Home Modification : Stairs and Ramps for Elderly

Most people have atleast two storey houses to take care of family requirements. But with growing age, usage of stairs to reach upper levels of house becomes tough. It is not just the problems during climbing stairs, there are also numerous cases of falls which happen on stairs. One way is to completely avoid them or use mechanical lifts to go up and down. But these methods are either not feasible or are expensive. Not only stairs, using ramps also cause issues with elderly as in many cases they misjudge the angle of landing and also slip.

We present here a some important yet simple tips which can help in making stairs and ramps more accessible, comfortable and safer to climb. These details are applicable for both exterior and interior ladders.

Stairs for elderly

Treads and Risers : What not to do
Risers more than 6-7" height are tough for several people to use and are occasionally fatal as well. Outward risers must not cross the height of 4". The trample should be broad enough to walk comfortably. Open risers are hazardous due to their tripping capacity however it can be easily closed using pieces of wood.

Handrails : A must for safe ladders
You can place handrails on either side of your stairs for anyone to get support when going up or coming down. If your stairway is wide you can install handrails on the (both) sides. Handrails design should enable the users to grab the rail using fingers and thumb.

There should be 11/2” gap between handrails and the wall to offer enough holding space for fingers and knuckles. They should have the potential to lift 250 pounds easily.

Stairway Lighting : Very important for safety
Right amount of lighting source falling equally on the stair and the top and bottom of the landings are required to avoid any accident. Ensure that lights don't distract people using the stairs. For this, indirect source of lighting is ideal.

Ramps for elderly

Ramps : Choose their specifications carefully
Ramps assist persons in wheelchairs, whereas for normal individuals they may create troubles. Bifocal wearers often judge wrongly the right distance and slid of a ramp.

Exterior ramps must not exceed a slid of 1" mount for every 20", so that ice, leaves, snow won't pose a slipping or skidding hazard. Interior ramps must be limited to 1"-12" as several individuals, bound to wheelchairs, cannot lift themselves to a higher incline.

Outside ramps should be prepared from treated wood. Outside ramps should be of metal or concrete than that of wood ramps. Prior to creating any kind of ramps, analyze the requirements of the person who will facilitate it.
Ensure that the handrails are fixed on both the sides, if you install ramps, as they are necessary on stairways.

Surface of Ramp : A very important spec. for a ramp

The ramp surface should be non-slippery. For outer wooden ramps, paint combined with sand can work. Several paint manufacturers offer non-slippery deck paints, good to create similar kind of non-slippery surface.

In addition, you can facilitate rolled roofing substances as well. If the ramps are witnessing lot of ice and snow, or it has a steep slope, you should help your family members or visitors, bound to wheelchairs, in using the ramp. Battens offer a good grip for the same.

For exterior concrete ramps, concrete with broom-finish can also be a great surface. Ensure that broom strokes lie perpendicular to the ramp slope. Just try to ward off placing waxed linoleum, carpeting, or lustrously painted surfaces.


It is imperative to have landings at the top and end of ramps and where the direction of the ramp changes. At such locations, the landings should minimum 5' in length.

Portable Ramps : A useful add-on

Such ramps can also work for certain situations, but are usually short and are used at small level. They can be available with surgical supply centers and some manufacturers if you browse the internet. 

These are just a few simple modifications to make stairs and ramps for elderly more comfort and safe. For specific needs we recommend you consult relevant architect.

Source: Homemods, internet research