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Aging in Place at Home: The Definitive Guide Part 5


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Sitting Down and Standing Up

Sitting Down and Standing Up Banner

As balance and coordination diminish, so does the ability to safely lower onto a seat. Lacking the trunk strength and balance to slowly bending down to sit, users may find themselves essentially falling backwards into the chair. This kind of uncontrolled descent can easily lead to falls and injuries.

Even those who are able to safely sit down may nonetheless have trouble with getting up out of a seat. Many older adults do not possess the power needed to lift themselves back up into a standing position and can feel stuck in the seat.

Consider the following list of recommendations to assist with sitting and standing.


Seat lift cushions


Purpose

Pneumatic seat lift cushionSeat lift cushions give a boost to help users stand as they are rising up from a chair and offer a more controlled descent when sitting down.

Seat lift cushions simply rest on existing chairs, so as long as the chairs have arms then there’s no need to replace any furniture.

Users with reduced coordination, limited mobility, diminished core strength, and poor balance can all profit from employing the aid of seat lift cushions.


Must-have Features

Lifting capacity – It is very important to make sure that the seat lift cushion has the correct weight rating for the user. The cushion will break if it tries to lift more weight than it is capable of bearing. On the other hand, the cushion will not lift properly if the user weighs too little.

Generally, manufacturers make two models of seat lift cushions to accommodate two different weight ranges. The lighter model usually has a weight range of about 80 to 200 pounds. and the heavier model’s weight range is typically from 200 to 350 pounds.

Sometimes product information and literature may not include the minimum required weight for the seat lift cushion, so users may have to contact the manufacturer or retailer directly to find out.

Click here to see the highest recommended seat lift cushion.


Features to avoid

Electric seat lift cushionElectric-powered seat lift cushions – Electric-powered seat lift cushions utilize a motor to lift users autonomously at just the push of a button. Unfortunately, these power seat lifts are very unreliable and the motors are prone to dying at any moment without warning.

Since electric-powered seat lifts can cost more than double the price of their self-powered alternatives, it makes the most sense to pass on these expensive models. Stick to the more dependable self-powered seat lift cushions.


What to know before buying

Seat lift cushions should only be used on chairs with armrests. It is vital that users have armrests to grab hold of for support when lowering onto and rising up from the seat. To use seat lift cushions with sofas that don’t have arms, use a stand assist sofa insert.


In order to effectively lift users, manufacturers have made the cushions on seat lifts very firm. Users who do not find seat lifts to be very comfortable should invest in a high quality wheelchair seat cushion to place on top of the lift. Find a wheelchair cushion with straps that can buckle onto the seat lift so the cushion doesn’t slide off.


Always verify that the seat lift cushion fits on the intended chair’s seat before purchasing. Seat lift cushions are usually around 17 to 18 inches wide and 20 inches deep. The seat lift can still function properly if the chair seat depth and width are much larger than the seat lift’s dimensions.


Seat lift cushions are typically able to lift 70 to 80% of body weight, so users must still be able to lift a small portion of their weight. Generally, this is very easy for even the frailest of users.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Use chairs with armrests


Purpose

Chair with armrestsArmrests on chairs give users support to help with rising up into a standing position and lowering down into a sitting position.

Users who find themselves trying to undergo a controlled fall or slide when lowering onto a chair should consider using chairs with armrests. Likewise, those who get stuck in a chair and struggle to stand back up can also benefit from using chairs with armrests.

Opt for armchairs to circumvent the risk of falling when sitting down and avoid the frustration of straining when standing up.


Must-have Features

Quality construction – The only must-have criterion for armchairs is that they are well-made and in good condition. The most important factor for chairs with armrests is that they are strong enough to bear the weight of the user and dependable enough to last for a long time.


Features to consider

Chair back height – When it comes to a sitting chair, users have the option to choose a high or low back. A high back gives full back and neck support, but limits how much the user can rotate while seated. A low back chair, on the other hand, gives better range of motion at the expense of no upper back and neck support.

For most users, high back chairs are best because the added support is of greater value than any extra range of motion, especially since many users may not have the bodily capability to take advantage of the more spacious low back chair.


Wheelchair armrest coversArmrest covers – For chairs with armrests that are less comfortable than a user may prefer, consider wrapping them in padded wheelchair armrest covers.

One caveat to keep in mind with these covers is that they add bulk to a chair’s arms, which can make it harder for users to secure a strong grip when holding onto the armrests. Look for wheelchair armrest covers that aren’t too thick.

Click here to see the highest recommended armrest covers.


What to know before buying

Strictly using chairs with armrests can be a difficult commitment to make, especially for those who may not have very many or any armchairs. If such is the case, rather than taking on the expense of completely replacing every chair, consider investing in two or three armchairs that can act as the default chairs. Or consider gradually increasing the number of armchairs over a period of time.

