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For people with Down syndrome, family members, caregivers and professionals.

Tips for Going Up and Down Stairs Safely

April 2023 | Katie Frank, PhD, OTR/L and Abby Rowley, LCSW - Adult Down Syndrome Center

Going up and down stairs can be challenging for some people with Down syndrome. Aging, differences in depth perception, unsteady gait, and other issues may contribute to difficulty with navigating stairs. The suggestions below may help with going up and down stairs safely. 

  • Make sure there is at least one handrail. Having two handrails is best (one on each wall or side when possible). 

outdoor staircase with white handrails

indoor staircase with white risers and brown wooden treads
  • Keep stairways well-lit. When possible, include lights on the walls up/down the stairway. 

  • Remove photos and other decorations from the walls of the stairway to minimize distractions.

  • Use a slip-resistant tape on the tread of the step.

  • Provide contrast between the tread and riser of the step. Consider using different colors of paint or tape for the tread and riser. ‚Äč

  • If possible, add a chair lift.

  • Caregivers can use a gait belt to assist their loved one up and down stairs.

  • When all else fails, scoot up and down on your behind.


For individuals with a fear of going up or down stairs, here are some in-the-moment strategies that may be helpful: 

  • Offer physical support such as holding the individual's hand or arm.

  • Give the person time to prepare to go up or down the stairs.

  • Encourage the individual to use calming strategies such as taking deep breaths.

  • Use reassuring phrases such as: 

    • "We can take as much time as you need."

    • "I'll be right here with you."

    • "Let's hold on to the railing."

    • "Let's count our steps as we go."

  • Consider walking in front of the person and let them hold on to your shoulders. If you can walk backwards, face the individual and hold their hands. In addition to guiding the person, it can block or limit their field of vision so they do not feel as overwhelmed by the height.

  • Praise the individual's efforts/attempts to go up or down the stairs. 

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Please note: The information on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a medical, psychiatric, mental health, or behavioral evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment plan by a qualified professional. We recommend you review the educational material with your health providers regarding the specifics of your health care needs.