No longer are wheelchairs frumpy and clunky. A good wheelchair can evoke renewed feelings of independence. New advances in technology have opened the door to innovative designs, and there are almost as many wheelchairs and features as there are personalities. Even for those who can still walk, a wheelchair can help curb or lessen debilitating pain and increase your mobility choices. Wheelchairs can open up a person’s world; no longer will your activities be limited by your physical capabilities. After assessing your health, your abilities and your desires, Pronto’s Wheelchair Buying Guide will help you make your wheelchair-buying decision.
Wheelchairs come in manual, power and power-assisted models. Manual wheelchairs are propelled by the user. Power models are operated on a battery and are heavier. Power-assisted wheelchairs marry manual and power wheelchair abilities by increasing the rotation of each push.
The size of your wheelchair affects comfort and accessibility. Allow two to four inches on either side of the hips for clothing. Seat height should be two inches more than the length from the bottom of the heel to the part of the knee that bends, and seat depth should be two inches less than the distance from the seatback to the back of a bent leg.
Look for memory foam or air cushions for back support and comfort in a wheelchair that’s used for most of the day. Adjustable legrests and footrests help support the legs and should swing out of the way when they’re not needed.
Lighter wheelchairs are faster wheelchairs. Rear-wheel designs provide more speed but less maneuverability, while front-wheel designs turn better but move slower. Midwheel designs give a good balance of speed and turning but struggle with quick starts and stops.
Think about the weight of the chair as well as the weight it can support. Lighter wheelchairs are easier to move and store. Standard wheelchairs will support up to 250 pounds, and heavy-duty wheelchairs will support 500 pounds or more.
A fold-out metal or plastic plate that provides leg support to someone seated in a wheelchair.
A powered wheelchair that is driven by its front wheels for better turning.
Adjustable supports that let you raise and lower your legs while seated in a wheelchair.
A six-wheeled powered wheelchair that provides a good combination of speed and mobility.
A wheelchair that includes a battery-operated motor that increases the wheel rotation with each push, allowing it to be propelled more easily.
A battery-powered wheelchair that is controlled by a joystick or specialized control system and requires little to no physical effort to propel.
A powered wheelchair that is propelled by its back wheels, offering better speed but less maneuverability.
Because of improving technology and a growing awareness of their need, wheelchairs come in a variety of models. There are three main types of wheelchairs: manual wheelchairs, electric or power wheelchairs and power-assist wheelchairs.
Most manual wheelchairs are propelled using arm strength, but some models with a lower frame can be propelled using the legs. These wheelchairs can also be pushed from behind. Manual wheelchairs are lightweight and typically have a pair of large rear wheels for propelling and two small wheels in front for turning.
Transport wheelchairs have four small wheels and cannot be pushed by the user. These wheelchairs often fold compactly to store in a car or closet, making them great for vacations or quick trips around town.
Power wheelchairs are operated by a battery, and they require little or no physical effort from the occupant. If you decide on a power wheelchair, understand the kind of battery is has and how long it lasts. These wheelchairs are good choices for those with little arm strength and people who are often alone. Power wheelchairs have the added bonus of easily maneuvering up and down hills.
There are many choices when it comes to the seating of a power wheelchair. Sophisticated seats allow tilting, reclining and leg-rest elevation. Some children’s wheelchairs lower the seat so the child can interact with other kids on the floor.
Power wheelchairs can be controlled by joysticks or systems designed for those with limited hand strength or control. The Sip ‘n Puff control gives a wheelchair’s user a straw that translates breathing patterns into movement. Head arrays are a series of switches in a headrest that allow head movements to dictate a wheelchair’s motion.
Power-assist wheelchairs use battery-assisted wheels to increase the number of revolutions with each push. This increases the wheelchair’s efficiency and reduces the amount of effort a user puts into propelling it.
Before buying a wheelchair, measure all of the spaces in your home and pay close attention to places you have to maneuver the wheelchair through or around, such as doors, hallways, desks and furniture. Once you have these measurements, compare them to a wheelchair’s width, length and turning radius. Also consider the distance from the seat to the floor to be sure that you can reach doorknobs and handles.
A wheelchair’s seat must correspond to your size. The standard size of wheelchair seats is 18 inches wide by 16 inches deep. To see if the standard size seat is a right fit for you, measure the distance from one side of your hip to the other by sitting on a measuring tape; then add two to four inches for bulky clothing. To find the right seat depth, measure from the back of a chair to the back of your knee and subtract one to two inches.
Seat height is important because you do not want your feet to drag from a seat that is too low, and you do not want to have trouble maneuvering out of a wheelchair that’s too high. Measure from the bottom of your foot to where your leg bends at the knee and add two inches to find your ideal height.
You’ll spend a lot of time in a wheelchair, so you want it to be as comfortable as possible. Different people will need different support systems. Many doctors recommend that those with weak upper body strength have a chair that can tilt back 45 degrees to avoid bedsores.
Cushions are necessary for someone who spends a great deal of time in a wheelchair. There are a range of cushions available. Memory foam offers great relief from seat pressure as well as excellent back support. Air cushions have similar effects.
Armrests provide arm and shoulder support. There are four types of armrests: fixed, adjustable, removable and flip-back. Fixed armrests do not move and cannot be adjusted or removed. Adjustable armrests can be set to different heights. Removable and flip-back armrests can be moved out of your way, which is especially helpful when you’re transferred in or out of your wheelchair. Look for desk-length armrests if you’ll be sitting at tables and desks.
Footrests and legrests support your legs. Legrests elevate the leg and typically include a calf pad. Legrests allow you to raise or lower your legs and to lock the rests in the desired position. Footrests offer leg support, but they do not elevate. Both legrests and footrests are available in a swing-away mode that folds them out of the way when you’re propelling or being transferred to your wheelchair.
Some wheelchairs are faster than others, and some maneuver more easily. The speed and mobility of your wheelchair will depend on your strength levels and the wheelchair’s weight.
Generally, the lighter the wheelchair, the faster it will be. Power wheelchairs offer different levels of speed and mobility. Traditional rear-wheel-drive models are faster but not as flexible in turns. Front-wheel models offer tighter turns, but they are slower. Wheelchairs with midwheel drive offer tight turns but take longer to stop and start.
Consider the weight of your wheelchair as well as the amount of weight it can hold. Think about the person who will be moving the chair and their level of strength, as well as how the wheelchair will be stored.
Manual wheelchairs range from 4 to 30 pounds, while power wheelchairs can weigh as much as 250 pounds. The larger your wheelchair, the heavier it tends to be. Lighter wheelchairs are easier for someone to push up hills, carry up stairs or store in a car.
Standard wheelchairs can usually hold up to 250 pounds of weight. If you need something stronger, look for heavy-duty wheelchairs that can support 500 pounds or more.
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