The choice of purchasing a power wheelchair can feel like an overwhelming task. This power wheelchair buying guide will outline the steps that will lead you on your journey of purchasing a power wheelchair that best fits your needs and lifestyle. There are so many questions and concerns as well as not knowing if you are making the right selection. Choosing an electric powered wheelchair that is suited to your specific requirements can be easier than you think.
Visit Your Doctor
Before making any decisions make sure you visit your doctor and discuss your desire for a power wheelchair. Your doctor will determine if this option is beneficial for you and may offer some helpful tips about using an electric powered wheelchair. Once you have your doctor’s approval and you are confident that an electric wheelchair is for you, begin your search for the perfect electric wheelchair.
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Considerations and Questions
You will want to ask yourself numerous questions when trying to decide if a power wheelchair is best suited for you and your needs. Answering the following questions honestly will help you make your decision.
- Do you plan to use a power wheelchair outdoors, indoors or both?
- What speed will you need the wheelchair to be able to reach?
- Will you be transporting the wheelchair is cars, SUV’s, trains, buses, planes and cruise ships?
- What seating style will you need in order to feel comfortable?
- Will you prefer a lightweight folding wheelchair?
The weight of a Power Wheelchair
Wheelchairs are meant to give the user mobility and independence. You want to get out in the world and enjoy your life. The weight of a wheelchair will play a big part in your adventures since heavier wheelchairs can be difficult to handle at times. Traditional manual wheelchairs are known to be much heavier when compared to the new innovative power wheelchairs. One of the lightweight power wheelchairs on the market today is the KD Smart Chair and it only weighs 50 pounds. Other power wheelchairs can weigh up to 350 pounds or more. The lighter the wheelchair, the easier it is to fit it into a trunk of a car or SUV for transport. It is also easy to find convenient storage spaces in your home or when traveling.
Front, Mid and Rear Wheel Drive Wheelchairs
You will want to choose what type of wheel drive that you will prefer your wheelchair to have. There are three main varieties that offer different options. Depending on the speed or precise turning ability, one of these wheel drives will suit you best.
- Front Wheel Drive Electric Wheelchairs – This provides good turning capability and moves at a lower top speed when compared to the rear wheel drive.
- Mid Wheel Drive Wheelchairs – This wheelchair can become slightly unsteady when stopping and starting. It is not suitable for uneven surfaces. However, it is excellent at turning and has the best turning capability out of all the types of wheelchair drives.
- Rear Wheel Drive Wheelchairs – This wheelchair drive is the most common and allows the wheelchair to go fast. Although it speed is something that many wheelchair users desire, it does have poor turning capability, especially when compared to the mid and front wheel drive wheelchairs.
Types of Wheelchair Batteries
Batteries are one of the most important parts of a powered wheelchair. It is the main power source and needs to be chosen carefully. You will want to consider the maintenance requirements for the battery and if you will be capable of keeping up with maintaining the battery. If you feel that you can’t meet the requirement you can choose a battery that that does not require maintenance in order to work at its fullest capability.
- AGM Batteries – This type of battery is no maintenance. It is shock resistant, leak or spill proof and is approved for air travel. It may be the most expensive battery out of all the varieties but it is due to its convenience. The AGM battery is saturated with the acid electrolyte on the absorbent glass mat sandwich that is in between the plates. This type of sandwich ultimately reduces the chances of battery damage that is caused by jarring and vibration.
- Gel Batteries – No maintenance is required for this type of battery. Gel batteries have a longer life cycle compared to wet batteries, they cannot leak, are capable of working well in low temperatures and are approved for air travel. These batteries possess a mixture of pure water, fumed silica, sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid, this mixture creates a thixotropic gel.
- Wet Batteries – These batteries are the least expensive of all the batteries for electric wheelchairs. They require maintenance and weigh less than AGM and Gel batteries. Wet batteries need to be filled with distilled water periodically. These batteries operate by using a chemical reaction between sulphuric acid and lead that creates electrical energy. Wet batteries are prone to leaking and are not approved for airline travel.
- Lithium-Ion Batteries – Lithium-ion batteries are becoming the favorite amongst the wheelchair manufacturers due to the long lasting energy power and its lightweight among the metals. Compared with a lead-acid battery which can store 25 watt-hours per kilogram of battery, a lithium-ion battery can store up to 6 times the energy which makes it an ideal choice for lightweight and power wheelchairs. They are also environmentally friendly since they are safe and non-hazardous.
The wheelchair armrests are frequently overlooked and taken for granted. While it may not seem too important to some users, it is essential for many reasons to others. The armrest ultimately provides the user with stability and support. Yes. They are a great place to rest your arms comfortably, but they are also useful for other reasons such as aiding in stability to reach for things, pick things up from the floor and to help get stabilized when there are sharp turns and sudden stops. They are also beneficial to use to lift and move your body into a specific position that is more comfortable for you. They are great to push off points for this very reason.