Those who do not have the funds for new armchairs may find more affordable options at secondhand and used sources.


Rather than permanently abandoning the use of armless sofas, consider installing a stand assist sofa insert.


Some may have a strong emotional attachment to a favorite chair that doesn’t have arms or is in ill repair. It can be difficult to stop using such a chair, but ultimately it’s the most prudent method to take for preventing potential falls.

Before giving up on a chair, though, it may be worthwhile to meet with a local furniture shop to discuss the possibility of repairing the chair or adding arms.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Electric power lift chair


Purpose

Electric power lift chairs make sitting down and standing up easier by harnessing the power of a built-in motor to raise and lower users at the push of a button. What makes an electric power lift chair unique is that it combines an assistive device and a chair into one piece of furniture. An electric power lift chair is ideal for anyone looking for a “hidden in plain sight” and unobtrusive solution to help with sitting down and standing back up.


Must-have Features

Lifting capacity – Verify that the electric lift chair has a high enough lifting capacity to support the user’s weight. Also, if there are multiple intended users, then remember to account for their individual weights as well when looking for a chair with adequate lifting capacity.


Electric power lift chair seat dimensionsSeat size & height – Find an electric power lift chair that is the proper size for the user. Follow the procedure below to measure the user’s ideal chair size to determine the right seat height, depth, width, and back rest height.

Also, take note of the overall width of the chair and the space that the chair needs to recline and lift to make certain that there is enough room at its intended location in the home.


Features to consider

Massage and heating system – Some lift chairs also offer a massage and heating system that is controlled by a separate remote.

Electric power lift chair heat & massageThe massage and heating zones differ between manufacturers, but it is most common to have one zone for the lower back. In some cases chairs might also have a zone in the seat. Users who suffer from lower back pain should highly consider selecting a chair that includes a massage and heating system. In addition to its soothing effects on muscles, a heating system can also help increase blood circulation, which is especially important for aging individuals.

Typically a massage and heating system is an add-on option that is only available with select chair models. Adding a massage and heating system increases the cost of the electric power lift chair, so ask the retailer for details to better understand the additional expense.


Recline angle – There are three categories of chairs related to their recline angle: two position, three position, and infinite position.


A two position lift chair can keep the back rest in an upright sitting position and also recline the back rest at a 45 degree angle. Two position chairs are best for users who would like to relax but do not intend to sleep in the recliner.

2 Position Power Lift Recliner


A three position lift chair can keep the back rest in an upright sitting position, recline the back rest at a 45 degree angle, and recline the back rest into a flat lying position. Three position chairs are ideal for those who would like the recliner to be suitable for lying down and taking naps.

3 Position Power Lift Recliner


An infinite position lift chair gives users the freedom to adjust the backrest and the footrest independently of each other. Infinite position chairs can serve as both a relaxing chair for sitting and a comfortable reclining for napping. Additionally, an infinite position lift chair can recline in such a way that the footrest is elevated slightly higher than the backrest; this can be very helpful to reduce swelling in feet.

Infinite Position Power Lift Recliner

Consider the user’s needs to decide which type of electric power lift chair is best.


Color and fabric – Manufacturers typically produce a specific chair model in at least two different colors or fabrics. Premium brands tend to give users more choices for color and fabric to customize the chair to their liking.

Finding a chair that matches a room’s existing color scheme and style may mean more to some users than others, but ultimately, the most important quality of a chair is that it improves safety and independence for the user.


Features to avoid

Low-end chair models – When it comes to electric power lift chairs, the old adage “you get what you pay for” definitely applies. There are relatively inexpensive chair models that essentially offer the same features as the high-end models, but these cheaper lift chairs have a penchant for early failure: the motor giving out; the frame of the chair warping; the cushions losing shape; etc.

It may be hard to justify spending more on an expensive lift chair, but the higher quality construction and materials ultimately saves users from repair and replacement costs down the road.


Built-in tray and cup holder – In an effort to increase the functionality of lift chairs, manufacturers have added features such as trays and cup holders that are built into the arms. Unfortunately, these features are less practical than they may initially seem.

Electric power lift chair with tray & cup holderTo lower into a seated position, users should have both hands on the armrests. Therefore, anything that users may want to place on the tray must first be placed somewhere nearby that they can reach once they are safely in the chair. And if a table is already close by, then there really isn’t a need for the tray.

This same reasoning also applies to users who want to have a drink handy. Plus, if users forget to move a drink before raising the chair to stand up, then the drink can spill and fall out as the chair lifts.

Finally, a built-in tray and cup holder take away from the padding in the armrests, which can make the armrests less comfortable for the user. Trays and cup holders are unnecessary and should be ignored.


What to know before buying

Proper sitting postureWhen shopping for an electric power lift chair, the first step is to determine the user’s ideal chair dimensions.

