Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Chairs and sitting techniques

It's important to know what to look for in a chair, and how its size and the support it provides will affect your comfort. It's well worth improving the way you get into and out of a chair; you may find a new sitting technique (see below) is all you need at the moment and you'll save yourself the expense of specialist seating.

Chair size

A chair needs to give you support where you need it, and be just the right size for you. 


Bariatric riser recliner - for heavier users

In the right chair:

  • You'll be able to sit with your bottom right at the back of the seat and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Your thighs will be level and your lower legs straight up and down.
  • You can get two fingers between the back of your knees and the front of the seat.
  • The seat will be wide enough to fit you, but not so wide that it doesn't give you any sideways support.
  • If the chair has arm rests, you can sit between them with enough room to get your hand in down each side.

Support

To give you proper support, the back rest will be angled very slightly backwards and will support the whole length of your back and your head, with padding at the bottom to support your lower back and at the top for your head.

There are specialist back rests for people who need extra support. If you know you have problems with your back, it's wise to get an assessment.

Arm rests need to support your arms below the elbow, without making you lift your shoulders.

Cushions ought to be soft, but not too soft. If you can feel the frame of the chair through the cushion, then it is too soft, and you need a firmer one.

If you're going to be sitting in the chair for a long time, you can get different pressure-relieving cushions.

You can use a footstool or leg rest if you need to put your feet up. This ought to support the whole of your lower leg right down to your heel and will usually be at the same height as your seat.

Sitting down and standing up

If you find it hard to sit down or stand up, there are a few things you can do to help.

Techniques - how to do it

Sitting down:

  • step back up against the chair so you can feel the seat behind your knees
  • make sure your weight is distributed evenly between your feet
  • put your hands on the arm rests
  • gradually bend your knees and lower yourself into the seat
  • shuffle or lift your bottom right to the back of the seat - some people use a rocking motion

Woman starting to sit on riser seatGetting up:

  • put your hands on the arm rests
  • shuffle or lift your bottom to the edge of the seat
  • get your feet ready - the same distance apart as your hips, directly under your knees (if you feel unsteady, put one foot back a bit, towards the chair)
  • lean forwards so your head is over your knees. Keep your chin up so you're looking straight ahead
  • push with your arms and straighten your legs at the same time

You'll find it easier to sit down and stand up like this if the chair has hard wooden ends to the arm rests (sometimes called 'knuckles'), and gives you room to get your feet a little way under the seat.

If you use a wheelchair, you can get a chair with drop arms so you can transfer in and out sideways.

Don't try to use a walking frame or sticks when sitting down or getting up. You might pull them over, and fall down.

Sit higher

The higher the seat, the easier it is to sit down and stand up. A high-seat chair is advisable. You can also get blocks to put under the legs to raise your existing chair.

When chair raising blocks are used to get the height right where the original seat was too low, this is fine. But check the height - don't make the seat much higher than you need for sitting comfortably and supporting your legs. 

Avoid raising the level of a seat by putting another cushion on top - the arm and head rests might be in the wrong place, and the chair may become unsteady.

Get a riser or rising chair

Woman starting to sit in riser reclinerYou can get spring-loaded or electrically operated chairs that lift you to help you stand up. On some, just the seat cushion lifts up. On others, the whole seat lifts, which means you can still use the arm rests to help you stand up and sit down.

On a spring-loaded chair, you pull a lever and the seat springs up to help you out. You need to be able to get ready to stand up before you pull the lever, and be sure that you are going to be able to stand up when you get to the top as you can't stop the seat springing up once it has started.

The rest of this guide is mainly about electric rising chairs that also recline, known as riser recliners. Most people find this kind of chair the most useful.

Last updated: October 2016


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