Whilst you might think that you need to contact a contractor when attempting to create a stair design that is suited to the elderly, you might be surprised to find that you can use a number of interior design considerations to achieve this. Of course, the best solution is to let the elderly age gracefully in a single storey home, but this is not always possible – sometimes the home has been in the family for years and the elderly refuse to leave, other times they simply cannot afford to move. In these situations, it is best to remodel the stairs.
Keep an eye out for open houses in your local area, looking specifically for homes that are two storey or split level. Spend a Saturday going around to these houses, specifically to take a look at the stair design that they feature. If possible, take along your elderly parent or grandparent (whoever’s home you are remodeling) so that you can see the steps in action. More often than not, you will find that the stairs are completely unsuitable for the elderly to navigate safely; take note of all the features that make this the case.
If there are other elderly people touring the home at the same time you are, make sure that you keep an eye on how they go tackling the stairs; you must keep in mind that not all elderly people are the same and that they will often have different needs. Perhaps your parent suffers from severe arthritis that prevents them from moving quickly, or perhaps they are unable to grip handrails that are too square in shape or that are too close to the wall. If it helps, take a long a notebook to record your observations.
When it comes time to work on a stair design for your own home, it is important that you take a number of considerations into account that are integral to ensuring the safety of elderly users. The most important thing, for example, is that the flight features a handrail on both sides. If possible, these handrails should also extend past the top and bottom of the stairs and should be rounded on the ends for maximum grip. The ideal height for the handrails is between 34 and 38 inches above the treads.
You must also keep in mind that as a person ages their balance can be severely affected. Because of this, your handrails should have about an inch and a half of space between the rail and the wall, as this allows for an easier grip. You should also ensure that the height and length (or rise and run) of each tread is uniform, as this prevents an elderly user from miscalculating the distance and having a fall. Each tread should also possess a nosing that is rounded or sloped in nature and that does not protrude any further than one and a half inches.
Finally, the other interior design considerations that you must make when coming up with a stair design that meets the requirements of the elderly is the finish of the treads and the lighting in the stairway. Remember that balance and stability are improved by harder surfaces, so avoid settling on a polished timber finish, as this could pose a slipping hazard. You should also ensure that the stairs are adequately illuminated and that the user is able to turn them on and off from the top and bottom of the flight.