Before taking any measurements have the user wear the preferred footwear that will most likely be worn when using the lift chair.

Next, have the user sit in a back chair with hips, knees, and ankles all bending at 90 degrees. To establish these 90 degree angles, the chair must be at just the right height for the user.

If such a chair is not available, consider using a pneumatic office chair and adjusting its height to make 90 degree angles. Otherwise, use a chair that is too tall and place something flat under the user’s feet to serve as an elevated floor.

Pneumatic office chair for measuring user's ideal seat dimensions

Adjust the height of a pneumatic office chair for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Place feet on a prop for correct sitting posture

Once the user is seated properly, record the following measurements:

How to measure seat height

Seat height (floor to bottom of thigh where it meets the knee at 90 degrees)

How to measure backrest seat height

Backrest height (seat top to the top of the user’s header)

How to measure seat width

Seat width (outermost parts of back of butt)

Use these three measurements to find an electric power lift chair with matching dimensions to ensure a good fit.


It’s worth noting that the number of buttons on a lift chair’s remote control is directly related to the number of features. So, chairs with a heating and massage system will have several extra buttons, and sometimes even a completely separate remote control, compared to chairs without these add-on features.

This can make using the lift chair slightly more challenging for users who may get confused by all the buttons. Spending time learning how to use the remote control and keeping a user manual nearby can help speed up the learning curve.


One very important step to take before purchasing an electric power lift chair is to verify that its intended location in the home is large enough to accommodate the chair when it is fully reclined and fully raised.

Use painter tape to mark an outline of the chair’s maximum dimensions to help with confirming that the chair will fit.


When finding a spot that can accommodate the lift chair, make sure that it is close to a wall outlet. Electric power lift chairs need to plug into an outlet, so the chair cannot be placed too far away from its power source.

While an extension cord is always an option, it is safest to plug directly into an outlet. Plus, an extension cord that stretches across the floor is a tripping hazard that should always be avoided.

Click here to see the highest recommended electric power lift chair.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


Stand assist sofa insert


Purpose

Stand assist sofa inserts give users a firm handle to push off of when standing up from the couch. Armrests on sofas and loveseats may be too high or bulky for users to get the grip and leverage needed to stand. Furthermore, couch cushions tend to sink down low, which can make standing back up more challenging. To make rising up from a sofa or loveseat easier, consider using a stand assist insert.


Must-have Features

Stand assist sofa insert padded handlesCushioned handles – Users place a lot of bodyweight on their hands when pushing off of a stand assist sofa insert, so it is very important that the handles are cushioned. Handle cushions give comfort to all users, especially those with weak hands and arthritis.

Make sure the stand assist sofa insert has cushioned handles.


Adjustable height, width, and depth settings – Users should always take preliminary measurements to ensure the stand assist insert matches the intended chair, but the stand assist insert should still have an adjustable height, width, and depth to account for any margin of error. The cushions for couches and recliners can sink quite a bit under a user’s weight, so there should be leeway to adjust the height of the stand assist insert accordingly.

Stand assist sofa insert adjustableIf the stand assist insert is used on a piece of furniture with non-removable cushions, then the width and depth of the stand assist insert must be able to adjust so that the frame fits around the cushion.

Even in normal applications in which the stand assist insert slides directly below the seat cushions and rests on the furniture’s frame, users may want to adjust the width and depth of the stand assist insert to reposition where the support handles are located. Choose a stand assist sofa insert that allows for adjustments to its height, width, and depth settings.

Click here to see the highest recommended stand assist sofa insert.


Features to avoid

Stand assist sofa insert with single handleSingle-handle models – Users need equal support on both sides when rising and lowering, so do not purchase any stand assist sofa inserts that have only one handle. Stretching the far-side arm across the body to reach the single handle significantly reduces the push-off force of that arm.

Users are essentially left to rise and lower with all the support unbalanced on one side of the body. Stick to stand assist sofa inserts with two handles.


What to know before buying

When shopping for a stand assist sofa insert to use with a recliner, verify that the frame can adjust wide enough to allow the recliner’s leg rest to properly extend unimpeded.


Be careful to make sure that the handles will be high enough.

The height of the handles cannot adjust as much as the overall unit height, so the handle height is somewhat dependent on the overall unit height. If the unit height is too short when inserted under the cushion, then consider placing a thin, supportive cushion onto the sofa frame to prop up the height of the stand assist insert. Keep in mind that this will adjust the sofa seat height, so make sure it is still suitable for the user.

Some additional manipulation may be required to get the stand assist sofa insert height just right. Consider propping up the sofa feet on risers and adjusting the seat cushion thickness by using different infill or batting material to alter the effective height of the stand assist insert.


Recommended supplementary products and home modifications


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