Lifts That Make Impaired Activities Accessible

smiling woman in wheelchair with young man and woman
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When your physical abilities change, activities such as climbing and descending stairs, getting into a vehicle, or getting in and out of a bathtub can suddenly become challenging.

Injury or disability can impact us significantly, affecting our motor functions to the point where assistance from someone else and/or from special devices may be required to achieve a task at hand.

Such undertakings are made much easier to accomplish with special mobility types of equipment that have been researched, designed, tested, and produced by companies that specialize and pride themselves in one or many branches within that particular niche of the industrial world, in an effort to provide greater autonomy of movements to everyone.

Simplifying Movements Around Your Home

The branch of the industry that specializes in providing ease of access around the home is doing a great job these days, building equipment that has become compact enough to move around the furniture and tight spaces, or to be installed in more constricted spaces while still providing sturdiness and strength, but also greater ease of installation, setting up, and use.

Today’s patient lifts have come a long way in terms of convenience and safety, but especially in affordability with their lower cost.

The home can now be accessorized to accommodate easier access to bathroom care, providing mobility to people with little or no use of their legs to access the toilet, the shower or bathtub, their wheelchair, or their bed with much less effort and offering more possibilities.

Bath Lifts

Bath lifts present you with easier access to your bathtub, especially when you start suffering from joint pain restricting the use of the legs.

The common bath lift is simply a chair that you can activate vertically up and down to bring you inside your bathtub and bring you back up to the edge of the tub when you’re finished, for an easier exit and possibly an easier transfer to your mobility chair, without anyone’s assistance in the process.

Most modern bath lifts come with a tilting back that leans back for a more relaxing positioning when it gets to the lowest position while straightening back up to a more normal vertical sitting angle before lifting you back out.

Those lifts usually also have two flaps hinged at both sides of the seat that fold up and inside the tub as it moves down, and spread back out to rest on the bathtub’s edge when reaching the top positioning.

Patient Lifts

young girl in assisted movement sling

These are designed to assist the caregiver in helping someone with limited movements to access his or her bed, the toilet, the bathtub, the shower, or a chair.

It provides the caregiver with easier means to lift the person with minimum physical effort, most of which is by wrapping him or her in a special purpose sling and securing the sling to the lift’s articulated arm or boom, which can then be activated to lift the person up.

A patient lift is also equipped with articulated legs that can be spread out to provide greater stability to the loaded apparatus. It is finally supported and made mobile with the use of sturdy low-friction casters, the rear ones with brakes, that allow it to be moved around the home or facility with ease.

With such a device, a person with limited capacity can now be raised from their current laying or sitting position and moved to a different location, then lowered into a chair, a wheelchair, or another facility anywhere on the same floor within the house or special care facility.

Patient lifts have greatly improved over the years, and while their price has become increasingly affordable, they are now lighter in weight and offer greater maneuverability and handling around the floor, the furniture, and appliances.

A Sit-to-stand or stand-up patient lift is another type of lift designed for people with some limited mobility but who still need assistance to move from a sitting position to another seat. This type of lift looks similar to the sling lift but without an articulated arm extending over the patient.

The articulated section is instead in front of the person with additional ergonomic hand-grips to hold onto along with several sling hooks. It has a non-slip footplate for more stability to stand, and padded shin supports easily adjustable in height for specific individual needs.

Not all sit-to-stand lifts, however, have articulated legs that can spread out.

Mechanically activated by a hydraulic air pump and piston, the manual version of patient lifts that are simply operated by a hand, typically offer a cheaper alternative to electronic patient lifts, which are operated by rechargeable batteries or plugged into a regular outlet.

Besides installing the sling around a patient, electronic lifts are practically effortless for raising a patient, being activated at the touch of a button from a hand pendant. The remaining amount of effort common to both types is in the ease of moving the loaded lift around the room.

Based mostly on weight capacity, the manual lifts will range between $800 and $2,500, while the power patient lifts start at about $2,000 and can go up as high as $8,500.

The stand-up lifts can be found for between $1,200 to $6,000. Several factors come into account for the wide range in prices for lifts besides their weight capacity, one being the complexity of their electronics.

When purchasing such lifts, several factors must be taken into account, making sure first that it can provide you with the range of positioning and reach an individual needs assistance with, from sitting to standing and back or from lying down to a sitting position, or simply to bring the person from one bed to lie down somewhere else.

You might also want to consider it for more than one of those activities, possibly all of them.

