Synopsis: How to choose the right type of wheelchair to suit your requirements and disability.
Nowadays, wheelchairs can be cheap to purchase and are widely available, so choosing a wheelchair can be confusing. Some people will have been prescribed a specific sort of wheelchair by an Occupational Therapist whilst others might want a wheelchair for when an elderly relative comes to stay.
Somebody using the wheelchair independently will require a self propelling (large wheels) model they push themselves. A self propelled, or transit wheelchair (smaller wheels) will be appropriate if the wheelchair will be pushed by an attendant.
A folding wheelchair is a good choice for occasional use as they can easily be dismantled, folded and transported by car. The rear wheels will usually come off, and the back might fold down to save space. These wheelchairs are ideal for those going out for the day in the car, or perhaps for someone who can't walk as far as they once could, but maybe don't need to be in a wheelchair all the time. A dedicated motor can be purchased to turn the manual wheelchair into an attendant controlled powerchair making hills much less of a problem.
If you are looking at a wheelchair for occasional use, the lighter it is, the easier it will be to dismantle and put in a car boot. As a very rough guide, folding wheelchairs weigh around 33-44lbs / 15-20Kg, which doesn't sound too heavy, but remember that somebody will be pushing wheelchair, and perhaps getting it in and out of the car.
Folding wheelchairs are available in various sizes, but often do not offer the specialized features that a prescribed wheelchair can offer. For others, the wheelchair will be used more often, perhaps all day, at work, or indoors, for example. For this sort of wheelchair user, the comfort and maneuverability is likely to be much more important than how much the wheelchair costs. These wheelchairs are less likely to be folding models, as the performance and weight of the wheelchair is more important than whether it folds. These rigid, self propelled wheelchairs combine a lighter frame and wheels. They might have a more specialized back, seat cushion, foot rests and arm rests.
Wheelchair users who lead an active lifestyle, which might include playing sports such as tennis and basketball as well as driving and day to day living, will require a different sort of wheel chair again. These users are likely to move away from a cumbersome folding wheelchair, to one that is very lightweight, smaller and stronger than a traditional wheelchair. A sport wheelchair might even be constructed from titanium which is stronger and lighter than aluminum. It probably won't have traditional style foot rests, as these will be incorporated into the frame. It might not have arm rests or handles, as it won't need to be pushed. It is also likely to have customizable front and rear wheels so that the user has the most appropriate wheels and tires for their needs.
The wheels on some rigid wheelchairs can be pushed inwards so that they lean towards the user to provide more responsiveness. The highly adjustable and customizable nature of these wheelchairs means that the user might only needs one wheelchair for all activities - day to day living and sports. These lightweight chairs are easy to put in a car, and the wheelchair user can put their wheelchair in the car from the driver's seat. This means that they don't have to rely on others, and can maintain their independence. These very lightweight wheelchairs are utilizing a lot of technology and techniques from mountain bike manufacturers. Indeed, some of these rigid wheelchairs resemble a mountain bike more than a traditional wheelchair, and depending on the model and specifications may only weigh 15-17lbs / 8Kg.
The efficiency of a wheelchair can be measured easily in a non-scientific way. The user can simply see how far they move in a given wheelchair, on a given surface in just one push. Because of the number of joints, and weight of the steel of aluminum, a folding wheelchair loses a lot of energy, so a folding wheelchair won't move as far as a rigid wheelchair per push. A titanium sport wheelchair weighs roughly a third of the weight of a standard steel folding wheelchair, and so will move much further per push. This is an important consideration when choosing a wheelchair.
The process of choosing a wheelchair can be complicated. The wheelchair manufacturers make this easier by providing a prescription form for some models. This is a step by step method of choosing the right wheelchair, based on the user's condition, daily activities and any other special requirements. Depending on the complexity of the user's requirements, the wheelchair manufacturer may offer the service of a trained expert to help with the prescription. All sorts of situations are considered from whether the user needs to cross roads, to the size and width of the front casters.
Whatever style of wheelchair you choose, a wheelchair cushion will be recommended; this improves posture, comfort and can help to prevent pressure sores.
If you require assistance in choosing your wheelchair, why not let an experienced mobility dealer guide you into making the right choice.