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Types of Wheelchairs (2022): Easy Wheelchair Buying Guide

By jwilder

Types of Wheelchairs

Having your ability to move limited can be a source of significant stress and anxiety, but a good mobility aid can help lessen these feelings.

Finding the right wheelchair can help you feel mobile and safe. This helpful wheelchair guide will walk you through the different types of wheelchairs and wheelchair accessories available to you, as well as some tips for finding the one that fits your needs.

Let’s get started!

Types of Wheelchairs for the Elderly

Drive Medical K320DFA-ELR Cruiser III Light Weight Wheelchair with Various Flip Back Arm Styles and Front Rigging Options, Flip Back Removable Full Arms/Elevating Leg Rests, Black, 20 Inch

Wheelchairs for seniors should be lightweight, making it easy both to push yourself and be pushed by someone else. Ideally, they should also be easy to climb in and out of, and comfortable enough to sit in for the majority of the day.

Seniors may be using a wheelchair for short-term medical purposes, but it’s more likely that wheelchair use is or will become permanent. This being the case, a wheelchair for the elderly must be versatile. A wheelchair loses its usefulness when it cannot fit into a certain space or safely roll on a surface.

The best wheelchair for seniors can help them stay independent and take care of their day-to-day needs, not simply roll from one hospital room to another. A good wheelchair will help you feel a bit more free compared to living without it, not less.

The Drive Medical Cruiser III is a very nice, lightweight manual wheelchair that should serve many seniors well. It’s a rudimentary wheelchair, but it has everything needed for the basic needs of a senior. It is easy to push, foldable and has flip-back arms that make it easy for a caregiver to lift a person out of the chair safely. Finally, it can be upgraded with custom backrest and cushion inserts, so any senior can feel stable and comfortable.

That, however, is just one example of a wheelchair option for the elderly. It may not fit the needs of every person, and there is more than just one type of wheelchair. Let’s discuss more categories of wheelchairs, and take a look at some great examples of each!

Types of Transport Wheelchairs

Transport wheelchairs, sometimes called transport chairs, aren’t like the typical manual wheelchair that has very large rear wheels and smaller front wheels. Transport wheelchairs are designed for you to be pushed by someone, not to push yourself- it’s impossible to push yourself in a transport wheelchair.

Transport wheelchairs are great for short trips and medical purposes. For example, if you typically use a mobility scooter or electric wheelchair that won’t fit in the place you need to go, a transport wheelchair can allow someone to help you get there.

They’re also used for people who cannot use a traditional wheelchair, such as Lou Gehrig’s Disease patients or those who’ve lost the use of one or both arms. If you think that a transport wheelchair might be right for you, you’ll find that they are lighter and sometimes more affordable than a traditional wheelchair. Let’s take a look at one:

Transport Wheelchair Recommendation: Medline Lightweight Transport Chair

This transport chair is made by Medline, one of North America’s largest and oldest producers of medical equipment and mobility aids. Even though it weighs less than 30 pounds, it boasts a weight capacity of 300 pounds, meaning almost anyone can use it safely. It also features a seatbelt, full-length armrests, and handbrakes; all of these things increase the chair’s safety and stability.

Medline Lightweight Transport Wheelchair with Handbrakes, Folding Transport Chair for Adults, 2 inch Wheels, Red

The chair also folds in two different places: it collapses inward as most chairs do, and the backrest also folds in half, making the chair easier to move and store. The folding backrest can also make it easier for a caregiver to lift the person in and out of the chair. While it isn’t a true tilting/lifting wheelchair, it is much easier to pick up a person from this chair when the back is folded down.

Types of Manual Wheelchairs

Manual wheelchairs are what most people think of when they hear the word “wheelchair”. You propel yourself by pushing on the rails that are on the outside of the large wheel. Having large wheels makes the pushing relatively easy, but they can still wear you out quickly. A manual wheelchair is best for short distances, such as going from the car to the house or office; they’re not the best for longer trips, since your arms will tire too fast.

A manual wheelchair has been shown to lead to a significant increase in quality of life, as well as helping users participate in the economy. For people who might not qualify to receive an electric wheelchair and cannot afford the expense on their own, a manual wheelchair is quite a satisfactory alternative.

