Ways to make the older adult's steps and stairs safer

Solutions for step and stair safety include:

  • Clearing stairs and improving visibility

  • Repairing steps

  • Improving the safety of outside steps

  • Getting professional help

Clearing stairs and improving visibility

Remove all items from indoor stairs and landings and from outside steps, to reduce tripping hazards.

Make sure you can clearly see each step. You can emphasize the edge of each step by adding a strip of tape or paint of a color that contrasts with the step color. The contrast is especially helpful for people with vision problems or dementia.

Make sure that all stairs, inside and outside the home, are well-lit. Having switches at both the top and bottom of stairs makes it easier to turn on the lights before using stairs.

Add textured strips to improve traction on stairs. Encourage the older adult to wear supportive footwear with non-slip soles - not just socks or slippers - when going up or down indoor stairs. Also encourage the older adult to keep at least one hand on the stair railing.

Repairing steps

If stairs are carpeted, make sure the carpet is firmly attached across all steps. Replace any worn carpeting, and refinish or replace worn treads on stairs.

Repair any broken or uneven steps.

Make sure that handrails extend beyond the top and bottom of the steps. Handrails provide the most support if they are on both sides of the stairs and securely connect with the wall at the top and bottom of the stairs.

Improving the safety of outside steps

Because they're exposed to the weather, outside steps deserve special attention.

Make sure that outside steps have rough-textured paint or textured strips to improve traction.

Make sure there are sturdy, secure handrails for all outside steps.

Keep steps clear of snow and ice during winter weather. Using sand or salt can reduce ice and improve traction.

Getting professional help

Many options to make steps and stairs safer are easy to do at little to no cost, like adding textured strips or clearing items from stairs and landings.

However, if the older adult wants to add handrails, install a ramp or a stair lift, then hiring someone might be your best option.

Work with the older adult to prioritize the changes that will make the home safer, and to determine what you have time and money to do. The older adult's insurance or local aging agencies can tell you if there are programs to support work that increases home safety.

If possible, have the older adult try out any new features or equipment first, to make sure the changes will work well for the older adult.