Choosing the correct wheelchair for limited mobility problems, age, or surgery can improve your quality of life by ensuring that you are not held back by anything. It is time to go out and enjoy yourself with your friends and family!
However, before you do that, you need to understand how to choose a wheelchair (and even if a wheelchair is the right choice for you). What types of wheelchairs are available in the market, what are their features, and how can you choose the best wheelchair for your use?
You'll learn all of that - and much more - in our complete wheelchair buying guide.
Let's get started!
Choosing a Wheelchair for the Elderly: Types of Wheelchairs
There are six main types of manual wheelchairs available in the market. These are usually best for people who need a wheelchair all the time, or most of the time due to limited mobility issues, or for people who can walk with a walking stick but need a wheelchair for longer distances.
- 1Ultra-Lightweight and Lightweight Wheelchairs
Usually, manual wheelchairs weigh between 25 to 40 pounds. They are easy to lift and are great for traveling as they can be put in and out of the car for quick errands or trips.
Lightweight chairs usually use materials such as titanium, carbon steel, or aluminum. They have small front wheels and large back wheels that provide support.
These wheelchairs are self-propelled. This means that the user can push themselves. However, caregivers have the option to push the user in the wheelchair by using the gripped handles.
- 2Standard Wheelchairs
Very similar to lightweight wheelchairs, standard wheelchairs have smaller front wheels and larger back wheels. However, they weigh more than lightweight wheelchairs.
Standard wheelchairs are great for people who have upper body strength. However, caregivers can also push the wheelchair using the handles provided.
- 3Bariatric and Heavy-Duty Wheelchairs
These wheelchairs are perfect for those who are on the heavier side as they feature more robust, sturdier frames and wide seats that can take the weight of those who weigh anywhere between 300 to 700 pounds.
Specially designed for heavier people, heavy-duty wheelchairs come with a reclining seat so that caregivers can easily push users in the wheelchair without having to use an excessive amount of force.
- 4Tilt and Recliner Wheelchairs
If the wheelchair user is not very mobile and needs help from a few people when getting in and out of bed or the shower, wheelchairs with a tilting or reclining seat can largely benefit them.
These manual wheelchairs allow caregivers to carefully lower a backrest on the ground. Then, with the help of another person, the user is lifted out of the chair and put into the bed or shower or on the toilet.
- 5Transport Wheelchairs
The shape of this wheelchair does not allow the user to propel themselves. This means that they will have to be manually pushed by the caregiver. However, this should not be a problem as transport wheelchairs are lightweight and can be put in a vehicle for trips.
The only issue with transport wheelchairs is that the small wheels might not be suited to all outer environments as well as standard wheelchairs that feature large wheels.
There are numerous other kinds of wheelchairs that are suited for special needs. These include electric wheelchairs, pediatric wheelchairs that are specially made for children, sport wheelchairs specially made for athletes with disabilities, and Hemi height wheelchairs for those who can move the wheelchair with their feet.
Wheelchair Features and Accessories
It is usual for wheelchairs to be customized to suit the user’s specific needs. The good thing about wheelchair manufacturers is that they are more flexible than mobility scooter makers as they allow their wheelchairs to be customized.
Here are a few additional features that can be added to the wheelchair for added comfort:
Available in a variety of lengths and widths, firmer seats can be built on order. You can also add extra support or cushioning to ensure postural support.
- 2Footplates and Armrests
Most wheelchairs come with footplates and armrests that are adjustable. These help you find the ultimate comfortable seating position.
The height of the wheelchair is usually fixed.
Headrests do not usually come with a wheelchair. However, they can be brought as an optional feature and attached to the wheelchair.
- 5Storage Bags
There are different types of storage bags that come with wheelchairs. However, these are not meant for carrying large or heavy luggage.
There are various items now available in the market that you can add to your wheelchair. These include waterproof leg warmers that cover half of the body, like a half-length sleeping bag, as well as many accessories, and products to clean your wheelchair.
- 7Power Packs
Most manual wheelchairs allow power packs to be attached. This is great for those who use self-propelled wheelchairs but need to take a break from constantly pushing the wheelchair. By adding a power pack, you can take a break from manually maneuvering your chair whenever needed.
How to Choose a Wheelchair Cushion
When in search of a wheelchair cushion, there is a lot to think about. The comfort of your cushion makes a huge difference. Think about it this way. An athlete would need comfortable shoes to be successful, wouldn’t be? Similarly, you need a comfortable cushion to increase your quality of life.
The correct wheelchair cushion will not only help you stay in a proper position, but it will also make it easier for you to communicate with others and stop you from sliding off the wheelchair at random moments.
