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Old 02-10-2020, 05:26 PM
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Are there any ways to make a basement staircase safer for an elderly couple


My parents (early 70s) live in a house with a basement, basement has a cement floor.

They had a handrail installed a few years ago for when they go up and down.

Are there any other safety precautions they can add?

Can some kind of padding be added to the floor at the bottom of the staircase in case one of them falls, or would that not really make a difference?
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Old 02-10-2020, 05:36 PM
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An absolutely sure way to eliminate all the danger of a set of steps is to have an electric chair lift installed. I had one installed a year ago here (from the first to the second floor) and I don't know how I ever got along without it. Mine was rather pricey, as it required a 180 degree bend at a landing half way up. A straight shot would have been much easier.

About fifty years ago my father installed one going from the basement to the first floor, and it didn't require any fancy bends. He and my mother lived in that house for probably another twenty years.

I will advise that if your parents install one of these things they'll never regret it. And if grandkids visit they'll treat it like a carnival ride.

Last edited by Daylate; 02-10-2020 at 05:39 PM.
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Old 02-10-2020, 05:38 PM
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Is it a "finished basement" where they hang out, or just to store stuff and do laundry/if they're going downstairs to do laundry, is it possible to bring it up to the main floor? But yeah, if its rickety fix it, pad and carpet it.
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Old 02-10-2020, 05:40 PM
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An addendum. I was 89 years old when I had mine installed. Should have done it twenty years earlier.
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Old 02-10-2020, 05:41 PM
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You have to use the chairlift, though, and from what I've seen, they're very slow. So if the OP's parents are still ambulatory, they may choose to try walking up and down without it. The OP mentions that a handrail was added but I'd have one on each side. And what's in the basement anyhow? Can you minimize the number of times they need to get down there? (For my parents' house, the big thing is the washer/dryer is still down there, but I've been pushing them to install another set on the main floor.)
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Old 02-10-2020, 05:42 PM
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An addendum. I was 89 years old when I had mine installed. Should have done it twenty years earlier.
Username/post combo.


mmm
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Old 02-10-2020, 05:44 PM
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Low-tek, but maybe important, and cheap...put slip resistant tread on stair-steps.
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Old 02-10-2020, 05:49 PM
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Check the local building code for stairs. They don't just make those codes to piss us off, but generally are safety related. Make sure the rise/run is correct and with a landing half way so if a fall happens it won't be a full flight, or if a weak/dizzy spell happens it's may be a shorter trip to a safe area. Also make sure there is proper lighting, possibly emergency lighting.
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Old 02-10-2020, 05:57 PM
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You have to use the chairlift, though,
Not so. The arms and the seat of the chair fold up so that most of the remaining stair is available for manual transportation while the chair is not actually being used. Pretty slick. I'll admit that the lift is not the fastest thing in the world, but my knees don't care a bit about the slow speed.

I timed the chair - it takes exactly 56 seconds from to to bottom to the top (or vice versa). It would be faster if there weren't the 180 degree bend - it does slow down a bit there while whipping around the corner. ("Whipping" is a bit of an exaggeration, actually.)
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Old 02-10-2020, 06:05 PM
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Not so. The arms and the seat of the chair fold up so that most of the remaining stair is available for manual transportation while the chair is not actually being used. Pretty slick. I'll admit that the lift is not the fastest thing in the world, but my knees don't care a bit about the slow speed.
I think that Dewey Finn's post was less "if you put in a chair lift, you *must* use it to go up and down stairs, as the stairs are otherwise unnavigable" and more "a chair lift is safer, but only if your parents actually *use* it."

Another vote for another handrail on the other side as a simple fix. My father broke his hip just over a year ago, and while he's recovered very well, he's 86, and not entirely steady on his feet. My parents live in a two-story house, and the bedroom (and the house's only bath/shower) is on the second floor. They put in a second rail, on the other side of the stairwell, and my father and mother both feel much more confident in using the stairs now.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 02-10-2020 at 06:07 PM.
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Old 02-10-2020, 06:13 PM
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First I'd ask if the basement was necessary. If they just use it to do laundry, pay the money to have the laundry moved upstairs.

