Learn More about Mobility Wheelchairs
Skooterama Wheelchair Buying Guide
If you need a wheelchair, there are several factors to consider ensuring that you choose the perfect one. These are not fixed rules, because every situation is unique. Here is a detailed buying guide to help you make that decision:
First, ask yourself these questions:
- Will you be using the chair inside or outside?
- What kind of terrain will you be traveling on?
- How will you transport the wheelchair?
- Will you be traveling with the wheelchair – by sea or by air?
- Are you using wheelchair all day, or part of the day?
- Will there be someone to help you with the wheelchair?
- What is your budget?
- Will you need accessories – oxygen tank holder, head support, or the like?
- Do you tire easily?
Manual vs Electric
Manual Wheelchairs are best suited for those who:
- Can transfer short distance without assistance
- Are recovering from a temporary injury
- Need it for only occasional use
- Have adequate postural control
- Have adequate upper body strength:
- Have fine motor and gross motor coordination and dexterity
Pros of Manual
* Generally lighter weight and easier to transport and store
* Easy to travel with
* Typically, less expensive
* Requires minimal maintenance
Cons of Manual
* Notably more difficult to traverse rough terrain and inclines.
* Often requires caregiver to push it
* Requires significant physical strength and endurance – can be exhausting
* Requires fine motor and gross motor coordination and dexterity to operate
* Uncomfortable for all day use
Powered Wheelchairs are best suited for those who:
- Have severely limited mobility (Have difficulty walking, standing, or transferring)
- Have little to no postural control
- Have very limited upper body strength
- Have very limited coordination and dexterity
- Require extended long term use
Pros of Powered
* Requires little to no manual dexterity
* Traverses rough terrain with ease
* There are folding travel models
* More comfortable for all day use
* Have more upgrades available for those with specific body support needs
Cons of Powered
* More expensive
* Requires more maintenance
* Much heavier & bulkier
* User should have intact vision and depth perception
Types of Wheelchairs
Travel/Portable Power Wheelchairs: Ideal for those with an active lifestyle, these Powered Wheelchairs tend to be more compact in size to maneuver in more confined or populated areas. They are also typically lighter in weight and designed to be transported more easily. (Be aware that some of the super lightweight wheelchairs are constructed with a lighter framework, making their weight capacity lower. But there are options available for a variety of weights). They either fold to a smaller size, or dismantle into more manageable pieces, without sacrificing anything in comfort for full-time use. They fit easily into a vehicle trunk, cargo area, or closet.
Full Size Powered Wheelchairs: For those who typically spend all day in their wheelchair, a full size chair will be best. These wheelchairs are sturdy, durable and yet easily maneuverable. They are packed with comfort features for all-day use and have a greater travel range. There are different drive types for different uses (We address that in the next section). They are workhorses that can be used inside or out, on smooth or rough terrain, at work or at play.
Heavy Duty Powered Wheelchairs: These wheelchairs are designed for larger individuals. Every bit as durable, maneuverable, and comfortable as their Full-Sized cousins. With different drive types, styles and features, there is one for every need.
Bariatric Power Chairs: are designed to support larger riders. The frame, wheels, casters, and seats will be wider and/or more durable, and the motors and batteries will be more powerful. Most models can carry 400 – 700 pounds, with a few capable of carrying up to 1000 pounds. They are capable indoors or out, on smooth or rough terrain.
Elevating Power Wheelchairs: is actually an upgrade. The seat raises the user to the eye level of a standing individual. This allows for many conveniences, such as a more comfortable neck position during conversations, or accessing reaching items out of reach.
Mid-Wheel Drive Powered Wheelchairs: are typically more compact and have the tightest turning radius of all designs making them ideal for indoors or confined areas. The main pair of wheels is almost directly under the seat. In front of and behind the drive wheels are two sets of caster wheels to keep the chair balanced. Other than the small possibility of getting stuck on unlevel round in a mid-wheel drive wheelchair, mid-wheel drive wheelchairs are the most popular model for a reason, so don't let this one disadvantage steer you away. These chairs typically have a shorter ‘learning curve’ for those who were ambulatory at some point because the drive wheel being directly under the users' body creates a balance that mimics the natural grace of an upright mobile person.