These wheelchairs take a bit of time to learn how to use safely since they can tip if you move too quickly or go up a steep incline. However, once you learn proper wheelchair techniques, they are quite safe and few risky situations present themselves.

Make no mistake, using a manual wheelchair can be hard. Pushing yourself all day is not something your arms will be used to doing. When you first use a manual wheelchair, you can expect to feel quite sore at the end of the day. This muscle soreness and exhaustion can be hard to overcome, and it leads many people to consider a different type of wheelchair. Overuse of a manual wheelchair can even cause injuries. Depending on your needs, a manual wheelchair may not be the way to go; it is tiring and depending on your having the complete use of both arms.

Using a manual wheelchair, while it can be tiring, is actually a great way for seniors who’ve lost lots of mobility to stay healthy. Pushing yourself in the chair stimulates your muscles and heart, improving your respiratory health. Being able to move and get your blood pumping can also have positive impacts on your digestion! The CDC recommends exercise for wheelchair users, too!

While you may not want to use a manual wheelchair 100% of the time, these health benefits cannot be ignored and should be a reason for you to consider using at least some of the time. Do you think a manual wheelchair could be a benefit to you? Consider this affordable, lightweight option:

Manual Wheelchair Recommendation: Karman LT-980 Wheelchair

It’s not easy to find a manual wheelchair that weighs less than 25 pounds, but this one does! Not only does that make it easy to fold and transport, but it also makes pushing yourself in the chair much less tiring. That means less muscle soreness and exhaustion to deal with, especially in the early days of using your wheelchair.

Karman 24 pounds LT-980 Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair Black

It has a few other great features, too; it’s not just the lightweight design. The brakes are very easy to engage and hold tight to the wheels; this will provide stability when getting in/out of the chair and safety when out and about. There is also an optional anti-tip wheel that will be valuable to people who live on inclines. The wheels themselves are made of solid polyurethane that provides excellent traction on a variety of surfaces.

Types of Electric Wheelchairs

Electric wheelchairs are the second most common type of wheelchair. True to their name, they rely on electric motors to provide power, rather than the user or a caregiver’s arms/legs. Electric wheelchairs are great not just for convenience, but also for people who have severely limited mobility to engage in daily life.

An electric wheelchair is a vital part of life for people who have cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or are similarly limited. The wheelchair is controlled with a joystick that is much easier to use than a delta tiller (as found in mobility scooters) or handlebars. Many electric wheelchairs are also equipped with things like safety belts that help users stay comfortably seated in the chair and prevent nasty falls.

Powered by large batteries and powerful motors, electric wheelchairs are the heaviest by a long shot- many weigh more than 100 pounds. This is just the nature of the beast, however, and electric wheelchairs are best judged by their speed, range, and comfort- not speed.

Electric wheelchairs are also great for people who need a wheelchair to travel longer distances, a situation in which a manual wheelchair simply wouldn’t be practical. Many electric wheelchairs have a range of several miles, some are even capable of traveling 16 miles on a single charge!

There are many companies that make electric wheelchairs, and they seem to group into two subcategories. Some have a heavy medical focus, while others are made more for range and comfort as alternatives to manual wheelchairs. For that reason, we’re going to take a look at two different electric wheelchair options, one from each subcategory:

Electric Wheelchair for Medical Needs: Pride Mobility GO Chair

This wheelchair can stop and turn on a dime, even in a tight space, thanks to the nearly zero-degree turning provided by the front wheels. The wheelchair has a turning radius of just 25 inches, making it incredibly easy to use indoors.

The seat and backrest on this chair are very plush, providing great comfort all day long. 

New GO CHAIR Pride Mobility Travel Electric Powerchair + 18AH Batteries Upgrade (Sapphire Blue)

You don’t have to worry about feeling sore or uncomfortable in this chair!

It also has dual storage bins under the chair, giving you less to worry about since there won’t be personal belongings sitting in your lap. It can also travel up to 3.7 MPH, faster than many similar chairs. If you have severely limited mobility and need a supportive, versatile chair, this could be the one for you!

