What to Consider When Purchasing a Wheelchair

As they age, you may notice that your parent or loved one is not able to move around as freely or as easily, potentially due to pain or fatigue. It is estimated that more than 1 million adults aged 65+ use wheeled mobility devices (manual/power wheelchairs and scooters) (source). To make your parent(s) or loved one’s life easier, it may be time to consider a wheelchair in order to improve their mobility and overall quality of life. When searching for a wheelchair you’ll need to decide which type of wheelchair works best for their needs, while taking into consideration where it will be used.

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The Types of Wheelchairs Available

The three main types of wheelchairs are manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, and scooters.

Manual Wheelchairs: Manual wheelchairs require the person in the chair or another party to push the wheelchair. These are different than transport wheelchairs (often seen in hospitals or rehabilitation centers to move patients around). Manual wheelchairs are the least expensive option but require the most physical power. The manual wheelchairs are quite standard in shape, size and support in contrast to power wheelchairs. Some additional specifications include:

Cost: The average cost is $500 with typically ranges from $2,000 to $3,000.

Weight: The range is between 15 – 50 lbs.

Rental Options: Yes, you can rent a manual wheelchair. If you anticipate needing a chair for regular, daily use then you should consider purchasing a chair as the typical rental cost is $12 - $30/daily.

Power wheelchairs: In comparison, power wheelchairs are electric and move with no manual effort and allow the user to navigate the wheelchair using a small joystick. Power wheelchairs offer more customization in size, weight, support, the ability go for longer distances and most importantly a sense of autonomy and independence. You are given the option of changing the height and posture of the chair providing additional comfort. Some additional specifications include:

Cost: The average cost is $12,000 with typically ranges from $4,000 to $21,000+.

Weight: The range is between 150 – 250 lbs.

Battery Length: Typically, the batter for a power wheelchair will last 8 hours.

Rental Options: Yes, you can rent a power wheelchair. If you anticipate needing a chair for regular, daily use then you should consider purchasing a chair as the typical rental cost is $25 - $50/daily.

Mobility Scooters: These scooters are similar to power wheelchairs but do not provide the same back or leg support. Scooters are extremely convenient, comfortable and portable. You will find it easy to travel between 10-20 miles or an average of 8 hours a-day on one battery charge. They are available in various sizes and purposes: 4-wheel, 3-wheel, off-road and foldable. The ease of getting around is enhanced when using a scooter and offers a different look and feel than traditional wheelchairs. Some additional specifications include:

Cost: The average cost is $1000 with typically ranges from $800 to $4,000.

Weight: The range is between 44 – 400 lbs.

Battery Length: Typically, the batter for a power wheelchair will last 8 hours.

Rental Options: Yes, you can rent a mobility scooter. If you anticipate needing a scooter for regular, daily use then you should consider purchasing a scooter as the typical rental cost is $25 - $40/daily.

Wheelchair Type Advantages and Disadvantages

To help determine the right fit for you, here is a list of advantages and disadvantages from the United Spinal Association:

Advantages

Manual Wheelchairs

  1. Lighter in weight
  2. Greater reliability
  3. Easier to transport
  4. Less expensive
  5. Provide a level of exercise
  6. Easier to overcome accessibility problems

ScootersMobility Scooter

  1. Aesthetics (do not look like a wheelchair)
  2. Increases mobility range without increased exertion
  3. Swivel seat may allow for easier transfers in and out of the seat

Power WheelchairsPower Wheelchair

  1. Greatest mobility range with least exertion
  2. Easier to modify over time, if needed
  3. Available with power seating options – tilt and/or recline

Disadvantages

Manual Wheelchairs

  1. Must be self-propelled which could cause possible secondary complications (sore shoulders, wrists and elbows) after long-term use
  2. Must be self-propelled requiring physical effort to be mobile

Scooters

  1. More complicated to transport in a car than a manual chair
  2. Needs charging
  3. Less flexible to modify to changing physical conditions than a power chair

Power Wheelchairs

  1. More Expensive
  2. More difficult to transport
  3. Less reliable than manual wheelchairs

How to Evaluate your Wheelchair Needs

Consider the following questions when exploring the wheelchair options available to you. For example, do you need a lightweight wheelchair? How much does the wheelchair weigh? How can you prevent or treat pressure sores? To start, create a scorecard for yourself and answer the following:

  • Will you have help moving the wheelchair?
  • Will you be using the wheelchair at home?
  • Where do you anticipate using the wheelchair the most?
  • What features do you need the wheelchair to have?
  • How often to you anticipate using the wheelchair? How much time during the day?
  • Will you have a car to transport the wheelchair?
  • What is the weight capacity of the wheelchair?
  • How much are you able to spend on the wheelchair?
  • What seat size will you need?
  • What type of arm support will you need?
  • What accessories will you need to support your activities of daily living?
  • Is your wheelchair covered by insurance? Medicare? Medicaid?
  • Do you live in a flat area or one with slops or hills?

Additional Considerations

HomeAdvisor - Get Matched To Screened And Approved ContractorsAccording to the American National Standards Institute “for millions of people who rely on wheelchairs to get around, uneven ground, curbs, doorways, and other obstructions can make it challenging and even dangerous to navigate many areas.” It is important to consider the size of the wheelchair and the width of the doorways at home, as well as the height of dinner tables and the bed. You will also need to consider if your car is big enough to hold the chair. Keep in mind that having a wheelchair may require special accommodations at airports, train stations, movie theaters, restaurants, and other common areas you may frequent.

In addition, according to Agingcare.com, the choice of a wheelchair should depend on the way in which the chair will be used and the particular functional limitations of the user. Some people have two wheelchairs - a manual one for indoors and a powered one for outdoors.

Take the time to shop around for the right wheelchair for you. Consider your loved one’s needs, as well as how to accommodate a wheelchair in your home, car, and regular day-to-day life. The wheelchair should be a benefit to their mobility and not an additional burden. Once you find the right wheelchair, conduct a thorough inspection of the company and product reviews to ensure it is the correct fit.


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