The decision to purchase a new power wheelchair can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task. With so many different types available on the market it can be difficult trying to figure out which one is best.
This easy-to-follow guide aims to help you make the right decision based on types, features and requirements for your own personal needs. While lots of questions and concerns may arise throughout the process, choosing the right electric powered wheelchair will actually be an easier task than you probably think.
Difference Between Electric and Manual Wheelchairs
Deciding between a manual or motorized wheelchair is often a very personal decision since both offer advantages and disadvantages. The biggest differences can seem visible and obvious, but there are other important factors which may not be related to the vehicle at all.
Aside from one being motorized and the other requiring manual pushing, motorized wheelchairs can reduce stress due to their electric power source. Motorized wheelchairs are also much easier for anyone trying to go uphill, and since people do not need to push manually, they're able to drive and control with more freedom.
However, one disadvantage the motorized wheelchair carries would be its weight. This type of wheelchair is heavier and can sometimes be harder to transport compared to the standard manual chair.
Types of Electric Wheelchairs
The first step to finding the perfect electric powered wheelchair is knowing each type available to you. Did you know there are actually more than a half dozen different types of powered wheelchairs on the market? Review the different types listed below so you understand how each one differs from the other.
Heavy Duty - Heavy duty electric wheelchairs are ideal for anyone with a weight over 300 pounds. They come with weight capacities of up to 500 lbs and are typically referred to as "bariatric power chairs." Heavy duty power wheelchairs also tend to come with larger motors, longer frames and increased torque.
Portable - Portable wheelchairs offer stability and maneuverability both inside and out. They're lightweight, durable and extremely portable, making them ideal for traveling. Portable powered wheelchairs are also designed to fold up into a small space and easily transfer in and out of the trunk of a car.
Standing - Standing wheelchairs are designed for those who wish to stand while moving. This type of wheelchair eliminates unnecessary lifting while also improving circulation, digestion, bone development and pressure management.
Lightweight - Lightweight wheelchairs are the easiest and most convenient to transport. These power wheelchairs tend to come with smaller motors and frames, making them light enough for anyone to lift. Folding capabilities mean this type of chair takes up very little room, even in the smallest of vehicles. Although lightweight power wheelchairs are not great for rough terrain and tend to be slower in speed, they're extremely handy when traveling.
Rear Wheel Drive - Rear wheel drive wheelchairs tend to be older models. They're known for great stability compared to other designs and come with higher speeds and control in mind. With ultra-flexible wheels, RWD power chairs can be driven on almost any type of terrain. They also provide a tighter turning radius compared to some other models.
Center Wheel Drive - Center wheel drive wheelchairs are built with wheels located under the seat. This allows the chair to be maneuvered pretty easily indoors and outdoors. Two pairs of casters located in the front and back of this chair gives it a boost in stability.
Front Wheel Drive - Front wheel drive wheelchairs are built with 2 large front wheels that are located closely to the leg-rest area. This allows users to easily maneuver both indoors and outdoors. FWD electric wheelchairs are designed with lower speed rates in mind and come built with a tight turning radius of between 22 and 28 inches depending on the manufacturer.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying
- Will I be using the power wheelchair outdoors, indoors or both ?
Deciding where you will be driving your wheelchair is an important question. Smaller wheel sizes are ideal for driving around the house or on minimal rough terrain such as gravel. However, those wanting to drive on more unstable grounds should look for an electric wheelchair that has larger tires on it.
- What speeds will I be needing this wheelchair to reach ?
Electric powered wheelchairs offer various maximum speeds and this is something you should take into consideration before you purchase. Speeds range between 4-9 miles per hour depending on motor size.
- Will I be transporting the wheelchair in cars, trains, buses or planes ?
If you travel often, be sure to choose a standard size chair that can be easily disassembled or folded if necessary. You can also check with local dealers to see if they have any mobility vehicles available which can lift your wheelchair automatically and make personal transportation with larger chairs easier.
- What type of seating style is most comfortable ?
A standard electric wheelchair comes built with a standard sling or high back captain seat. These are normally designed with padded vinyl material and are comfortable enough for most people to use. But if you're worried about the possibility of sores forming, you may want to consider buying solid seat pans with gel or foam cushioning inside.
- What is the powerchair’s weight capacity ?
Standard travel wheelchairs have a weight capacity of around 250lbs. If you're in need of a chair that can handle more, it's best to look for a heavy duty models. Some can even hold maximum weight of up to 700lbs !
The controller on your new wheelchair will be extremely important since it allows you to handle a variety of different tasks by operating the keypads and joysticks. Taking control of the joystick in any direction will unfasten the braking system and allow it to budge slowly.
On the other hand, moving the joystick away from the neutral position will start increasing its speed. But, most chairs will not shift while they are set in the neutral position. Controllers will allow the driver to activate these functions:
- Sip and puff
- Head control
- Foot control
- Chin control
- Speech control
Your new power wheelchair will use one of four different types of batteries: wet, lithium-ion, gel and AGM. These batteries are comparable to car batteries, only their functions work in different ways.
- Wet Cell Battery - These are made to hold longer battery life as compared to gel-type batteries. However, these batteries contain liquid acid which can be harmful if the battery leaks.
- Lithium-Ion Batteries - Lithium-ion batteries are becoming a favorite among power wheelchair manufacturers due to their long lasting energy power. The fact that these types of batteries are lightweight is another plus.
- When compared to a lead-acid battery that can store 25 watt hours per kilogram of battery, a lithium-ion battery stores up to 6X the energy, making it an ideal choice for light weight and power wheelchairs. They're also environmentally friendly due to them being non-hazardous.
- Gel Cell Battery - A gel cell battery comes with less acid inside, making it much safer to transport. All acid content is protected and sealed with silica gel that guarantees no spilling will occur. However, these batteries can cost more and do not hold a long battery life.
- Absorbed Glass Mats - Absorbed Glass Mats (AGM) batteries are considered the "latest edition" in battery technology. This type of battery comes manufactured with sealed acids in a boron-silicate glass mat that prevents it from spilling or being effected by temperature.
Benefits of a Power Wheelchair
- Improved mobility
- Ability to handle rough terrain
- Ability to enjoy the outdoors
- New found independence
- Customizable options
Paying for a Power Wheelchair
Don't let the cost of a new electric wheelchair scare you or push you away from trying to get one. Once people have their heart set on getting a new wheelchair the next question they often ask is how they're going to pay for it.
First, it's recommended that you contact your health insurance company to see if they will cover the expense fully or partially. You can also speak with your doctor to see if there are any solutions that he or she can assist with, such as providing you with a note that you can give to your insurance company.
Also, check with Medicare or Medicaid to see if you qualify for financial assistance from them. As another final option, seek out a loan or make your purchase with companies that offer wheelchair financing with a small monthly payment plan.
At Reliving Mobility, we offer monthly payment plans to accommodate everyone that’s on a budget. Simply ask our experts about how it works.