If they have to go up and down, the non-slip treads are a good idea, as well as a very solid handrail. If there's a landing, you might want to make sure it has extra rails, so if there is a fall, they don't go over off the landing. You might consider some foam utility mats around the bottom. They are inexpensive, and pretty low-profile so they wouldn't be a trip hazard.

I have seen ads for this stair-climbing aid, but there isn't a way to free your hands while using it. That seems inconvenient to me.

For the chair-lifts, the nice thing about that is if there's a load to carry, you can sit it on the seat and let the chair lift carry it for you.

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Old 02-10-2020, 06:17 PM
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Thanks for the replies so far.

Basement is unfinished, and somewhat necessary, but not as much as is currently being used. Main purposes of the basement are for laundry (washer/dryer are down there), and obtaining food since a full size freezer and pantry are down there. Since they usually are carrying food or laundry when going up/down, I don't know if a second handrail will help.

The freezer could be moved to the garage, and the washer/dryer could be moved to the ground floor.

However they'd still need to go down now and again since they use the basement for storage, their water softener is down there (although I'm the one that gets the salt and fills it since my dad is getting old and has trouble with that).

I've thought about a chair, but right now they are both healthy enough that they can get up and down by themselves. My worry is that one of them will fall down the stairs and get a serious injury.
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Old 02-10-2020, 06:42 PM
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We have a straight flight of stairs to our basement, and like the OP, the floor down there is slab. I've got a hand rail on the left side going down, but when I take baskets of laundry, I back down, resting the basket on the steps on the way down. I figure if I miss a step, I'll just fall forward into the dirty clothes.

I'm 66, and I still manage the stairs well, tho I'm very aware when descending. If it gets to a point where I think the stairs are unsafe, we'll probably look into moving the laundry stuff upstairs. But I look at my mom - she's 86 and she still carries baskets of wet clothes from the basement to her clotheslines. So I figure I'm good for another 20 years at least.Dunno if I can say the same for my spousal unit, but he doesn't usually have to go there.
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Old 02-10-2020, 07:03 PM
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Since they usually are carrying food or laundry when going up/down, I don't know if a second handrail will help.
Well when you start to fall you can drop the stuff you are carrying and grab onto both railings.

I suggest moving the washer and dryer upstairs.

Do they really need a freezer? Lots of people get along without one.
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Old 02-10-2020, 07:51 PM
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I'd move the laundry and freezer upstairs. Laundry is done every couple days, and the more trips that are made, the higher probability that sooner or later there will be an incident. Better to make the changes than regret waiting. For storage and other things, they can wait for help. Going up and down to get Christmas decorations once a year, or pull out winter clothes, etc.

Considering how an older person's health rapidly declines after a serious fall, an ounce of prevention, etc.

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Old 02-10-2020, 08:08 PM
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Yeah, the freezer is necessary. They like to buy food in bulk and have a full size one which I assume is 20-30 cubic feet, and its mostly full.

However my grandparents when they were alive had a freezer in their garage. That kind of setup could possibly work for my parents.

Right now its not an issue, both of them can go up and down stairs. But I worry about 5+ years from now and I worry about a fall.
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Old 02-10-2020, 08:32 PM
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<cool story bro>

My father in law had reached his early 90's, decided he should put a chair lift down to his basement stairs. As a retired engineer, he never bought anything new or had it professionally installed, not when he could buy something broken and old which he could fix. (The constant need for tweaking and repairs is a feature to him, not a bug.) So he found some house being remodeled which was getting rid of their own chair lift, had it sent to his house and installed it himself.

And yes, we tried to talk him out of it, offered to buy a new one and pay for it ourselves... if you've never encountered the stubbornness of a guy who's survived the dust bowl, the CCC camps of the great depression, and four years in the army during World War 2, well, you'll just have to take my word for it, there's no winning that argument.

The main problem with this thing is that the motor had burned out. FIL solved this by removing the motor and adapting the gears to work with his high powered cordless drill. Now when he wants to go downstairs, he gets his drill, sits on the seat, shoves the drill into the side and *whizzz*, down he goes with a giant grin on his face. He's immensely proud of this thing and brags about it to everybody.

