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  • Sarah Whitebloom

The Saga of the Stairlift Part One

Perhaps a stairlift would help?

My frail and elderly parents – she is 87 and he is 95 - are still just about coping with independent living in their modest 1950s suburban semi. They cook, shop for food (heavy stuff now delivered), and manage washing themselves and their laundry. However, since developing ulcerations on both legs last summer, my mother is finding the stairs ‘a bit of a problem’.

At first, I thought she meant it just took her ages to go up and down stairs. A couple of years ago we installed handrails and things had been fine, if slow. Then, I realised I had failed to grasp the gravity of the situation, she elaborated: ‘Sometimes I feel I’m about to fall backwards.’

This is an alarming statement to hear from your mother. What to do? The situation took on greater urgency as the house has one upstairs lavatory and is too small to allow the installation of one downstairs without major building work. That would be expensive and disruptive, as would selling the house and moving to a bungalow or sheltered housing.

So, what about a stairlift? My mother suggested this herself, citing a neighbour who has recently had one installed. It changed her life,’ she insisted. I had my doubts. I had visions of my parents being bamboozled by slick- talking salesmen, persuading them to part with thousands of pounds for a stairlift which constantly broke down and for which the subsequent service was both costly and inefficient.

Still, the mobility problem was clearly only going to deteriorate, so an investigation into the world of stairlifts shot to the top of my ‘to do’list. An initial internet search revealed a host of agencies promising to take the pain out of the process by selecting the best stairlift for your needs from a range of manufacturers. The alternative was to arrange visits from the main manufacturers, as identified by consumer magazine Which? The 2016 survey revealed the average cost of a new straight stairlift was ‘only’ £ 3,475, although a reconditioned one would be cheaper, averaging £1490. However curved stairlifts, as required by my parents, are more expensive, and even a reconditioned curved stairlift requires a bespoke track.

I had already decided not to subject my parents to too many visits from stairlift salespeople and was determined that no one should call unless myself or my husband were also present. In the end I chose three manufacturers, Stannah, Acorn and Handicare, plus one independent installer, Dolphin. Exploratory emails were sent to each, asking for a broad indication of cost and feasibility. Basic stair measurements and a few photographs were attached.

Handicare, which has a marketing link with the charity Age UK, advised that, based on the information provided, a curved stairlift would be needed as the stairs have a 90 degree turn at the top. The likely cost would be even more - £4,000 to £5,000. But, they said, we would need to book a ‘free no-obligation survey.’

Acorn’s response was noticeably less personalised and seemed merely to regurgitate the company’s marketing material. It ignored the fact I was asking on behalf of my parents, and there was no indication of ultimate cost. Instead we were urged to phone ‘now’ for a ‘FREE no-obligation survey. If you phone us today we may even be able to fit your stairlift tomorrow. They also sent a glossy brochure.

Stannah meanwhile, suggested we would be looking at a cost of around £5,000 and added that the pictures we had sent suggested it would be possible to fit a stairlift.

Dolphin, based in Chobham in Surrey, were clearly keen. They responded by saying that they would be able to quote with a new stairlift costing from around £3,800, and a reconditioned one from £2,800.

The next step was to arrange visits to my parents’ house by each company. Appointments were duly made. One company was so eager to get on with it that their rep turned up before an appointment had been arranged, only to be refused entry by my mother, a dedicated Crimewatch viewer. Unfortunately she was so taken aback that she could not remember which company he was from, although we have our suspicions. No prizes for guessing.

Next time...The stairlift salesmen arrive....

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