Choosing the best wheelchair for your needs requires a complete understanding of the types of wheelchairs available. You can have a wheelchair custom-made, but this is a costly option that is only a must in select circumstances: a wheelchair that accounts for a bed sore, for example.
Types of Wheelchairs Available
Lightweight wheelchairs (you can see our favorites here) weigh between 20 and 35 pounds. Light in weight, these wheelchairs are durable enough for daily use, but they’re meant to be easy to transport. These options often fold, and they’re what most users would want in a wheelchair that they plan on traveling with.
You can fold many of these chairs up and place them in the trunk of a car.
Caregivers helping you with a lightweight wheelchair will struggle less with moving or picking up the chair.
You’ll find ultra-lightweight models that can weigh as little as ten pounds, but they have a very high price tag. Lightweight wheelchairs are ideal for anyone that:
- Can walk, but not walk long distances
Lightweight wheelchairs have lower weight limits than a heavy-duty model, so a user that is heavier may need to choose a heavy-duty or bariatric model.
Sport models that are lower to the ground and designed for the sports enthusiast are also available. These chairs are often lightweight, but they’re built for speed. Users that want to play basketball or enter the special Olympics often have sport models because they’re designed for speed.
Heavy-duty wheelchairs are also called bariatric wheelchairs, and these models are meant for heavier adults that still want to be independent and mobile. These models are designed to be:
The added width accommodates the user’s size and allows the wheelchair to hold more weight. Bariatric wheelchairs can hold users that are 250+ pounds, but there are other models that can hold users of 400+ pounds.
Steel construction allows for added weight to be held, but it makes the wheelchair heavier. The heavier weight makes the wheelchair difficult to pick up, so a van that has wheelchair straps is ideal.
Seat material may also have added support to allow for a more comfortable time in the wheelchair.
The main difference between heavy-duty models and lightweight models is that this model is:
- Wider in size, making it more difficult to fit in some doors.
- Accommodates higher weights
- Meant for users that need to use a wheelchair most of the time
Bariatric wheelchairs also have accessories that can make the life of the user safer. These models may have anti-tip bars, attachments, adjustable arms and adjustable foot rests to name a few.
Transport chairs are the ideal choice for someone that has a caregiver to help them around and is suffering from limited mobility. Transport chairs can’t be operated by the person sitting in them, so they allow for an easy way to keep a patient immobile, too.
Transport chairs can be lighter than 15 pounds, and they are easy to fold.
Folding these chairs down is easy, and they will fold to nearly flat in size, so they’re very easy to transport. The light weight design makes this the ideal choice for anyone that:
- Can’t propel themselves
- Has a caregiver that pushes their wheelchair
- Travels often and needs an easy means of transport
There are times when a transport chair is the optimal choice even if a person can propel themselves. A long-distance trip that requires someone else to push is often easier because the transport chair is very light.
When a person is sick or in the recovery process, transport chairs offer an essential means of transportation.
A person that is permanently in a wheelchair will often benefit from having a traditional wheelchair alongside a transport chair. One of the key most important things to remember is that a transport chair can hold more weight in many cases. A lot of these chairs are built to accommodate users that are 400 to 450 pounds.
They’re a great choice for quick and easy transport.
Reclining wheelchairs (you can see our favorites here) allow for maximum adjustment. These wheelchairs allow for body positioning adjustments that other wheelchairs don’t offer. A user can be tilted back, and this is a lot more than just about comfort.
The ability to recline backwards offers several benefits:
- Reclining allows for added comfort and ease of activity
- Body weight pressure is adjusted, reducing pressure sores
- Circulation is improved, allowing for less swelling and symptoms of edema
- Transfers from a reclining wheelchair are easier than in a standard wheelchair
- Certain forms of medical treatment are easier when the patient is reclined
Reclining wheelchairs can be propelled by the user, but the back rest is higher. These wheelchairs have quick handle adjustments, making it easy to recline and return the wheelchair back to its normal position.
Weight capacity and seat width vary, so keep this in mind when choosing the right wheelchair for your needs.
Motor-powered or electric wheelchairs have a battery that powers them. Heavy-duty in design, these wheelchairs are very heavy. You’ll find that the only way to transport these wheelchairs is with a van, but they’re the best option for anyone with very limited arm function.
There are also specialized models that can be completely controlled by the user’s breath.
Electric wheelchairs do need to be recharged, so the main disadvantage is that these wheelchairs can die on the user. There are a lot of moving parts, so the chair will require more maintenance and upkeep.
Moving the wheelchair manually may be possible with a caregiver if the battery dies, but it’s an impractical option to move the chair manually otherwise.
The weight limit of these chairs varies, so make sure the model you choose is able to accommodate your weight if you’re a heavier user.
2-in-1 Models and Options
There’s a new trend in wheelchairs, and this is the 2-in-1 transport wheelchair. You’ll find a few models that can be used as a transport wheelchair and a rollator. What makes this a great option is the quick ability to switch between a chair and a rollator.
A user that has difficulty walking long distances may benefit from these chairs.
Transport is easy, too.
Lightweight and transport wheelchair models are also available. This combo allows for a chair that’s easier to transport and lighter than a heavy-duty chair. But these 2-in-1 models are also heavier, so that’s their main drawback.
In the event that none of the wheelchair options can accommodate your size, the best option is to have a custom chair created. A physical therapist or you doctor can also recommend the best wheelchair for your needs.
Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.