Choosing Between Several Types of Wheelchairs

mother in a wheelchair sitting with daughter
March 6th, 2014

Due to the various types of wheelchairs available to seniors, choosing the right one can be challenging. A wheelchair can help you remain as independent as possible and allow you to get around easier.

Manual versus Powered Wheelchair

Most seniors opt for a traditional manual wheelchair. In fact, the UCSF Medical Center Disability Statistics Center reports that nearly 58 percent of manual wheelchair users are over the age of 65, while some 30 percent of electric wheelchair users are seniors. Some find that an electric wheelchair or scooter better meets their needs, however. With many types of wheelchairs on the market, each with various options, there’s sure to be one that fits your lifestyle.

Manual wheelchairs are popular because they offer a number of benefits. If your doctor recommends a chair to use at home to help you with daily activities, you’ll probably receive a prescription — this means Medicare may pay for a manual chair. If not, a standard chair is considerably less expensive than a powered chair.

Transportation considerations are another reason many people choose standard wheelchairs. Unless you have an accessible van, you’ll have to fold the chair and lift it into the trunk of your car. Lightweight wheelchairs are designed to make this as easy as possible — the frames typically weigh between 15 and 20 pounds. Many also fold flat easily and can fit in the trunk of a compact car.

Powered wheelchairs are great for seniors with limited stamina and upper body issues or who lack the strength to move a manual chair on their own. Powered chairs typically fall into two categories: the electric wheelchair and the scooter. An electric wheelchair is a powered version of a traditional chair. A scooter offers less support and requires upper body strength but is a good option for seniors looking for a less expensive electric option.

Choosing the Right Chair for You

According to the U.S. Veterans Health Administration, there are thousands of options for seniors looking to buy a wheelchair. Fortunately, you don’t have to wade through this decision alone. Talking to your doctor is a great place to start. Your medical team can recommend brands and options that will work for you. Of course, you’ll still need to make the ultimate decision. While the doctor can help you decide the level of support and adaptations you need, you’ll be better aware of your lifestyle and which features will come in handy.

Your medical care team can also offer advice on other resources for those with a high fall risk. This may include using medical alert devices and other services that help you to remain independent. Knowing access to help is only a button press away 24 hours per day, 7 days per week can calm your nerves and possibly save your life in the event of a fall.

When choosing between types of wheelchairs, you’ll be called on to consider a number of factors. From your budget to your abilities to your personal preferences, it’s not a simple decision. By learning as much as possible about the chairs available, comparing their options, and talking with your doctor, you’ll likely have the tools to choose the best chair for your needs.