That was five years ago, he's in his late 90's now, still uses the damn thing, still brags about it.

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Old 02-10-2020, 11:52 PM
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Definitely make sure there are non-slip treads (carpet on stairs is bad) and handrails on both sides.

Also make sure there is good lighting. Many falls are due to not being able to see the floor/steps correctly. Consider enhancing the stair edges to make sure they are clearly defined.

Strongly encourage them to put the washer, dryer and freezer upstairs. Carrying things and stairs is not a good combination.

Remind them, a fall down the stairs could be game over. That means moving into a retirement home.

Which brings the next question. Have they thought of moving and what they will do? My parents are in their late 70s are are talking about this. They like their house, but it's not possible to access without stairs, and my mother's already slowing down.
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Old 02-11-2020, 03:23 AM
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If a chairlift is not feasible, I have a couple suggestions.

We built our single-level house in our 50s, preparing for aging, designing the outdoors front-side-back stairs with a wide tread and low rise, with handrails on both sides, and sandy friction paint on the steps for traction. If indoors, we'd have padded everything within range, and still have gone with wide tread and low rise steps, which do take more horizontal space. Can your parents' basement stairs be extended for easier, safer climbing?

My aunt, a polio survivor, found a most unusual (for southern California) modest suburban house with a basement for furnace, laundry, and freezer. A dumbwaiter let her move loads up and down without straining her weakened hands and limbs. Could an electric dumbwaiter be installed in your parents' house? Then they could grip both handrails for safety and support.

My wife and I have just finished physical therapy after trauma-induced orthopedic surgeries. The best way to avoid future trauma is MINDFULNESS a.k.a SITUATIONAL AWARENESS. We can no longer move thoughtlessly; we must look and plan. But we can't always be alert. Maybe we should be bubble-wrapped for safety.
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Old 02-11-2020, 04:13 AM
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If your parents are ever alone in the house (e.g. one is shopping or visiting a friend etc.), I recommend a personal alarm.
You can wear it round your neck or on your wrist. It means if you need help, you only have to press a button on the device. The company will first phone you, then alert an agreed keyholder or emergency services as appropriate.
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Old 02-11-2020, 05:24 AM
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My parents (early 70s) live in a house with a basement, basement has a cement floor.

They had a handrail installed a few years ago for when they go up and down.

Are there any other safety precautions they can add?

Can some kind of padding be added to the floor at the bottom of the staircase in case one of them falls, or would that not really make a difference?
Urrrrgh. Sounds like the stair in the basement of the place my father's family lived. Aunt/Uncle on top floor, Granpa/Grandma on ground floor.
Grandma broke bones on that staircase several times. After they both got old and died, my aunt and uncle eventually grew older and they both had various bad accidents on that same damn stair. Damn thing was the curse of the family.

Steep, deep treads, concrete, solid concrete walls with handrails, leading to a concrete floor.

Go up and down it for decades and think nothing of it, then eventually muscles get older and wobblier, reflexes and balance deteriorate and the thing gradually morphs into a killer. But of course it's still "just the stairs, I've been up and down them a thousand times".

The slightest mishap and avoiding injury requires a rapid accurate grab onto the handrail with sufficient strength to arrest a fall, which isn't necessarily easy for someone elderly, especially since they will often be carrying something. Once a fall is underway there is nothing within reach to arrest the fall. Padding the stairs just makes them easier to trip on. Padding the bottom will potentially help reduce some injury (especially from a fall on the bottom steps) but won't reduce damage from tumbling down the stair treads.

Stairlift or a ground floor extension/utility room/garage are the only real solutions, IMHO.
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Old 02-11-2020, 05:53 AM
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All the advice given is good. I want to add my 2 cents: use the handrail at all times.

Ten years ago I tripped on a curb because I was in a hurry and not paying attention, and I fell and broke my ankle. I had surgery, and I learned my lesson that day.

