How to modify stairs for safety

Stair rods keeping stair carpets in place

Worried about your relative’s safety and mobility at home, but don’t want them to have to lose their independence? Nick Acaster, from Stair Rods Direct, explains how you can modify your loved one’s staircase to make it safer for them.

For people in later life, climbing and descending stairs can be quite challenging, with chronic pain, eyesight problems, and a general loss of mobility all increasing the chances of a fall or accident. And, if your relative is living at home but starting to become less mobile, it can be a big worry — especially if you can’t be there in person to help care for them all the time.

But that doesn’t mean that an older person should have to give up their home and independence. By making some adjustments to their stairs, you can help make them much safer, giving you both peace of mind. In this article, I’ll share my top tips for modifying an older person’s home to help them stay safe while remaining independent.

Install non-slip flooring

The first thing to consider is the type of flooring on the staircase. Carpet runners may bunch up or slip out of place, which can increase the risk of a fall. So, while they might look stylish, they’re best avoided in an older person’s home. The safest option is usually a laminate or vinyl floor with some non-slip strips, or a fitted carpet with a low pile.

If you decide to go for carpet, make sure that it is securely fitted and kept in good condition, as this will help to reduce the chances of it coming loose and creating a tripping hazard.

Install two handrails

In a home for an older person who is becoming less mobile, it’s important that all staircases have a handrail on both sides. The handrail should run consistently from the bottom step all the way to the top, with no gaps. These railings should be of a size and shape that make it easy for your relative to grip onto — smooth, rounded handrails with no raised accents are best. The railing should be sturdy and securely fitted, so it doesn’t wobble, and it should be installed at an appropriate height — some people may need it lowering if they have gotten a little smaller as they’ve grown older.

Use contrasting colours

For older people with eyesight problems, it can be difficult to see where one step ends and the next one starts. So, consider using contrasting colours to make the edge of each stair more clearly visible. For example, you could edge each step with a strip of brightly coloured paint to make it stand out clearly.

Ensure the stairway is well-lit

Poor lighting can make it even harder for people with vision problems to safely navigate the stairs. So, it’s absolutely essential to make sure that the stairway is properly lit using plenty of bright overhead lighting. Remember to make sure that there are light switches at the top and bottom of the staircase, and that these are easy to find and use. Larger light switches that have been designed with accessibility in mind can make things easier and safer for people with Parkinson’s or joint issues in their hands.

It’s also a good idea to choose light fittings with multiple bulbs: not only will they provide brighter illumination but, if one bulb blows, there should still be enough light until it can be safely replaced.

Keep the stairs clear

It can be all too easy to leave a few bits and bobs on the stairs to take up with us later — it’s something we all do. But, leaving things lying on the staircase can be a serious tripping hazard, especially for a person who has mobility issues or eyesight problems. So, you should talk to your relative and try to find a way to help them avoid this.

One solution could be to place a basket in an out-of-the-way spot in the hallway, where they can place things that need to be taken upstairs during the day. A relative or carer can then take the basket up for them during their visit.

Reconsider the layout of their home

One of the safest ways to help reduce the chances of an accident on the stairs is to reduce the amount of time your relative needs to spend on them. So, it’s well worth thinking about whether there are any other changes that could be made to their home to help cut the number of trips up the stairs they need to make.

For instance, you and your relative could consider moving the master bedroom downstairs, if you have space. Or, if the only bathroom is located upstairs, you could install a toilet somewhere on the ground floor. These changes are a bit more drastic than the other modifications I’ve outlined here, but they can be used as a last resort to help ensure an older person retains their independence.

Install a stairlift where possible

If your loved one has quite severe mobility issues and is no longer confident in their ability to use stairs unaided, you could consider installing a stairlift. While this may present a significant upfront cost, these are a very effective solution for older people who are unable to climb stairs safely, and they can greatly increase their independence. So, if your relative is keen to continue living in their own home for a long time, this can be an excellent solution that’s well worth the investment.

Modern stairlifts are increasingly streamlined, meaning they can be installed in homes of almost any size and layout. Plus, they can be installed very quickly (often in a single day), keeping disruption to a minimum and ensuring that your relative doesn’t need to move out of their home for any length of time.

While it isn’t possible to make stairs completely risk-free, there are steps you can take to make them much safer for older people, so they can continue to live in the home they know and love. Please be aware that this information is only intended as a guide, and you should always consult a care professional if you have any doubts about care provision for an older person.