A wheelchair is a medical tool that can be used for a variety of different reasons. Many people could benefit from the use of some type of wheelchair, but how do you know which type is right for you? There are many types of wheelchairs for different uses. This article will help to clarify what types are available and why you could use each type for specific medical conditions.
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Standard manual wheelchair
This is the type of wheelchair that you might typically see at the entrance to hospitals or airports. The manual component means that you use the power of your arms or feet to propel these chairs around. These wheelchairs can come in basic models that offer foot and leg rests and come in a few different widths. Some of these wheelchairs have a few additional features such as elevating leg rests and removable armrests.
Who needs this?
Persons experiencing short term disabilities such as those who have had recent surgery, or patients that don’t typically need a wheelchair but might for long-distance walking in malls, large hospitals, or airports.
Lightweight manual wheelchair
Lightweight manual wheelchairs are very similar to standard chairs but have many more options in terms of fit, accessories, and materials. These chairs can be made from state of the art materials such as carbon fiber to decrease weight and therefore decrease fatigue levels in patients using them for longer distances.
They also typically come with swing-away, or removable armrests to aid in transfers from the chair to other surfaces. They can either have swing-away leg rests, or fixed leg rests depending on the type of chair and if it is intended to be used as the patient’s primary mode of mobility vs. only for mobility in certain situations. These chairs usually are issued with specialized cushions if the patient is going to be sitting in them for prolonged periods of time to prevent pressure sores from forming over the seating surface.
Who needs this?
Lightweight chairs can be issued as rental chairs for patients that have conditions that are likely to improve slowly over a period of months. Rental chairs typically do not have as many options as suppliers are limited to what they have in stock. Lightweight chairs can also be issued as permanent mobility devices for patients with chronic medical disabilities such as spinal cord injury or stroke as these disabilities are likely not going to worsen over time. These wheelchairs have the capability to accept many accessories.
Power wheelchairs are devices which are driven by the user and contain a motor for electric propulsion for mobility. They are usually custom devices that are much higher cost than the previously mentioned chairs but are used for special conditions that require a higher level of care for mobility. Typical power wheelchairs can be driven by joystick controlled by the hand or by the movement of another part of the body such as the elbow, shoulder, head/neck, or tongue; depending on each individual patient’s level of function. They can have the ability to elevate the leg rests, tilt the seat in space, recline, or elevate up and down.
Who needs this?
Power wheelchairs are specialty devices that can only be issued for patients who will require the wheelchair for very long periods of time and who cannot use a manual wheelchair because of their medical condition (weakness of the arms/trunk).
Patients should typically inquire via their physical or occupational therapist or insurance company about coverage for durable medical equipment including wheelchairs prior to wheelchair purchase out of pocket. Many insurance companies will cover a wheelchair as justified by a medical provider, so this can save a lot of out of the pocket expense.
Buying A Wheelchair? Here’s Where To Start
There is so much more to buying a wheelchair than simply buying a generic-looking wheelchair, from whatever your local medical supplies store has in stock.
There are many types of wheelchairs that provide different features, different comforts, for different people. Furthermore, you can add accessories to wheelchairs that will enhance its safety, ease of use, and comfort even further.
And there’s much more to consider too. Here’s a resource list you can use if you are buying a wheelchair. It will show you where to look so that you can make an informed decision. I want you to be an informed buyer so that you end up with exactly the right medical supply for you.
Just as we’re all different, so are our needs.
1. First, Realize There Are Many Types of Wheelchairs
Many people new to buying a wheelchair don’t realize that there are many types. The above link will take you to just 12 of them.
There are chairs for adults, children, and infants. There are chairs for all of the various needs they have. Here are some more categories you can dig into for better understanding.
2. Pediatric Wheelchair Choices
Pediatric wheelchairs have their own sizing but also their own stability features. Very small children and infants who need chairs often need them because they may have been born with cerebral palsy or some form of muscular dystrophy that makes it a challenge for them to sit upright.
So for children, beyond smaller sizing, there are needs for stability and safety.
3. Your Transport Wheelchair Buying Guide
Transport wheelchairs are chairs designed for ease when traveling. They are typically built lighter and easily collapsible. They look a bit “stripped down” in features when you look at them.
These are the chairs best designed for air travel, for example, where the larger more comfortable chair may be too cumbersome to take on and off of planes, trains, and buses.
4. Types of Wheelchair Accessories
Also available, are accessories that will make your wheelchair more comfortable like cushions, or weather garments to protect you from high winds and snow.