Electric Wheelchair for Long-Distance Use: Majestic Long Range Lightweight

Ride up to 16 miles on a single charge with this lightweight electric wheelchair! You can take it just about anywhere you like, with comfort and stability! This wheelchair has rugged, all-terrain-style wheels that will help you travel over grass and gravel with ease; it even has anti-tip wheels. It has a memory foam seat and backrest that will help soften the bumps in the road and provide all-day comfort.

2021 Long Range Lightweight Electric Wheelchair - Remote Control Electric Wheelchairs Lightweight Foldable Motorize Power Electrics Wheel Chair Mobility Aid (17.5" Seat Width)

This wheelchair is designed to give you the freedom to go anywhere, whether that be to the park or grocery store, or even on planes and cruises! It weighs only 56 pounds, and folds up tight enough to fit in the back of a sedan. If you need a mobility aid that won’t hold you back, and don’t have the kind of serious medical needs that would require a medical wheelchair, this one is ideal for you.

Types of Cushions for Wheelchairs

Wheelchair cushions are a crucial part of the impact a wheelchair can have on your life. If the cushion works, the wheelchair will be a valuable part of your life and keep you on the go with comfort. If the cushion doesn’t work, odds are that the wheelchair won’t get much use and you’ll stay inside, in a stationary chair, more often than you would care to.

If the cushion on your wheelchair is uncomfortable, you aren’t out of luck! There are many different cushions you can purchase to either replace or supplement your current wheelchair’s cushion. This can be beneficial not just for simple comfort; having a supportive wheelchair cushion is helpful for your posture, for relieving soreness and even bruising that can occur as a result of wheelchair use.

The most common materials that a wheelchair cushion will be made from is gel and memory foam. These foams are softer and more comfortable than standard cell foams; they disperse your weight differently and your body feels like it is settling in rather than sitting atop the foam.

Wheelchair Cushion Recommendation: Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Cushion

This three-inch memory foam cushion is simple and luxurious at once. It’s just a thick foam cushion- and that’s all you’ll ever need. Made from gel-infused memory foam, this cushion will only get more comfortable over time. It also has ventilating qualities so that you won’t feel hot and the cushion will stay clean and fresh for longer.

Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Wheelchair Seat Cushion - Gel Infused and Ventilated - Designed for Hip and Tailbone Support - Fits Office Chairs

If sitting in your wheelchair for hours at a time leaves you feeling uncomfortable and sore, it’s time to get yourself a wheelchair cushion. They have the ability to make your wheelchair experience so much better, without having to shop around for a new wheelchair!

Types of Ramps for Wheelchairs

If your front door has steps, a wheelchair ramp is going to be an absolute must if you want to keep regular use of your home. Wheelchair ramps can be built with lumber by a skilled contractor, but you can also purchase pre-made aluminum wheelchair ramps that lay over the steps.

Even if your home doesn’t have steps, it likely has a 3 or 6-inch rise at the front door that your wheelchair cannot handle alone. In that situation, a shallow aluminum ramp is all you need to safely make it into and out of your house.

The home isn’t the only place to use a wheelchair ramp. There are many folding portable ramps that can help you access places that may not be fully accommodating to your needs. You can bring a small ramp along on a road trip and have your spouse or caretaker set it up when you know you’ll need it. Portable ramps are also ideal for home use, where they can be set up and removed quickly to make it more convenient for others in the house.

Many wheelchair ramps you can purchase online come in one of two varieties, and it all comes down to the surface material. Most every wheelchair ramp is made of aluminum, and some have a bare aluminum surface, while others have a course, traction-heavy surface laid over the aluminum. For most people, the bare aluminum will provide enough traction that you’ll never have to worry about slipping on the ramp. In rainy or snowy climates, that extra traction is definitely better than having nothing!

Wheelchair Ramp Recommendation: ShareWin 4-Foot Non-Traction Ramp

This ramp, available in sizes from 3 to 6 feet in length, is wide enough to fit almost any chair and can support up to 600 pounds. It folds up easily and the 4-foot version weighs only 23 pounds, light enough for almost anyone to help you get around.

It’s not long enough to safely transport you up a multi-step front porch; it’s designed for a rise between 2 and 8 inches. 