I'm 71, totally ambulatory, and live alone in a one-story house. I do have steps on my front porch. EVERY TIME I go up or down those steps, I use the handrail and take it slowly and with awareness of where my feet are. Any time I go up or down steps anywhere and there is a handrail, I use it. Every single time. No matter what safety device you install, you have to be conscious of safety every minute. When I get in or out of the bathtub/shower, I grab something sturdy and move slowly and thoughtfully, noting where my feet are and making sure one foot is firmly planted before I transfer my weight. (BTW, whenever I'm in the bath/shower, I put my cell phone on the floor next to the tub.) A wearable safety buzzer is well and good-- much better never to have to use it.

As for carrying a clothes basket up and down stairs using both hands:

Going down, I'd be tempted to put the dirty clothes in a pillowcase and toss them down. As for bringing up the clean ones, maybe put them in a canvas bag and drag the bag up the stairs?
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Old 02-11-2020, 07:21 AM
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Thanks for the replies so far.

Basement is unfinished, and somewhat necessary, but not as much as is currently being used. Main purposes of the basement are for laundry (washer/dryer are down there), and obtaining food since a full size freezer and pantry are down there. Since they usually are carrying food or laundry when going up/down, I don't know if a second handrail will help.
Is there anywhere that a dumbwaiter could be fit in?

Doesn't need to be near the stairs, just anywhere that's reasonably convenient from both the main floor and the basement so that they can use the dumbwaiter to move stuff back and forth between basement and main floor, and not have to carry stuff while negotiating the stairs.
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Old 02-11-2020, 07:28 AM
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If you're thinking of a dumbwaiter, you should at least look into the idea of a residential elevator. Googling, it appears they cost $20,000 and up. Seems like a lot but a broken hip and subsequent nursing home care is super expensive as well.

But before you go there, see if you can eliminate or reduce the need to go up or down the stairs.
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Old 02-11-2020, 11:15 AM
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Theoretically, money isn't an issue. My parents can afford a residential elevator, but they're kind of frugal. I could see them spending the money on a chair system, but I think they'd rather move than spend the money on a residential elevator system.

Also they also have a 2nd story on top of the basement. So they'd need an elevator that can go into the basement and upstairs too.

I think when the time comes, they may move to a one story home. But that may be 5 years from now.

As for a dumbwaiter, its kind of hard to find a quote on google. I'm seeing figures from $500 to $20,000.
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Old 02-11-2020, 11:20 AM
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Also put a Alexa device in the basement, as they can use that to do a voice call for help.
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Old 02-11-2020, 11:22 AM
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Theoretically, money isn't an issue. My parents can afford a residential elevator, but they're kind of frugal. I could see them spending the money on a chair system, but I think they'd rather move than spend the money on a residential elevator system.

Also they also have a 2nd story on top of the basement. So they'd need an elevator that can go into the basement and upstairs too.

I think when the time comes, they may move to a one story home. But that may be 5 years from now.

As for a dumbwaiter, its kind of hard to find a quote on google. I'm seeing figures from $500 to $20,000.
Not to be bleak, but you don't want "when the time comes" to be forced by a fall. If it's only 5 years away, it sounds like the time to start planning a move is now. (Or at the very least, insisting on a chair lift.)

My mother is looking for a new place now, and I'm pushing her away from everything that's not a ranch with main floor laundry.
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Old 02-11-2020, 11:23 AM
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You may want to investigate a StairSteady rail.

For those who don't or can't follow a YouTube link. It's basically a strong, steel handrail with a secondary support bar that sticks out from the side rail. Lift up on the support bar and it slides easily along the length of the rail. Push back down on the support bar and it locks in place. I've never actually tried one and the actual execution may not be that smooth but it might be worth checking out.
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Old 02-11-2020, 11:38 AM
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As for a dumbwaiter, its kind of hard to find a quote on google. I'm seeing figures from $500 to $20,000.
I just googled 'dumbwaiter' and the top 3 things that popped up were quotes. A couple in the $3200 range, and another just shy of $5000. Clicking on one of the $3200 options indicates that there are a range of options that would affect the price, like the width and depth of the lift, weight capacity, whether you wanted it to serve more than 2 floors, or open from multiple sides on a given floor, what sort of wood or metal finish you want, etc., that could add up to a few thousand more to the price, depending on what one wanted.
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Old 02-11-2020, 12:36 PM
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Not so. The arms and the seat of the chair fold up so that most of the remaining stair is available for manual transportation while the chair is not actually being used. Pretty slick. I'll admit that the lift is not the fastest thing in the world, but my knees don't care a bit about the slow speed.