There are also safety features you can buy to prevent tipping and sliding, for example.
Other accessories include trays that you can attach to your chair to eat on, hold your drink on the go, or to set down a book or laptop computer.
Another major category of accessories includes storage. There are bags, sacks, pouches, and shelves that can attach in various places on and under the chair to store personal items and even specialty medical equipment like an oxygen tank for example. More »
5. Youtube for Researching Wheelchairs
Don’t forget about the power of Youtube for your research. Video demonstrations can be possibly the most informative as to how a chair can be used, how easy it is to use, and how easy it is to fold and unfold.
6. Where to Buy Wheelchairs
You can save money by searching for a wheelchair dealer. They exist! These are companies that specialize in just wheelchairs and mobility supplies, rather than “all types” of medical supplies and equipment.
Some companies, like Marc’s Mobility, sell used manual and powered wheelchairs. They have done a good job of posting videos on Youtube so that you can see for yourself how the model you may want to buy performs.
7. How to Determine Proper Fit in a Wheelchair
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of wheelchair best suited for you, check out this link for detailed advice on how to ensure you’re getting the right size chair.
8. How to Install a Wheelchair Ramp for Your Home
And finally, don’t forget to prepare your home, and possibly your vehicle, for your new wheelchair. There will be accessories and equipment that will make your home and vehicle much more accommodating to your new piece of equipment.
For example, follow the above link to get familiar with the steps involved in buying and installing a wheelchair ramp for your home.
Six Steps To Buy A Wheelchair – STEP 5 is Critical If You Want to Save Money!
There are a few steps involved in shopping for the proper fit and comfort for your wheelchair. There are also wheelchair accessories you can choose to make the wheelchair experience more effective, and more convenient.
The first step is to realize that there are many types of wheelchairs. Do your research and shop for the one that meets your needs? There are standard wheelchairs, narrow wheelchairs, bariatric models for people who need wide chairs that can support weights in the 500-pound range. There are wheelchairs for infants and children. There are wheelchairs specifically designed for easy transport; if you are a person who requires magnetic resonance imaging for your condition on a regular basis, you can find wheelchairs made of materials that can safely go into an MRI machine.
If your condition requires it, you can also find wheelchairs that recline. Finally, there are also chairs made of antimicrobial properties so that germs cannot live on the surface.
Consider if you need power. There are powered wheelchairs, and powered scooters for people to choose from in case the manual movement of their own wheelchair is not possible, or perhaps too cumbersome for a long-term effort.
There are online retailers who have done a great job of creating YouTube videos where they demonstrate the use of these powered chairs and scooters. The videos show you within a few minutes how easy the chairs are to assemble and disassemble for easy use and travel, how to charge their motors and batteries, how quickly they move, and how easily they are to maneuver.
Video s a great way to evaluate these types of mobility devices. Marc’s Mobility is one company that I have found does an excellent job for people trying to shop in this category.
Buy the chair online or at your local retailer.
Consider your home and access into it. Do you have stairs? Will you need a wheelchair ramp installed so that you can get in and out of your home while in your wheelchair?
If so, you’ll want a wheelchair ramp installed right away. There are companies like Living Free Home that sell and install wheelchair ramps, and some have created YouTube videos to demonstrate the installation process so that you can get comfortable with what it could look like and how long it will take to install a ramp.
Use your wheelchair for a while. Get comfortable with it. And start to take note of what is missing that could make your experience better.
After you’ve spent some time on STEP 5, you’ll be in a better position to research types of wheelchair accessories that can make your life better, safer, more comfortable, and/or more convenient.
Some accessories include:
- storage bags and cup holders
- lap trays
- communication mounts for cell phones, tablets
- safety accessories like flags or lights
- canopies and covers that can protect the chair when in storage, or can be mounted to protect the chairs user from bad weather like rain, snow, or strong gusts of wind; there are even handlebar specific covers that protect the users hands on a motorized scooter.
- “wheel blades” cover the wheels and create a ski effect for easier mobility in snow
- saddlebags for storage; their saddle bags that mount on the side of the arms and others that mount on the chair back
- shelves and glove boxes for storage; shelves and glove boxes typically mount under the seat of the chair
- crutch and cane holders
- joystick cover
- threshold ramps for easier entry and exit from your home, or from room to room
- sleeve guards that protect the skin of your arm that constantly comes in contact with the wheelchair arm
- weather chaps that cover the legs and provide protection from rain, snow, and strong wind, and add a little bit of warmth on the legs
- and more!