Moreover, cushions help prevent pressure sores. These can be extremely painful and rather icky. If you use a wheelchair, you must have a cushion that provides maximum comfort.
Finding the Right Wheelchair Cushion Material
When in search of a wheelchair cushion, you will find many materials to choose from. The material and cushion you opt for depend on your needs and budget.
Foam is a super lightweight material. It does not cost much, which means that most people can afford it and replace it from time to time. Moreover, foam cushions have a straight, stable surface.
However, foam can lose its shape quickly. There is no way you can prevent it from “bottoming out.” If you opt for a foam cushion, be prepared to replace it from time to time.
Gel cushions have a good pressure distribution. This feature allows you to feel cool at all times and is especially good for people whose bodies tend to heat up due to the weather. Gel cushions can be used alongside foam cushions.
However, gel cushions are heavy. This means that they add to the weight of the wheelchair. Before each use, they need be kneaded so that the gel stays in place.
Air cushions provide exceptional pressure relief. They are great for those who often wake up with sores and pains in their body. The firmness of air cushions can be adjusted based on your individual preference.
However, air cushion levels need to be checked daily in case of air leaks. This makes them less stable and not very sturdy. The slightest pressure at the wrong spot could cause you to buy a new cushion.
Honeycomb cushions are super lightweight. They are great for those people who use heavier wheelchairs as they do not add on any extra weight. Moreover, honeycomb cushions also help keep you cool at all times.
However, honeycomb cushions are not best known for their pressure distribution and positioning features. They classify as average to moderate.
- 5Alternating Pressure
Alternating pressure cushions provide automatic pressure distribution to all sore spots of the body. This is why they are great for preventing pressure sores. They are ideal for those individuals who cannot move around too much to adjust their position in the wheelchair.
However, alternating pressure cushions are not cheap. Moreover, their battery needs to be recharged prior to use.
- 6Seating Systems
Seating systems allow the wheelchair to have a captain’s seat or cushion.
However, this seating option does not allow you to add an extra cushion or switch the existing cushion with another option.
Finding the Right Wheelchair Cushion Support
If you are looking for a cushion that provides more support than a standard cushion, there are loads of options you can choose from to ensure comfort and good posture.
Contoured cushions are for those who have a posterior pelvic tilt that makes them look downwards when seated in the wheelchair.
Anti-thrust cushions are for those individuals who have an anterior pelvic tilt due to which they look upwards when seated in the wheelchair.
Wedge cushions are for those individuals who slump forward in the wheelchair and tend to slide down while sitting.
Pommel cushions are for those individuals that require additional support so that they do not slide down the wheelchair or so that their knees do not constantly knock together while sitting.
- 5Sacral Cut Out
Sacral cut out cushions are needed to lessen the pressure on the user’s tailbone. This helps keep pressure sores and body aches at bay.
- 6No Lean
No lean cushions are ideal for those individuals who have pelvic obliquity and naturally tend to lean to one side when seated in the wheelchair. The no lean cushion helps fix obliquity as well as manage it!
As the name suggests, the amputee cushion is for those individuals who require a cushion in order to support left, right or bilateral amputation.
How to Choose a Wheelchair Van
When choosing a wheelchair van, it is better to opt for a rear entry or short floor side entry van. However, wheelchair drivers must opt for a full floor side entry minivan unless you have sufficient mobility to get into the driver's seat safely.
There are some wheelchairs that are big and need a lot of room to move around. Hence, when choosing a wheelchair van, you need to consider the width of the ramp, the height of the entrance, and the total space taken by the wheelchair in each position.
Take the van out for a test drive with the wheelchair to ensure that it fits all your requirements.
- 2Caregiver Needs
If the wheelchair user usually requires outside assistance for traveling from one place to another, it is important that the wheelchair van allows the caregiver to stay as close as possible to the wheelchair user.
- 3Entry System
Rear and side entry systems allow fold-out ramps that take up an ample amount of space. Based on your everyday needs, you must opt for the easiest option. A wheelchair van that has a side entry rap takes up extra parking space on the sides. However, it can be easier to position at the curb.
On the other hand, a rear entry wheelchair van can easily be used in most parking lots and driveways as it does not require much space. However, it is harder to use on the curb. Try both wheelchair van options out in person to see what suits you best.
There are many different options when it comes to wheelchair vans. Hence, it is crucial to first set your budget and do your research. Moreover, always request quotes from multiple brands first and choose different styles to ensure that you get a wheelchair van that fits your needs, as well as your budget.
Choosing a wheelchair is no child's play. There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration, especially since a wheelchair is a one-time investment for most people. Remember to do your own research and look at different brands before opting for a wheelchair. Good luck!