Guide to Buying a Wheelchair
Self-propel or Attendant-propelled/Transit
There are 2 main types of manual wheelchairs available to suit different users needs and requirements. All wheelchairs however are described either as Self Propelled or Attendant Propelled (sometimes known as Transit)
Are you able to, or intending to self-propel the chair yourself? this will be different for everyone, dependent on their medical condition and need.
An attendant-propelled / transit wheelchair is generally similar to a self-propelled manual wheelchair, but with smaller diameter wheels at the rear. The chair is controlled by a person standing at the rear and pushing on handles incorporated into the frame.
Self-propelled wheelchairs can be propelled by users themselves by using push-rims fitted on rear wheels. They are also fitted with pushing handles, which makes it easy to be pushed by another person, if need be. The larger rear wheels on a self-propel can be an advantage when you need to push the chair over an obstacle.
Is a self-propelled wheelchair right for me?
If you are considering a self-propelled wheelchair you will have to consider, if you intend to propel yourself that you have good upper body and arm strength. Self-Propel wheelchairs do require some strength to keep yourself moving, you may prefer to choose an electric wheelchair.
However, if you can propel yourself, a self-propelled wheelchair is a good option, as it can be very light, easy to use and maintain. Your doctor or rehabilitation specialist can assist and make this decision with you to ensure you get the best equipment for your need.
Self-propelled wheelchairs are moved by using both arms, this provides some exercise that it’s good for your health. However, if used incorrectly, it can lead to arm injuries from repetitive movement. It is very important that you ask your therapist to teach you how to propel it correctly in order to increase efficiency and avoid injuries.
Is an Attendant-propelled/Transit wheelchair right for me?
If you are not strong enough to propel yourself and rely on someone else pushing the chair, you are normally better off with an attendant propelled or transit wheelchair or perhaps consider a Powerchair.
Attendant propelled or transit wheelchairs have smaller rear wheels and can be easier to manoeuvre for the person pushing.
Wheelchairs are manufactured for all people of all sizes, ages and abilities, you may need a child’s wheelchair, or a wheelchair with accessories available for a person who is an amputee, a tall person or want a chair with a sportier look, or do you need a wheelchair that reclines. All are catered for and we are here to help you make the correct decision. Are you a carer who will need a bit of help with a heavy person in the wheelchair? You may need to consider a wheelchair power pack that assists in propelling the wheelchair electronically.
When choosing the right wheelchair, there are several areas to consider.
Equipment dimensions and weight
There are many different variants to the size of a wheelchair, they come in many different seat widths and in higher-spec chairs can have variant seat depths and heights as well.
If used for travelling you may need to consider a lightweight wheelchair so that the person transporting the chair for you can fold and lift it into a building, vehicle, train or bus.
If using the wheelchair indoors you may need to consider the maximum overall width to ensure it fits within the environment, if you are intending to use it indoors check door widths etc specifically when considering self-propelled wheelchairs which have a wider overall width.
Wheelchairs also have user weight limits, up to 18 stone, up to 21 stone or up to 30 stone and beyond etc.
If you are intending to remain seated in the wheelchair in a suitably equipped vehicle whilst the vehicle is in transit; you must ensure the wheelchair is crash tested.
To make sure that you get the best chair suitable for your needs, we always suggest you allow for the depth of the palm of your hand at the side of the thighs to gauge the seat width required. This is to prevent pressure to your legs and hips whilst sat in the chair. Your knees should always be at a comfortable right angle (90 degrees) as this elevates pressure off the hips.
If you have an occupational therapist, they will be able to measure for you, on some occasions your doctor may be able to help.
You should also think about the amount of time you are going to be spending in the chair, for the following reasons:
Comfort for the period of time spent in the chair; if sitting in the same position for a prolonged period you may need a pressure cushion to help prevent pressure sores, your doctor or Occupational therapist can advise if you require one of these.
Standard everyday cushions for comfort are also available.
If the occupant is in the chair all day, you may need to consider a tilt in space wheelchair. Many people in care homes require these for comfort and it also allows their relatives to take them out when visiting.
Frequency of Use
The frequency of use is also a key factor when making your decision. Some wheelchairs are designed for infrequent use, such as for short trips to appointments or the shops, whereas others are more suited to frequent and constant use.
It is important to make sure the wheelchair you select will be suitable for your frequency of use as choosing one which is designed for infrequent use may not be durable or comfortable enough for constant use every day.
Wheelchairs which are designed for frequent daily use offer more features to provide comfort and pressure relief for the occupant and provide a comfortable user experience.
Some people may have ample room to store a chair open if your space is limited there is no need to worry as wheelchairs now come with a half folding back and have detachable footplates which make them suitable for storing or travelling in the car as the frames of most chairs are fully folding.
Remember to also think about the overall weight of the chair when purchasing, mainly for the person who is going to be lifting the chair.
You may need to use the wheelchair whilst entering a building that has a step or series of steps or high threshold, ramps are available in all sizes and types to help with obstacles.
There are many different wheelchair accessories available for wheelchairs and the wheelchair user, there are wheelchair storage bags, oxygen bottle holders and under-seat bags, all-weather clothing and winter warmers.
Servicing & maintenance. Looking After your Mobility Equipment
We always advise having your product serviced at least once a year. Most wheelchairs these days have puncture-proof tyres so you won’t get punctures or require inflating. Over time the wheelchair will be subject to general wear and tear, so a yearly service will take care of anything that needs to be replaced, tightened and lubricated.
For more information on choosing a wheelchair click here