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Accessible housing refers to homes that are designed or modified to enable independent living for all residents, including seniors or persons with disabilities.

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Accessibility can be achieved through architectural design and also by integrating accessibility features, such as lowered light switches, grab bars, walk-in bathtubs, lowered shelves and cupboards, modified furniture or by installing electronic devices in the home. Stairs in the home can be dangerous and can be a barrier to accessibility unless they are designed or modified to reduce the risk of falls. If residents have limited mobility, it may be necessary to install ramps, home elevators or stairlifts to make the home safe and accessible.

A high percentage of Canadians who visit hospitals after a fall on or from stairs or steps in their homes are seniors (men and women 65 years or older). When seniors fall, the consequences can be severe and long-lasting. Most falls on stairs can be prevented. Prevention starts by keeping in mind that there are risks in using stairs. Good planning and simple strategies can help prevent falls and injuries. This document describes some of the ways to reduce the risk of falling on stairs


People can fall anywhere in the house where there are stairs, including entry stairs, stairs leading to another floor, the back doorstep or steps leading to another room. Falls resulting in serious injuries can occur even with a single step


Falls on stairs can be a major threat to health, independence and confidence. The physical consequences can be serious, including soft-tissue damage and broken bones, especially hips. Traumatic brain injuries can occur from falling on stairs. Other serious consequences, particularly for older people, include psychological effects, such as lowered confidence and loss of the feeling of safety, which further reduces health, mobility and activity. Many people never fully recover from the consequences of a fall.


There can be health benefits from using stairs. Climbing stairs can significantly contribute to the 30 minutes of daily physical activity people need. Stair climbing also increases leg power and may be important in helping elderly people or people with disabilities reduce the risk of injury from falls. While a doctor can best advise if there are special health problems that might limit or even prevent people from safely using stairs, everyone should be aware that stairs can be risky and know how to reduce the risks.


Curved Chair Stairlift by IGV SpA domuStair 2A

There are several ways to reduce the health, environmental and behavioural risks associated with the use of stairs in or around the home. People with health and/or mobility issues that impact their ability to use stairs safely should consult an occupational therapist. An occupational therapist can provide advice on the most appropriate changes to the home and personal behaviour to reduce the risk of falling on stairs. Simple modifications can be made to increase the safety of stairs (for example, adding a second handrail, installing visual contrast strips at the edge of stairs for easier visual detection, etc.—see table 1 for detailed suggestions). If more major modifications are required to make stairs safer, residents could consider installing an elevator or stairlift (see CMHC fact sheet Accessible Housing by Design—Lifts and Residential Elevators) or creating a bedroom, bathroom and laundry room on the ground floor, if not already available. When considering renovations or modifications to the home, people should ensure they are using a reputable builder and obtain at least three quotes before signing a contract (see text box Tips for Hiring Contractors). If renovations to the existing home are not possible or affordable, moving to a one-floor house or apartment may be the best option.


Original Article: CMHC:

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