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Which wheelchair should you buy? - Assistive Devices

Posted by Steve Jones

Wed, Sep 2, 2015

This is the first installment of our weekly segment on assistive devices. Every week, we will go into detail about a specific assistive device and all that you need to know before purchasing one.

If you’ve never bought a wheelchair for a loved one before, it can be a very overwhelming task. If a relative is in a situation and they need a wheelchair, what kind do they need? Where can you buy it? What should you ask the doctor? How much will it cost? How can you pay for it?

These are some common questions that you may be asking yourself if an elderly relative is suddenly in need of a wheelchair. There are two major factors that you should think about before buying a wheelchair, the comfort and the type of use.

Comfort

Regardless of how, why, or who is using the wheelchair, comfort is a number one concern. If your parent is going to be sitting in a wheelchair for 12 hours a day, the wheelchair should be comfortable. There’s nothing worse than a wheelchair that causes sores. Make sure that the seat fits to the user’s body size and type. Custom seats are the best option when purchasing a wheelchair. Companies like Aspen Seating and Sunrise Medical provide custom services to create the most comfortable seats.

To be sure that the seat is the most comfortable option, it’s ideal to visit an occupational therapist with a specialty in wheelchairs. We, at Qualicare use Motion Specialties because of their expertise and quality advice, but there are a variety of different options out there.

Type of Use

When selecting a wheelchair, think about how it is going to be used. Is it going to be pushed through narrow hallways, grassy fields or deep snow? Who is going to be using the wheelchair and what level of mobillity do they have? Will there always be someone to assist the wheelchair user? Will the wheelchair user mostly stay at home or travel often in cars and on planes? These are key questions that you need to ask before selecting the type of wheelchair to purchase.

To help figure out which wheelchair you should buy, and how you can go about it, we’ve grouped the types of wheelchairs into 4 categories.

Manual Wheelchair

Manual Wheelchairs are an option when selecting a wheelchair for a senior.  Image: Wikipedia- Wheelchair

A manual wheelchair has two small wheels in front and two large wheels with handles on the sides for the user to propel themselves. These wheelchairs are a good option for those with good arm strength and mobility. Manual wheelchairs also often have handles at the back for caregivers to help push users to their destinations. They can range anywhere from $200 to thousands of dollars depending on the brand, model, weight and quality. Key things to note include:

Comfort of the seat

  • Weight
  • Collapsibility
  • Tilt Features
  • Removable parts
  • Ergonomic features

Power Wheelchairs

Power wheelchairs allow the user to drive the wheelchair, often with an electric joystick. Source: Wikipedia - Motorized Wheelchair

Power wheelchairs are an option for those who might not be able to propel a manual wheelchair. They are electrically powered and the user can drive the wheelchair using controls. Though power wheelchairs are often much heavier and more costly than the other types of wheelchairs, they allow the user to remain independent and control their movements.

Like other wheelchairs, power wheelchairs come in a variety of different sizes, and types. Things to look out for before purchasing an electric wheelchair include:

  • Size
  • Front, mid or back wheel drive
  • Control model (joystick or other)
  • Foot rests and leg supports
  • Bonus features (including sensors and proximity switches)

Transport Wheelchairs

Transport wheelchairs are lightweight and outfitted with four small wheels. These wheelchairs can not be manually pushed by the user and must have a caregiver or aid to help push using the handles from behind. These wheelchairs often have leg rests and the small wheels provide for easy manoeuvrability. Features to look for:

  • Leg Rests
  • Arm rests
  • Side panels
  • Weight
  • Collapsibility

Specialty Wheelchairs

Specialty wheelchairs include reclining wheelchairs, tilt wheelchairs, bariatric wheelchairs, and different types of sports and active wheelchairs. For specific medical conditions a doctor or occupational therapist may recommend very specific specialty wheelchairs.


Did you know that the Province of Ontario will help pay for your medical equipment? The Assistive Devices program can contribute up to 75 per cent of the cost of your medical equipment. Everything from wheelchairs to hearing aids, prosthetic devices to respiratory equipment can be covered. When thinking about purchasing a wheelchair, be sure to consult the Assistive Devices Ontario website.

When it comes to purchasing a wheelchair, there are many different options you can choose. This blog post is just an introduction to the many different options available. Be sure to consult an occupational therapist to be sure you purchase the correct type of wheelchair.