The range of lift height offered by the device is a critical factor considering that some of them can reach low enough to enable lifting a patient who has fallen to the floor, and some can reach high enough to lift the patient onto even a high mattress, up to over 5-1/2 feet.

And last but not least, the safety of its operation in emergency situations such as an emergency shut-off control button, and certainly a manual override in case of a power loss or an electronic malfunction.

Overhead Patient Lifts

patient in overhead sling

also referred to as ceiling lifts, basically consist of a mechanical or powered unit called the carriage installed above the patient at the ceiling, and from which a belt can be lowered down to the patient so that his or her support sling can be hooked to it.

The lifting carriage itself is maintained to the ceiling through a special stationary track system heavily anchored to the ceiling joists.

The track itself is composed of a variety of components, some straight lengths, others angled curved sections, and also with turntables added at crucial points to redirect the carriage in one of many directions. A special trolley attached to the carriage at the top rides inside the track wherever the carriage is directed to go.

The carriage itself contains most of the mechanics and electronics to operate the system where a bar with sling hooks is attached at the end of a belt to be lowered down to the patient, where the sling can then be hooked to the bar.

When the belt is activated up, it can then raise the person from his or her laying or sitting position. A mechanical carriage is usually manually pushed along the track to a specific position above a bed, a chair, the toilet, the shower, or the bathtub, where the person is then lowered into a proper position.

A power carriage contains an electric motor and gearbox, the batteries, and the electronics needed to operate it. You can lift the person at the push of a button from a pendant hanging from it.

Usually optional, the trolleys can also be motorized for moving the carriage along the track, and turntables can be power activated for transferring the carriage into another track section.

Powered or not, a track network can be set up to move the carriage anywhere around the house, providing that the proper modifications are made around door frames and other overhead obstacles, thus creating an opportunity for increased movements and independence going from the bedroom to the bathroom, to the kitchen, and the living room, and achieving all this without assistance.

The turntable can offer the ideal solution at the intersection of 3 or more direction options.

As an alternative within the confines of a single room, two parallel tracks can be installed at opposite extremities of the room, while a 3rd track equipped with a trolley at each end can be mounted perpendicular to the first two by hooking it through the trolleys.

Those two trolleys can be motorized or moved manually to slide the carriage and track assembly in one direction, while the carriage can move in the perpendicular direction along the other track.

Simplifying Movements In and Out of Your House

older man on stair lift

4)- Stairlifts are safe and comfortable devices that can be added to your home, making accessibility to different levels of the house possible for anyone with limited or lost mobility, granting them renewed independence and convenience in their own home.

The stair-lift is basically a seat attached to a carriage containing a gearbox, electronic control board, idler wheels, batteries, and various other accessories. The carriage is designed to ride along a rail system installed parallel to the stair’s incline and to the wall or railing behind it.

It is usually propelled by a small motor usually powered by two batteries (except for some older installations that used to run on 120 volts) secured inside the carriage and wired up to the PC board(s) and the battery charger.

The charger can be secured to the wall, usually at either end of the track, next to a wall outlet where it can be plugged in. The 24 volts DC is then applied to 2 special conductor strips to feed its power to both ends and any mid stations along the rail where the carriage can be recharged while standing still.

With the basic straight stair-lifts set up in this manner, you would have a simple straight forward stair-lift with charging stations at both ends, plus the added possibility of a third charge station if the lift happens to create a hazardous obstruction at the bottom and needs to be moved up and out of the way.

But since many stairways are built with a combination of landings and turns, your lift could have curved sections turning to the left, to the right, or both, and could also have a bend to go from an inclination to a horizontal landing platform.

Those were the most challenging jobs in the past, with a bunch of measurements taken manually and transferred to a worksheet to be submitted to the technical staff at the manufacturing plant. The work was tedious at best, with large tolerances left more for a guaranteed fit than for a clean tight fit.

With new advanced 3D technologies and an on-site laptop computer, it is now possible for a trained technician to make exact data collection for the whole job within 1-1/2 to 2 hours, with tolerances within 1/2 inch as the rail sections wrap around the staircase from bottom to top.

The rail is securely fastened to the structure through a set of fully adjustable legs screwed to the stair treads or sometimes to the wall. The complete setup gives you a seat with a locking swivel that lets you rotate to face the landing at the top and the bottom, making loading and unloading the patient easy, comfortable, and safe.

Vertical Platform Lifts

Vertical platform lifts (VPL) and inclined platform lifts (IPL) offer more solutions for maintaining someone’s independence and mobility with their wheelchair or power chair.

