When it comes to choosing a wheelchair, I can’t stress enough how important it is to research, research, research and then research some more. Hopefully some of you are reading this post because you’ve found my blog while researching. My wheelchair therapist was thrilled when she met me because I knew what I needed. But, with so many different types of wheelchair available, it an become overwhelming. So if you’re choosing a wheelchair but aren’t sure where to start, keep reading!
*This post was sponsored by Millercare. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Please see my disclaimer for more information.
It’s taken me a year to get a suitable, working wheelchair from the NHS. You can read more about the difficulties I’ve faced in my Wheelchair Service Update post. I did a lot of research during this time to make sure that I got the most suitable wheelchair for me. I’ve turned into a bit of a wheelchair geek and I’m not embarrassed to say this! Even though I now have my wheelchair, I’m still researching. There’s so much to learn!
To avoid getting overwhelmed, before you start looking at wheelchairs it’s worth taking a moment to brain storm what you want from your wheelchair. Some people need a wheelchair for days out, others can’t move without one. Some people are able to push a standard weight wheelchair themselves, while others can’t. We are all different, so consider the following when thinking about which wheelchair is suited to your needs. These will help you narrow down your search.
- Can you push yourself reliably?
- Your disability and/or health condition(s)
- How often and where will you be using your wheelchair?
- Do you need to be able to transport you chair in a car?
- What’s your budget?
As you research different wheelchair options, you’ll start to refine the criteria you want your wheelchair to meet. But having a basic idea really helps see the wood through the trees. Let’s take a look at each of these questions to give you an idea of how they can help you find which wheelchair is suited to your needs.
Choosing A Wheelchair: Can You Propel Yourself Reliably?
If you can propel yourself reliably, it’s worth considering whether you’d benefit from a lightweight wheelchair, or you’d be able to manage with a standard weight. A standard wheelchair is considered to be lightweight if it weights between approximately 13.5kg and 18kg. Standard chairs can range up to 25kg.
A standard self-propelled wheelchair
Think a self-propelled wheelchair (standard or active) is for you? Here’s a great starting point for your Self-Propelled wheelchair research.
If you can’t push yourself reliably, then getting a self-propelled wheelchair might not be the best way to go. For those who always go out with a carer, a transit wheelchair may be the preferred option. This type of wheelchair has four small wheels and can only be moved by a carer. These seem to be most popular with older people and are used a lot in hospital to get patients from one department to another.
If you want independence but can’t push a self-propelled chair, then it’s worth considering a powered wheelchair. There are various reasons why a powered wheelchair might not work for your lifestyle, in which case power assist may be a good alternative. Think a power chair is for you? Here’s a great starting point for your powered wheelchair research.
A powered wheelchair
Choosing A Wheelchair: Your Disability And/Or Health Conditions(s)
Your disability and/or health conditions(s) can affect the type of wheelchair that is most suitable for you. For example, if you have epilepsy, a powered wheelchair may not be safe for you to use. If you’re not allowed to drive because of your condition, it’s worth speaking to a medical professional to make sure a power chair would be safe for you and those around you. I’m not medically allowed to drive because my basilar type migraine causes me to loose consciousness. During my wheelchair service assessment, I had to see a consultant to check that a motorised option would be safe.
Choosing A Wheelchair: How Often And Where Will You Use Your Wheelchair
How often and where you’ll use your wheelchair is an important factor in picking the right type for you. If you’re looking for a wheelchair for days out, you probably won’t want to spend £2,000 on an active user wheelchair. If you’ll be using your wheelchair all the time, an off-the-shelf standard self-propelled wheelchair may not be suitable. My parents bought me an off-the-shelf chair as a stop gap until I got my NHS chair (a Kuschall K-Series). It allowed me to get to hospital appointments and my sister’s wedding, which I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, but it also caused me pain after an hour or so of use. I wouldn’t have been able to use this chair for more than a few hours at a time.
Choosing A Wheelchair: How Are You Going To Transport Your Chair?
Another big consideration when thinking about a power chair is how you will transport it. Most power chairs are too big and/or too heavy to safely put into and then transport in the boot of a standard estate car. The vast majority of power chairs require the use of a Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV). These have be adapted with hoists or ramps so that the chair doesn’t need to be taken apart and the heavy battery (around the 16-24kg mark) doesn’t have to be lifted.
My wheelchair service advised me that a power chair with tilt and recline would be the best wheelchair for my clinical needs. Unfortunately, they advised that a power chair would fit in our estate car, which wasn’t accurate. As MPVs start at around £8,000, getting a new car wasn’t an option for us, so I had to look into other possibilities.
Choosing A Wheelchair: Power Chair Alternatives
Power assist wheels are worth considering as an alternative to a power chair. These are attached onto a self-propelled chair. Now, power assist wheels come in at around £4,000 so they aren’t cheap by any means. But, they are approximately half the price of an MPV so much more attainable. So while I won’t be able to have tilt and recline features with this option, it’s approximately £4,000 cheaper. As I’m not medically able to drive, the active user chair/power assist combination would also mean that I can go to visit my parents, something I’d struggle to do with a power chair as my parents have a small hatchback.
There are a few different power assist products available, allowing you to pick the best option for you. Some add a joystick, converting your self-propelled chair into a power chair with all the convenience of a folding chair. Others have self-propelled wheels that allow you to use a lot less effort to push yourself.There are also add-on power packs that clip to the back of your wheelchair. You need to be careful if you’re considering, because some are for attendant chairs only. Some power assist options require you to add a bolt to your wheelchair. If you have an NHS wheelchair, this type of power assist may not be possible as most services don’t allow you to make adaptations to your chair. If you aren’t sure, check with your wheelchair therapist for clarification.
Dad having fun with my mobility scooter
As I can’t afford power assist wheels yet, I use a transportable mobility scooter. While this doesn’t provide the lumbar support I need, it does allow me to go out of the house more often than I’d be able to with my active user chair AND it fits in the boot of the car. There are various mobility scooter options if you think this would be a better option for you. Some go in the car and some don’t. Mobility scooters also tend to be a cheaper alternative to powered wheelchairs.
Think a mobility scooter is for you? Here’s a great starting point for your mobility scooter research.
Choosing A Wheelchair: What’s Your Budget?
Ok, so before you start getting too deep into wheelchair research, you need to have an idea of what your budget is. Wheelchair services have strict criteria (which vary from area to area), so they may not be able to supply the most suitable chair. If this is the case, you’ll need to think very carefully about your budget. If you need a specialist chair and can’t afford it, it’s worth looking into whether there are any charities that can help to fund your wheelchair, or considering setting up a fundraising page to raise the money.
Choosing A Wheelchair: Additional Things To Consider
Don’t be afraid to consider more than one type of wheelchair. Some people have both a power chair and a self-propelled wheelchair, and use them for different activities.
I’d highly recommend asking your GP for a referral to see a wheelchair therapist. Even if the NHS aren’t able to supply you with a wheelchair, they should be able to advise you on choosing a suitable wheelchair.
If you can, take a trip to a mobility shop like Millercare to try different options. My husband and I did this when we were trying to work out whether to accept the NHS power chair but not be able to use the car or opt for an active user chair with either a mobility scooter or power assist wheels. It was such a helpful experience for us both.
Jo from JB Occupational Therapy has put together a comprehensive Wheelchair Types blog post about the different types of wheelchair available, which I’d highly recommend you check out.
What type of wheelchair do you have?
How did you go about choosing a wheelchair that is suitable for your needs?
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