Whether needed permanently or on a short-term basis, wheelchairs provide mobility, independence, and increased quality of life for their users. While the essential elements of a wheelchair are straightforward, not all chairs are the same.
If you’re shopping for a wheelchair, consider the following factors to ensure the one you select is comfortable, secure, and an overall perfect fit.
Wheelchairs have three different weight categories:
On a transport wheelchair, the front and rear wheels are all the same size. You’ll typically use these wheelchairs for short trips, such as around a hospital or airport. Transport wheelchairs aren’t self-propelled, and you’ll require someone else to push the wheelchair.
Standard and lightweight wheelchairs are the most common types. These types both have large rear wheels and small front casters. Standard wheelchairs typically weigh over thirty-six pounds, while lightweight types weigh between twenty-eight and thirty-six pounds.
A light wheelchair has several benefits, including easy storage, being able to roll across a wide range of surfaces, and the fact that they are self-propelled.
Make sure your wheelchair fits properly to ensure you’re comfortable and secure. The proper wheelchair will depend on your height, weight, and overall size.
When searching for wheelchairs, look for height dimensions, seat width, and weight capacity. Standard wheelchairs have a weight restriction of 250 pounds, but specialty options are available for those who weigh more.
You want a wheelchair that folds down for storage and transportation. At the very least, it should fold down to fit in the average car trunk. If you only use your wheelchair some of the time, it should be compact enough to fit underneath your bed or another storage space in your home.
While the most compact and portable wheelchairs are typically lightweight, you can also find foldable electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
The wheels are arguably the most crucial component of your wheelchair because they restrict your mobility if they don’t roll correctly. If you mainly use your wheelchair indoors, choose foam-filled wheels. These wheels should have no problem moving across most standard indoor flooring such as carpets, wood, and tile.
If you use your wheelchair outdoors, you’ll want larger wheels with improved traction. These grip-first wheels help you traverse slick and uneven surfaces. Extra traction is also a good idea if you primarily use your wheelchair indoors but live in an area with harsh winters.
Armrests and footrests
You may easily overlook armrests and footrests, but these relatively small components can have a significant impact on your comfort. Consider the length, size, padding, and maneuverability.
Each arm and footrest should securely lock in place and easily unlock when you want to stand up or sit down.
Most armrests have padding (it’s usually not necessary for footrests). When selecting padding, you want a combination of comfort and durability, as the pads can accumulate dirt fairly quickly due to frequent contact.
Manual or electric
Deciding between a manual or electric wheelchair depends on your physical capabilities, needs, and budget.
A manual wheelchair is human-powered. The person sitting in the chair must have enough arm strength and mobility to push the chair forward (or they’ll need an attendant). Manual wheelchairs are generally lightweight and portable.
Electric wheelchairs allow the user to control the movement with a joystick, making them well-suited for anyone with impaired arm functionality or limited strength. These chairs are much larger, heavier, and more expensive than manual wheelchairs.
Many different medical conditions require the use of a wheelchair. Understanding the specifics of your condition helps you determine which features will best help you. Consult with your doctor for personalized advice.
In some cases, it’s helpful to plan for not just your needs today but also those you’ll have in the future. For instance, if you have a degenerative condition, you’ll want a wheelchair you can use even if your arm mobility decreases.
Proper back support is invaluable in keeping you comfortable, primarily if you use the wheelchair full-time. The right level of support depends on many individual factors such as your weight, height, and health.
If you need a high level of support, consider a wheelchair that tilts. Tile-in-space wheelchairs allow you to adjust the chair’s angle so you can find the most comfortable and supportive position for your body.
The most affordable wheelchairs are typically the transport type if you have a limited budget. Standard, lightweight wheelchairs usually cost more, but they offer self-propulsion, making them far more suitable for everyday use.
Electric wheelchairs are the most expensive option, with models usually costing several thousand dollars. If you need an electric wheelchair but struggle to afford one, check if Medicare, Medicaid, or charitable donations cover some of the costs.
The key to finding a suitable wheelchair is first determining your specific needs as precisely as possible. Consider factors such as your size, strength, environment, and medical conditions. With thorough planning, you’ll have an easier time finding a wheelchair that fits you perfectly.