I think that’s going to depend a lot on the specifics of the chair rail and the steps. My parents had a stairlift installed to their second-floor apartment after my father had a couple of strokes resulting in paralysis. That chair and rail took up enough of the narrow stairway that I didn’t feel entirely safe getting past it to go up or down the stairs when I was in my thirties - and there wasn’t a doorway at the top of the steps , as is common with basement steps.



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Old 02-11-2020, 12:49 PM
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If they struggle with stairs in general, then they should probably find a solution which doesn't require them to use them, like the chair lift.

If they're still okay with stairs, perhaps you could make the stairs have a 90-degree turn with a landing in the middle. That way a long stairway becomes two shorter stairways. Although at their age, everything is going to be more brittle and delicate and any kind of fall is likely going to have serious injuries. Even a fall from standing position to a flat floor can break bones in the elderly.
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Old 02-11-2020, 01:39 PM
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If they struggle with stairs in general, then they should probably find a solution which doesn't require them to use them, like the chair lift.

If they're still okay with stairs, perhaps you could make the stairs have a 90-degree turn with a landing in the middle. That way a long stairway becomes two shorter stairways. Although at their age, everything is going to be more brittle and delicate and any kind of fall is likely going to have serious injuries. Even a fall from standing position to a flat floor can break bones in the elderly.
They're ok with stairs right now, but right now they're both in their early 70s. By their late 70s it'll be a different story I'm sure.
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Old 02-11-2020, 01:45 PM
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My wife and I were facing the same problem. We loved our house that we had lived in for 47 years, but schlepping laundry up and down from the second floor to the basement was becoming increasingly difficult. There was no way to move the washer, dryer, and freezer upstairs. I suppose we could have put them in the attached and partly heated garage, but that was three steps down and the bottom step was quite steep. Already 20 years ago, I put a pair of handgrips on the garage wall. We saw a condo we liked (among other things, it had a washer and dryer inside and we planned to buy a small chest freezer). We moved last summer, had the freezer delivered the day we moved in and have been very happy, at least since we got over the trauma of the move. But each of our kids came to help out for a week, one of them came twice.
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Old 02-11-2020, 01:56 PM
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Chain them to the basement walls, so they quit climbing out and bothering you?

Somewhat more seriously, at the end, before my parents moved out of their house w/ basement, I believe my dad went up and down the stairs on his butt. And he just planned his day, so that when he went downstairs, he did everything he needed to do before coming back up, as opposed to making multiple trips up and down.

My mom's mobility was unimpaired, so she carried the laundry up and down.
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Old 02-11-2020, 02:02 PM
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I moved into a house with a chairlift (basement near the garage --> up to the kitchen) and it was also great for just loading groceries from the trunk into the chair! We would load it up and send it up and it would save us several trips up and down.

Alternatively, I would recommend a railing on both sides. And the other big recommendation I have (actually DuPont and OSHA and every safety conscious company) is to educate yourself about stair safety: No carrying things (if you must, hold it to your side), no distractions, and a hand on the railing at all times.
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Old 02-11-2020, 02:04 PM
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Maybe you could rig up a winch as an inexpensive dumbwaiter. If they just need to move stuff like laundry up and down, it seems like a regular winch could do that pretty easily. It would be much cheaper than an actual dumbwaiter.
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Old 02-11-2020, 02:44 PM
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Maybe you could rig up a winch as an inexpensive dumbwaiter. If they just need to move stuff like laundry up and down, it seems like a regular winch could do that pretty easily. It would be much cheaper than an actual dumbwaiter.
I'd wondered about that, such as for laundry. Would you also want some kind of platform and/or rails for the winched items to ride on?

Little help, tho, if the person is unstable getting themselves up and down the stairs.
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Old 02-12-2020, 12:42 AM
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I have seen ads for this stair-climbing aid, but there isn't a way to free your hands while using it. That seems inconvenient to me.