4FT Non-Skid Traction Folding Aluminum Wheelchair Ramp Scooter Mobility Handicap Ramps for Home Steps, Suitcase with Handle, Holds Up to 600 lbs

It can be very helpful for people who need a simple ramp to get into their front door, back door, or up a small lip in a building. If you’re looking for a lightweight and portable wheelchair ramp to help you get around, keep this one in mind!

Types of Wheelchair Carriers

Some electric wheelchairs can fold up tight enough to fit into the back of your car, but not all of them. Even the ones that do fold can be hard to lift and take a long time to fold up and then unfold for use. Sometimes, it makes much more sense to get a wheelchair carrier that will affix to the trailer hitch on your vehicle. When you have one, you’re able to simply roll the wheelchair right up the ramp, secure it, and be on your way!

A good wheelchair ramp saves you the expense of having to get a wheelchair lift van. Of course, a wheelchair lift van is the only option for many. But, if you have the choice between a carrier and a lift van, the wheelchair carrier is the simpler and cheaper (by thousands) option.

Wheelchair ramps aren’t for everyone; they require the help of a spouse or caregiver to use. Some people don’t have that kind of help and won’t be able to use a wheelchair ramp safely. For people who do have a couple of helping hands, a wheelchair ramp makes everything easier when it comes to transportation. Here’s a great wheelchair ramp for you to consider:

Wheelchair Carrier Recommendation: Titan Ramps Hitch Mounted Carrier

This ramo is easy to install on your trailer hitch and has a 5-foot ramp section that helps you safely roll the chair up the ramp. Once it’s on there, everything locks down tight, so you don’t have to worry about losing your electric wheelchair halfway down the road.

When you aren’t transporting the wheelchair, the carrier platform folds up flat. This saves some space in traffic and makes things like parking a lot simpler. 

Titan Ramps Hitch Mounted Wheelchair Carrier Rack Ramp 500 lb Capacity Black Powder Coated Steel

The carrier can support a weight of up to 500 pounds, more than enough to handle even the heaviest electric wheelchair. If you’re looking to take a trip in the car soon, consider this wheelchair ramp to keep you moving safely the entire time!

Buyer's Guide: What to Look for in a Wheelchair

When you start shopping for a wheelchair, you need to know what to look for. If not, you might get sidetracked by features and gimmicks that you don’t need. The best way to choose a wheelchair is by following these pieces of helpful advice:

Consider Medical Needs First

It can be tempting to get a lighter, faster wheelchair for convenience. However, neglecting whatever medical needs you may have will result in you having a chair that is uncomfortable and may even negatively impact your health.

If you have more serious physical limitations, opt for the safest and most supportive chair you can find. It’s better to have a wheelchair that is healthy for you and sacrifice some convenience than the other way around!

Consider Your Daily Routine

Do you like to spend lots of time outside? Are you an avid shopper who still wants to take trips to the store once in a while? Or, are you a homebody who is more than content indoors? Answering these questions will help you decide whether a certain wheelchair is right for you.

If you spend most of your time inside, it’s likely that all you’ll need is a simple manual wheelchair. It will fit better in the hallways and tight corners of your home, and is much more affordable. If you’re more of a social, out-of-the-house person. Look for a durable electric wheelchair that will keep up with your lifestyle!

Paid for by Medicare/Medicaid

Wheelchairs, transport chairs, and electric wheelchairs fall into a category of Durable Medical Equipment (DME) that is covered by Medicare and Medicaid. If you are a participant in one or both of these programs, you can have a doctor prescribe you a wheelchair that you may not pay a single cent for! Medicare and Medicaid have different rules, but you must always go through an approved doctor and supplier to get your wheelchair covered!

If you can get a free wheelchair, that is great; however, not everyone will qualify for a wheelchair when they feel they still need one. In that case, you’ll be buying out of pocket, where budget considerations may play a large role in your decision making. The advantage of buying out of pocket, though, is that you won’t be limited to approved suppliers and you can get any wheelchair you want!

Conclusion: Wheelchair Buying Guide

Wheelchairs are a valuable and necessary part of life for many seniors. Manual wheelchairs are cost effective and simple. Transport wheelchairs are great for people who require lots of assistance, and electric wheelchairs provide lots of freedom and safety for all types of seniors. What type of wheelchair and wheelchair accessories do you use or plan to buy? Let us know in the comments section below!

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