Front Wheel Drive Wheelchairs: are easily maneuverable and the best on turf and rougher terrain. All the weight is being pulled along and not pushed. Because they can fish-tail at high speeds, the top speeds are lower. Their turning radius is not as tight as a mid-wheel type,
Rear Wheel Drive Wheelchairs: are the best for stability and all-round use. They can handle more weight, go at faster speeds, but have a larger turning radius. They handle inclines well,
A joystick (controls direction and speed) with keypad (controls speed, in some recline, horn, and other functions) on the armrest is the most common controller. Most require constant pressure to continue that operation and will brake automatically if that pressure is released. Most can accommodate other types of controllers depending on the limitations/needs of the user.
- Sip and puff: controlled by inhaling or exhaling into a tube.
- Head controls: switches are added to either side of the headrest.
- Foot controls: the pedals and buttons are located on the footrest.
- Chin controls: the controller is near and operated by the chin.
- Speech controls: controlled by simple vocal commands.
Typically, power wheelchairs come with two larger wheels (called “drive wheels”) that are connected to the motor and 2-4 casters which help with stability. The drive wheels may be in the front, middle, or rear of the chair. Larger and wider wheels and casters will travel better over rough terrain, making the ride smoother.
There are two main types of wheels available for power wheelchairs: pneumatic and foam-filled wheels. Pneumatic wheels are filled with air (like a car tire) and tend to promote gentler riding because they absorb shock. They also offer more traction and stability. Pneumatic wheels will need to be inflated when they start going flat since they can puncture.
Foam filled wheels (or “flat-free”) are puncture-proof, and as the name suggests, filled with foam. The wheels are low maintenance, but the ride is not as smooth as pneumatic wheels.
Casters help stabilize the power wheelchair while it is in motion. More compact casters can help make tighter turns indoors. Casters are usually located opposite the drive wheel. For instance, the casters are in front for the rear-wheel drive system. There is an exception for a mid-wheel drive system, where casters are in the front and back of the power wheelchair. Like drive wheels, casters can be pneumatic, or foam filled. They can also be solid, which roll easily but may provide a rough ride when travelling over uneven or bumpy ground.
Some power wheelchairs offer a free wheel mode, which releases the wheels (disengages the brakes) and allows the chair to be manually pushed. This is a helpful emergency feature if the battery has run out while the power wheelchair is in use. It’s important not to put the wheelchair into free wheel mode without assistance from another person.
There are two main types of seats: a traditional seat, which makes the power wheelchair look like a manual wheelchair, and a captain’s seat, which provides more cushioning and is contoured for the user. The amount of cushioning in the seat and backrest may be important for the user, especially if they require additional support. They can be contoured foam, air filled, a combination of the two or gel filled. Power wheelchairs with traditional seats and seats with less padding are generally more portable.
There are various options for headrests, leg rests, backrests, and cushions available depending on the model of the power wheelchair. Some are longer than others and some swing out of the way to make it easier for you to move in and out of the chair
Recline and Tilt
Most power wheelchairs are designed for the user to sit in an upright position. For users that have trouble shifting their weight (to relieve pressure and increase blood flow), some chairs can recline, while others can tilt in space (change the orientation of the chair without changing any of the lower body angles).
There are a wide variety of power wheelchair accessories available on the market, some of the most common ones are:
- Wheelchair ramps
- Backpacks and bags
- Cup holders
- Armrests: Provide additional support for the user's arms while seated in the wheelchair.
- Joystick protectors
- Seat belts
- Anti-tip devices
- Oxygen tank holders
- Umbrella holders
- Tray tables
- Lighting systems
- Power-assist wheels
It's worth noting that some of these accessories may not be compatible with all types and models of power wheelchairs. Always check with the manufacturer or a trained professional before purchasing and installing any accessories on your power wheelchair.
Electric wheelchairs require more maintenance than manual wheelchairs, as they have more complex components, such as batteries and motors. Regular maintenance is required to ensure that the battery is charged, the motor is working properly, and the brakes are functioning correctly.
Manual wheelchairs require minimal maintenance, such as checking the tires and brakes periodically.
Never leave your power chair in the rain or outdoors. Parts can get rusted and they will not be covered under most warranties if this is the reason for the damage.
You should not constantly ride uphill because it will drain your battery and cause more significant damage eventually. By doing this you make your electric wheelchair perform under more power and if this is done regularly, it can ruin your batteries or even your motor.
Additionally, make sure you never go over the weight capacity, it is usually best to stay at least 20 to 30 lbs. under the capacity. If you exceed the weight capacity, the battery will drain faster, and you can ruin the motor or possibly break the frame.
Remember these simple things and you will be able to keep your electric wheelchair in great shape for years to come.
Ready to Shop!
We hope this guide has helped you to not only define your needs, but to get excited about your future independence using a Mobility Wheelchair! Every product listing is jam packed with information.
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