Wheelchairs are used for a variety of reasons such as for those who are injured, weak, sick, paralyzed, in pain, pregnant and unable to walk on their own. Wheelchairs are commonly used in homes, shopping malls, hospitals and doctor's offices. You may be searching to buy a wheelchair for yourself, a family member or friend. Our wheelchair buying guide will bring you on a journey to find the perfect chair that is best suitable for your needs.
Types of Wheelchairs
First, let's explore the different types of wheelchairs available on the market today:
Self-Propelled/Manual Wheelchair - The Self-Propelled, also known as the manual wheelchair has larger wheels so that you can grip them easily in order to steer and guide yourself in the direction of your choice.
Push/Attendant-Propelled Wheelchair – This wheelchair is usually pushed by an attendant or caregiver. The wheel size is smaller compared to the Self-Propelled wheelchair. You will see these wheelchairs are places such as hospital, nursing homes and doctor's offices.
Electric Wheelchair – The electric wheelchair allows the user to take control and maneuver the chair in any direction they wish. The electric wheelchair is commonly used by those who need to use a wheelchair on a long-term or permanent basis.
How to Determine How Long a Wheelchair is Needed
Usually your doctor will advise you of the time frame you will need to use a wheelchair. Those who require short-term use of the chair include individuals that have recently had surgery, have a broken leg, are weak and unable to walk on their own until recovery from their ailment. If you need to use a wheelchair for a short period of time you can purchase, borrow or rent a wheelchair. Those who have a permanent condition will be required to have a wheelchair long-term. In this case, you will want to choose the wheelchair that has the highest-quality materials plus is durable and strong. It should also allow you to be comfortable and independent. Price should also be another factor to determine how long you will be using it for?
Individuals who love the outdoors don't have to give up their favorite hobbies or their adventurous side. There are electric wheelchairs such as the KD Smart Chair that are sturdy and have durable tires that will easily take you across harsh terrain. The KD Smart Chair specifically can climb 12 degree inclines with ease. These types of wheelchairs are also capable of being an indoor wheelchair as well.
Key Features for Wheelchairs
Whether you are looking for a long-term or short-term wheelchair that are a few key features that you will always want to seek out in a wheelchair.
- Durability – You will be living your life to the fullest and you need a wheelchair that is tough enough to keep up with you. The wheelchair of your choice should be built with high-quality materials and have the capability of getting you to where you need to go with no problems. Also, if you are a sports enthusiast, there are specialized sports chairs that allow you to play your favorite sport such as basketball.
- Comfort – This is one of the essential features of a wheelchair. If you are not comfortable, you will not be a happy person. Look for wheelchairs that have a padded and shaped seat that provides support and comfort. At times, long exposure to a hard seat can cause sores to develop and encourage you to have poor posture. Always make sure the armrests, seat and back are positioned properly. Most wheelchairs come with adjustability features so that you can make the chair perfectly comfortable and suitable for yourself.
- Maneuverability – Some individuals may have specific conditions that limit them to only be able to move within a small space on a daily basis. While others may need to assure that the wheelchair of their choice can support them in getting their chores done, running errands, shopping, going to the park, visiting friends and much more.
Modern battery powered electric wheelchairs have unique handling and driving characteristics which include Front-Wheel Drive, Mid-Wheel Drive and Rear-Wheel Drive.
- Front-Wheel Drive – This design has two large wheels that mount in front of the seating area. The front-wheel drive is excellent for indoor and outdoor use. Users may get a sense that the wheelchair is pulling them due to the front mounted wheels. The overall turning radius is 22" to 28". Front-Wheel Drive wheelchairs are created to go at a slower speed than the power chair types.
- Mid-Wheel Drive – This type of chair has the wheels located directly under the user. This allows the user to enjoy a tight turning radius. This type of wheelchair is best used indoors and is perfect for those who live in small apartments or homes.
- Rear-Wheel Drive – Having the wheels in the rear of the wheelchair allow for top end speeds, stability and maneuverability. The location of the rear wheels also provides stability and balance in almost any terrain. This type of wheelchair is great for indoor and outdoor use. However, the turning radius is increased when compared to the mid and front wheel drive.
Joystick and Controller
Most powered wheelchairs have a joystick and keypad alongside each other in order to control the speed and direction of the chair. They usually are adjustable and can be placed in a comfortable position for the user. When the user moves the joystick into a specific position the brakes will automatically disengage and allow the chair to move smoothly; the joystick also controls the speed. The keypad can activate other functions the chair may have, depending on the model. There are other types of controlling options if the user's hands have limited ability. Alternative controlling options include head controls, foot controls, sip and puff, speech controls and chin controls.
Although wheelchair batteries may look similar to the type that are used in cars, they are quite different. The batteries that are used to power wheelchairs are lead acid batteries and lithium-ion which are becoming very popular due to their light weight and long lasting power.
- Gel Cel Batteries – This type of battery is dry and sealed to avoid potential spills. The battery was developed to be easily approved for storage on cruise ships and airlines as well as be maintenance free. Most power wheelchairs require two 12 volt deep cycle batteries that need to be re-charged on a regular basis. The battery's range is determined by a variety of factors including temperature, ground level and the weight of the user.
- Wet Cell Batteries – Wet cell batteries are more affordable than Gel Cel batteries and are very popular. They offer more power and hold a charge for longer when compared to the Gel Cel battery. Since wet cell batteries require maintenance and are capable of leaking most airlines and cruise ship companies will refuse to accept any wheelchair that is motorized by the wet cell battery.
- Lithium-Ion Batteries – Lithium is the lightest among metals and has a high energy density rate, which means it can store more energy for long-lasting supply of power. When it is packed in a battery, it has an energy storage capacity of 150-watt hours per kilogram of battery. 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 portable and light weight wheelchairs. This offers a huge advantage for mobility aid devices and portable wheelchairs. Lithium-ion batteries are also environmentally friendly since they are safe and non-hazardous. KD Smart Chair comes with two Lithium Ion batteries, with a 10 Ah (ampere-hour) capacity & 24 V DC output voltage which makes it perfect for high level performance needs and long time use.
Insurance and Medicare
Speak to your doctor regarding his approval for the use of a wheelchair. Once you have the approval, Medicare will usually cover up to 80% of the cost of your wheelchair. At times there may be yearly deductibles involved. If your health insurance or Medicare won't cover the cost of your wheelchair, try financing options that require convenient monthly payments. You can see results in seconds once you apply to see if you qualify.
During your journey of exploring different types of wheelchairs keep in mind that it is going to be part of your life, either temporarily or permanently. Choose carefully and wisely when buying your new wheelchair. Remember not to settle until you find the perfect fit for you and your lifestyle.