Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Choosing the Right Wheelchair

A wheelchair by any other name... It’s a common sight that when someone needs a wheelchair, especially for use with a temporary condition, individuals are tempted to find the least expensive option, or to borrow something. “It’s just for a couple of months,” you might say. “I just need it to get myself around while this broken leg is healing.” We can tell you from experience, however, that when it comes to your mobility and independence, taking the time to focus on your needs and do some homework are well worth the effort. Of course, if it’s an emergency, you might find yourself having to decide quickly. Let us help you with those situations, too.

Because you will spend a lot of time in the wheelchair, whether temporarily or permanently, depending on your situation, getting the right fit is essential. We always prefer to have the individual him- or herself with us so we can coach him/her through the experience of fit. Standard wheelchairs, the type with the big wheels designed to help you self-propel, come in sizes with various features meant to work with your lifestyle. Typical seat widths for adults are 16 inches, 18 inches, and 20 inches. You determine the correct width size by sitting in the chair. There should be enough wiggle room on either side of your hips when sitting, but not too much. If you float or move too much in the seat, you will most likely develop sores. Similarly, if you are stuffed into the seat, your skin will suffer bruising and worse, depending on the length of time you spend in the chair. Most manufacturers produce wheelchairs in smaller and larger widths, and are often considered more custom and specialty items. At Capabilities, though, we typically carry extra wide wheelchairs (22 inches), both for purchase and rental. We can order wheelchairs of any size, however, depending on the need.

The other consideration for a wheelchair is the height of the individual. Many manufacturers produce what is called a “hemi.” This type of wheelchair has a feature which changes the height of the chair. Our staff can help you determine whether the chair you are considering has the “hemi” feature, and we’ll make the adjustments for you to try out before making your decision. The hemi feature generally lowers the height of the chair. If someone is exceptionally tall, there are other considerations to take into account. The standard height generally works for folks who are over 6 feet.

With height, however, comes the issue of comfort with footrests. Most footrests on standard wheelchairs adjust with a simple turn of a screw or a button release feature. Once again, trying the chair for functionality AND comfort is essential before you make the purchase.

The type of seat is important, especially if you plan on being in the chair for a significant period of time every day. Most seats on standard chairs are of a vinyl or nylon fabric. We usually suggest purchasing a separate wheelchair cushion to add to the comfort level. There are dozens of types of cushions and the amount of time you spend in the wheelchair and your preferences play a large role in choosing the right one. Pictured at right is a mid-range gel foam cushion. Check a future blog for considerations about cushions.

Of great surprise to most people, especially those caring for the individual in need of the chair, is the weight of wheelchairs. A standard wheelchair is often close to 40 pounds. If you purchase a very inexpensive chair, it might be even heavier. When folded, the chair looks compact, however, when you try to lift it into a trunk, for example, you discover just how unwieldy these things can be. For this reason, most manufacturers now have lightweight wheelchairs, some of which might be as much as 10 pounds lighter, depending on the materials used.

For most temporary uses of a wheelchair the traditional back works just fine. However, this is another element that you should consider when thinking about purchasing a wheelchair. The height of the individual, how long s/he will be in the chair, and what type of condition s/he has are all factors when thinking about the proper fit. Many makes and models will allow for an upgrade or different back on the wheelchair, although you will also pay more for these changes. Fusing comfort and lifestyle into your choice of mobility equipment will help you, or your loved one, cope with the injury, illness or situation more fully.

Price range for standard wheelchairs varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer. We feature a broad array of choices priced from just under $200 to $2000 or more. Our selections of lightweight wheelchairs ranges from about $350 to many thousands of dollars, depending on the features you prefer. Of course, we also will work with you to customize a wheelchair, or to rebuild your favorite workhorse that has seen better days.

It is obvious that the more permanent the situation, the more you will need expert advise on choosing the wheelchair that best fits your lifestyle and situation. Did you know that Capabilities has a seating and positioning expert on staff? Contact us for more information on how to make the right choices.

Let us know your experience with choosing a wheelchair. Post your comments.

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