt (or gait belt like this one on Amazon that I used as an Occupational Therapist) around their waist.  I like these types of belts because they are wide enough that if the user were to stumble or fall, the grasp and pull on the belt would not dig into their skin and harm them.
  • Ask the person you are helping to place one hand on the handrail of the staircase.
  • Their cane will be in their other hand.
  • Position yourself on their weaker side (which is usually the side they are holding the cane in).
  • Ask the person you are helping to put their stronger leg up on the step first while keeping the cane on the floor (or lower step).
  • Then they would put their weaker leg up on the step (still keeping the cane on the floor or lower step).
  • Once both legs are on the higher step, they would then bring the cane up to the same step they are standing on.

These videos below of my beautiful mom-in-law demonstrates the main points.

She doesn’t normally use any type of assistive device currently but she did a while ago, so in these videos she is just demonstrating how to properly use a cane. But because she is so independent, my brother in law felt he could leave her on the steps to tend to the camera. I caution you NOT to do that!

But the videos will give you the basic idea of what to do to safely help your loved one. I recommend that you walk your senior loved one up and down the full set of stairs!

How To Help Someone Down The Stairs With A Cane

The process for going down the stairs with a cane is similar but there are a few noted differences..

  • Again, make sure the person has a belt around their waist that you will be holding on to – or better yet a gait belt like I mentioned above.
  • Again, you should be positioned on their weaker side.
  • They should be holding on to the handrail with one hand and the cane in their other hand.
  • This time, to go down the stairs, they should place the cane on the lower step first…
  • Then they should step down with their weaker leg and then…
  • They can step down with their stronger leg.

Robin wrote an article titled How Does A Cane Help You Walk? It’s got some great information in there not only about canes but how she convinced her elderly father (who was refusing to use a cane) to eventually begin using one.

If the person you are caring for has had a stroke – the instructions would be the same (depending of course on their level of ambulation) but check out this video in which two physical therapists do a great job in showing you what to do.

How To Help Someone Up Or Down The Stairs With A Walker

Although there is a specific technique that caregivers and physical therapists use for going up and down stairs with a walker – when it comes to doing this with an elderly person I would recommend not to. You can see a video here of the procedure.

I would encourage you to instead, use a cane. It’s lighter , easier and safer for you and the person you are helping.

How To Get Someone In A Wheelchair Up The Stairs

Going up a staircase or outdoor stairs with a wheelchair can be done by one person, if necessary but it’s recommended that two people assist in the process for optimal safety. Depending on how heavy the person in the wheelchair is and how strong the person helping is.

Here are the steps on how to help your aging parent or loved one up the stairs if they are wheelchair bound.

  • Remove any extra weight from the wheelchair such as a backpack.  Bring those items upstairs.
  • Some wheelchairs have additional tippers in the back, remove those as well and bring them upstairs.
  • Make sure the breaks are unlocked.
  • Position the wheelchair so the back faces the steps and the person helping is on the steps with both hands on the wheelchair handles.
  • The second person should be in front of the wheelchair holding on to the frame of the footrests.
  • It’s important that the person helping use a wide stance (feet on several steps) and perhaps squat down or kneel while pulling the wheelchair up so that they use the muscles in their legs vs. the muscles in their back and possibly injure themselves.
  • Both persons helping must communicate with each other to coordinate each pull up onto each step.
  • Before each pull up the step, the person in the back of the chair must push down on the handles, tipping the chair (and the person in it) back several degrees.

It’s important to note that if your senior loved one is suffering from any form of dementia, the act of being tipped back to any extent may cause them to become frightened, anxious and perhaps even combative.  If they are able to comprehend enough what is happening, an explanation of what will be happening may help.

But if they are not able to understand what is being done, the person in front of the wheelchair must be prepared to try to calm the senior down or possibly restrain them enough so that they don’t injure themselves in the process.

TIP: there are also mobile stairlifts (sort of like a wheelchair with caterpillar treads on it) that are portable and great for getting someone up or down the stairs.

How To Get Someone In A Wheelchair Down The Stairs

The process for going down a stairway or steps with an elderly person in a wheelchair is the same as going up – except this time, the wheelchair is facing towards the direction it’s going (which is the bottom of the stairs).

Here’s a video showing you both of these methods.

How To Make Stairs More Safe

In addition to the techniques that I mentioned above, there are other things that you can do to make the steps themselves safer for seniors.

There are 3 main things that you can do to make your steps as safe as possible:

  • Anti-slip steps – You may think that making steps less slippery would entail a lot of money and/or a lot of time. The truth is, it’s neither. There are many different solutions to this problem. They include stair treads which these days come in the form of tape, carpet and rubber. You can also use non-skid floor coating paint. There are many different varieties and brands of each of these so take a moment a look through the ones that I recommend.
  • Handrails – It seems logical that stairs would have handrails but this is not necessarily always the case. So, if your stairway happens to have no handrails, please install them for the safety of your senior loved one. Also, handrails on both sides of the stairs would be optimal if you can possibly do it.
  • Lighting – If your parent is aging in place, it’s most likely that they are living in an older home. It’s very common for stairways in these homes to have little to no lighting. There are many different types of lighting you could add to your staircase, it just depends on how much you can spend.

Implementing these three (or at the very least one or two of them) will greatly reduce the chances of a fall which could save not only the cost of medical treatments and rehab – but could save their life.

The Stair Lift Option

Of course, if a stair lift product was installed, that would be the safest possible solution overall. But with the average price of a stair lift ranging anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 and then going up to $10,000 if you have a curved staircase, the possibility of adding such a product is very cost prohibitive for many homeowners.

Medicare does not pay for stair lifts but they may pay for a portion of it. Medicaid is different in each state so I cannot give you an answer if the Medicaid program in your state would pay for a stair lift product.

Click here for a list that I put together of phone numbers for each state’s Medicaid program.

You can read more about Stair lifts in my article Are Stair Lifts Safe? I go over some of the great features to look for in a stair lift product to maximize their safety.

The Home Elevator Option

Another possible option for seniors or disabled adults living in multi-level homes is the installation of an in-home elevator.

Although these can be more expensive than a stair lift, they have many more wonderful benefits to make life easier and safer.

Read more about residential elevators here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to use a quad cane on stairs?

The use of quad canes on stairs is the same as standard canes.  You can read more about quad canes in our article on Quad Cane vs. Regular Cane – Which Is Better

Is climbing stairs good for elderly?

Stair climbing can be a great way for seniors to get exercise, provided their physician has cleared them for this activity. In fact, a 2019 study by Hongu, et al, reports that stair climbing is a good way to add exercise into daily living.

Are carpeted stairs safer than wood?

In general, carpeted stairs are safer than wood because they are padded, which helps to cushion a fall. However, carpeted stairs do have some drawbacks for the elderly who might have problems visually distinguishing the edge of a step from the edge of the next platform. We answer this question in more detail in our article, Modifying Stairs For The Elderly.

Do You Have Ideas For How To Get An Elderly Person Up The Stairs?

We love it when readers have come up with a new way of approaching a challenge like getting a senior loved one up the stairs! If you have a novel approach or would like to share a tip to help others tackle the stairs, please share your tips with us.

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