They are useful in the fact that the owner’s wheelchair/power chair doesn’t need to be left behind as they gain access to a different floor of a building from one level to another, inside or outside.

VPLs work the same as smaller elevators as their system basically consist of either hydraulic or screw drive mechanisms, a platform large enough to accommodate wheelchairs or scooters with at least three sides bolted to the platform, and the entire platform assembly attached and activated by the mechanism mounted inside its tower, either hydraulic or screw-driven, so that when in use, the platform moves up and down the tower.

The control buttons and the key switch are conveniently placed on the platform wall for easy operation, but extra controls can be installed at each floor landing.

VPLs can be installed either indoors or outdoors with a vertical rise of up to 12 feet, possibly even more in certain models, but it would be a good idea for you to verify with your local codes, prior to buying one and inform yourself about their guidelines and limitations.

Installed on a cement slab, they’re most often installed outdoors as “porch lifts” to provide easy access to enter homes from ground level. When installed indoors, VPLs should be enclosed in a factory-built “hoistway” enclosure or a constructed one.

They usually operate on the standard 120 volts power source, or with the optional rechargeable batteries. The platforms on VPLs usually vary from around 48-inches in length which is the most commonly installed, to 60-inches long to accommodate longer wheelchairs or scooters and with a weight capacity of up to about 750 lbs., the higher capacity models making it possible to handle heavier large power-chairs as well as scooters.

By contrast, an inclined platform lift or IPL is designed to carry a wheelchair user on a level platform over an existing staircase, following the slope of the pitch of the stairs by traveling along a special track secured to the wall or to the stair treads.

The installation does require a minimum width of 34-inches, and the device is available for both straight and curved staircases. It does require a landing space of 55-inches minimum in front of the bottom step, however, for the platform to land. IPLs have a limited weight capacity of up to 450 lbs.

When not in use, it can fold to take up only 13-inches maximum on the track side of the staircase, thus providing space for the people that want to use it on foot.

Wheelchair Van Lifts

wheelchair van lift

Ramps for full-size vans let you access your vehicle through an inclined platform resting at the door’s threshold at one end and on the ground at the other end.

A van wheelchair lift installed permanently to your vehicle is a special device onto which a wheelchair or a power wheelchair is rolled before being either lifted vertically to the van floor’s height where it can be wheeled inside the vehicle with its passenger or lowered down from the vehicle to the ground floor where its passenger can then take off and go by his or her normal activities.

The lift can usually be installed at the side or rear door of the vehicle, its compatibility is only limited by the size of the door opening.

The manufacturers can provide you with a list of the makes and years of the vehicles that their lifts are compatible with, and it should also be mentioned that the lifts come with all the different brackets and accessories to accommodate different makes of vans without adding any modifications to the vehicle.

Wheelchair van lifts come equipped with a control pendant and also an optional wireless remote control to provide the wheelchair user with full and complete control of his or her lift’s movements getting him or her sitting in their wheelchair, in and out of the vehicle.

The dual-arm lift offers greater stability with increased lifting power from two separate hydraulic cylinders making it a great choice with some models offering a platform size up to 51-inches deep, only limited by the height of the door opening—ideal for heavier power wheelchairs.

A disadvantage of this type of lift is that folding in an upright position for storing impairs the movements and articulation of the front passenger seat, especially for lowering the backrest. This can be overcome, however, with a back door installation.

There is also an under-vehicle version or UVL for a van lift that is considerably more expensive, but that retracts completely out of the way as it is housed inside a special weatherproof container mounted under the van.

This type of lift leaves the side or back door free of any obstructions to other passengers and cargo movements in and out of the van, and its high weight capacity rating makes it another good choice for heavier power wheelchairs, taking away, however, some of its ground clearance with the thickness of its cartridge container, which may also make its accessibility for maintenance more difficult.

You should make sure that the lift you choose for your purpose is also equipped with safety interlocks to prevent the lift from being deployed while the van is in motion, but can also prevent the van from getting shifted into gear while the lift is being used.

There are also alarms that sound, should the van start to move with the lift partially or fully deployed, with the wheelchair too close to the open doorway, or in some other abnormal situations.

The hydraulic system is powered by an electric motor that activates the hydraulic pump and valves but also with a manual backup system in case of electrical failure.

For more solutions to improve mobility and accessibility around your home or for your vehicle, you can follow some of the links listed below:

Making Showers Wheelchair Accessible

Make Your Home Wheelchair Accessible

How to Install a Van Wheelchair Lift on the Side or Back.