For the chair-lifts, the nice thing about that is if there's a load to carry, you can sit it on the seat and let the chair lift carry it for you.

StG
Stair lifts do have a weight limit [I think mine is the standard 250 pounds] so one has to make sure that if you want to carry that case of bricks upstairs, you stand someone at each end and send the case up by itself =) They give you [or at least Acorn did us] a pair of remotes, one for upstairs and one for downstairs so you can call it to whichever end you are not at. I wish my parents had installed one when my dad went in for knee replacement - he wouldn't have had to set up a bed in the otherwise unused livingroom and bathed at the physio place, he could have seamlessly stayed in his bedroom. I find it amazing, and with my handicap status could not live here without it.

And I will occasionally use the stairlift as a stair aid down, because I have a basket of something on the seat, I find down infinitely easier than up =) a single bakner box of books will put the weight over the limit. I do believe they have one that goes to 500 pounds.
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  #39  
Old 02-12-2020, 01:30 AM
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OP: you say there is also a second story. Why aren't you worried about those stairs as well as the basement stairs?

You never told us about the quality/design of the stairs. There are standards for stair construction:
https://www.hometips.com/how-it-work...struction.html
  #40  
Old 02-12-2020, 09:27 AM
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Originally Posted by PastTense View Post
OP: you say there is also a second story. Why aren't you worried about those stairs as well as the basement stairs?

You never told us about the quality/design of the stairs. There are standards for stair construction:
https://www.hometips.com/how-it-work...struction.html
They go into the basement far more than they go upstairs because the basement is where the washer/dryer and freezer are.
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  #41  
Old 02-12-2020, 10:04 AM
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Now when he wants to go downstairs, he gets his drill, sits on the seat, shoves the drill into the side and *whizzz*, down he goes with a giant grin on his face. He's immensely proud of this thing and brags about it to everybody.

That was five years ago, he's in his late 90's now, still uses the damn thing, still brags about it.
Come on, that is freakin' great.
  #42  
Old 02-12-2020, 10:30 AM
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I don't know that it's practical, but our local park has rubber ground for the kids to play on. Something like this: https://www.adventureturf.com/poured-in-place/. My post is not an endorsement or recommendation of any kind; I'm just throwin' it out there.
  #43  
Old 02-12-2020, 11:19 AM
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Any way they can put a laundry chute in? We had one in our two-story house when I was young and my mother swore by it. Going up the stairs with laundry was a PITA, but it was going downstairs with a basket that created the more unsafe conditions. A chute can be nothing more than a framed opening with smooth wood sides and a discharge a few feet above the basement floor, or a length of metal duct. Ours had a spring-loaded door at the top.
  #44  
Old 02-12-2020, 02:50 PM
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Originally Posted by ZonexandScout View Post
Any way they can put a laundry chute in? We had one in our two-story house when I was young and my mother swore by it. Going up the stairs with laundry was a PITA, but it was going downstairs with a basket that created the more unsafe conditions. A chute can be nothing more than a framed opening with smooth wood sides and a discharge a few feet above the basement floor, or a length of metal duct. Ours had a spring-loaded door at the top.
Upthread I suggested a low tech, cheap solution:
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Originally Posted by ThelmaLou View Post
...
Going down, I'd be tempted to put the dirty clothes in a pillowcase and toss them down. As for bringing up the clean ones, maybe put them in a canvas bag and drag the bag up the stairs?

Last edited by ThelmaLou; 02-12-2020 at 02:50 PM.
  #45  
Old 02-12-2020, 03:36 PM
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My mother just throws laundry down the stairway, so that most of it lands in a basket next to the stairs. And then when going up, she will put the basket on the highest step she can reach, so she's not carrying it all the way.
  #46  
Old 02-12-2020, 11:49 PM
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Chain them to the basement walls, so they quit climbing out and bothering you?

Somewhat more seriously, at the end, before my parents moved out of their house w/ basement, I believe my dad went up and down the stairs on his butt.
. . .
I did this for two years after injuring my back during pregnancy. It's not that dang hard once you think of it. Just carry a light flour sack towel to sit on so you don't get dirty.
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