Also when you place your arms on the armrest you can use minimal force, you can aid in improving your posture and relieve the spine and intervertebral discs from pressure. You can also use armrests to shift your seating position and to get more comfortable by leaning on either armrest. Since armrests are highly beneficial to many users the wheelchair industry has created a variety of different styles that will surely fit your needs. The type of armrest will depend on your lifestyle, environment, unique needs, level of function and activity level.
Power Wheelchair Controllers
Wheelchair controllers are also referred to as Joysticks. You will use this controller to drive your wheelchair in any direction you wish. You can control the speed, when to stop, when to begin, turns and what direction you prefer. There are two types of power wheelchair controllers that are on the market today. These two types are the modular controller and the integral controller.
Modular controllers have separate components for a variety of functions and elements. The Integral power wheelchair controller has all of the required components in one housing with the joystick. The integral controller is less expensive compared to the modular style. Some wheelchairs come with a standard controller but can be replaced with a new controller that is more sophisticated and benefits the user.
Leg Rests and Seating
For some wheelchair users leg rests are essential to maintaining good health. For example, if your legs tend to swell, leg rests will allow you to adjust them so that your legs can rest in a variety of positions, including straight outward. Leg rests usually come with a calf pad or padded area. The calf pad and footplate can be adjusted to assure the user is comfortable and can experience improved alignment.
Some electric wheelchairs have a powered recline system. This means that the user can elevate the leg rests and independently recline into a laying back position. When deciding on a wheelchair you will want to consider what your specific needs require. If you are capable of easily adjusting your leg rests on your own that is great. However, if you need assistance making adjustments and you would prefer to be able to do this on your own you will want to choose a chair with the powered recline system. This special feature is more costly than the manual adjusting leg rests. But it will be worth it if you plan to use the feature frequently.
You can customize a power wheelchair and this includes choosing a comfortable and supportive back and seat cushions. Some electric wheelchairs have a recline and tilt feature that provides comfort for those that are sitting for long periods of time in one position. This feature helps those that are not capable of repositioning themselves by using their arms.
Wheels for Power Wheelchairs
The wheels for a power wheelchair usually come in two different types. First, there are the air-filled tires that are also referred to as Pneaumatic Tires. These specific tires are capable of traveling smoothly on uneven terrain and over bumpy surfaces, they are stable due to deep-tread that increases tire traction and they are shock absorbent creating a gentle ride for the user. Pneaumatic tires require regular maintenance and proper air pressure needs to be maintained. There is a possibility that the tire can become punctured and go flat.
Foam filled tires are Flat-Free and filled with polyurethane. They are puncture proof, do not leak air and won’t rupture. They are easy to care for and are hassle-free. They are excellent power drive wheels but it can be a bumpy ride when going over rough terrain. Some major bumps may cause discomfort for the user. Foam filled tires are no-worry tires and you will feel confident knowing they cannot lose air.
Benefits of a Power Wheelchair
- Newfound independence
- Improved mobility
- Ability to handle rough terrain
- Enjoy the outdoors
- Handles a variety of terrain
- Options to customize the wheelchair
How to Pay for a Power Wheelchair
You probably have your heart set on purchasing a power wheelchair after learning about all of the great features. The next question all potential buyers ask themselves is: How are they going to pay for it? First, you will want to contact your health insurance company to see if they will cover the expense fully or partially. Next, you will want to speak to your doctor to see if there are any solutions that he or she can assist with, such as providing you with a note for your insurance company. You can also check with Medicare or Medicaid for financial assistance as well. You can seek out a loan or you can make your purchase with companies that offer wheelchair financing with small monthly payment plans.
Purchasing a Power Wheelchair
Now that you have details about power wheelchairs and their components, you are most likely ready to make your purchase. Many wheelchair users do a lot of shopping online to find the best-suited wheelchair for their needs. You will want to look for a wheelchair company that offers a trial period so that you can test out the wheelchair. One of the benefits of ordering online is the convenience and the fact that the wheelchair arrives at your front door. KD Smart Chair is one of those companies that offer a trial period and a 60-day money back guarantee. When testing out the wheelchair make sure you use it as you would every day, go outdoors, run errands and go over rough terrain to see if it is a good fit to keep up with your lifestyle.
Power wheelchair users will find that their mobility is improved and they have a new zest for life. Their new found independence fills them with confidence and sparks energy in them that motivates them to try new things. A power wheelchair allows the user to go from requiring help in their standard chair to getting around on their own with a convenient joystick and living the life they dream about. Purchasing a power wheelchair will surely put a smile on the face of the user for many years to come.