Electric wheelchairs are also referred to as power chairs and they differ significantly from manual wheelchairs. A manual wheelchair is foldable, lightweight, less expensive, and not powered. Electric wheelchairs, on the other hand, are not as versatile but are great for users with weak arms.
Electric wheelchairs may also come with various seating options, such as reclining, tilting, or standing. They cost more than manual wheelchairs and are battery powered.
Considerations Before Starting to Shop
Before choosing an electric wheelchair, the first thing you need to do is consult your doctor and ask about your individual needs. You may also need to talk to an occupational therapist who is familiar with the different types of electric wheelchairs.
You should also be able to identify your mobility needs around your home and how you’ll transport the electric wheelchair once you have purchased it. Bear in mind that most are bulky. Once you’ve made your decision, some retailers will allow you to test different power chairs so you could see what you like.
Types of Electric Wheelchairs
Electric wheelchairs come in different shapes, designs, and sizes. They can be categorized as follows:
Travel Power Chairs
These electric wheelchairs are compact and lightweight. They are designed for easy transportation and are likely to have the most minimal features. They are also easy to assemble and disassemble and can be transported in the trunk of a car.
Full Size Power Wheelchairs
This type of electric wheelchair, also known as an “XL power wheelchair,” is larger than most electric wheelchairs. They are sturdy and durable.
Heavy Duty Power Wheelchairs
This type of wheelchair is heavy duty in every sense of the word. It is made from high-quality, heavy duty material and designed for long-term use.
Folding Power Chairs
Folding power chairs are a foldable type of electric wheelchair. They are easy to transport and fit the needs of many people. They’re made up of a power base, a seat, and controls, and they have a drive system in their power base.
Front Wheel Drive
Electric Wheelchairs can also be categorized based on the nature of their drive system.
This type of wheelchair has a drive system that is located at the front of the seat. The drive wheels are located in the front while the casters are located at the back. They can go over small curbs up to 2 inches high, can maneuver tight corners with ease, and they offer a stable ride.
That being said, power chairs with this drive system can easily fishtail around corners at high speeds.
Mid Wheel Drive
This type of electric wheelchair is also known as the center drive.
This drive system is located in the middle right below the seat. It has the best turning radius and the greatest stability, and it moves easily and safely on flat outdoor surfaces and rough terrain. Note that it works better on an inclined plane rather on a flat surface, and that it is ideal for apartments, malls, and other places with limited space.
These types of power chairs usually have a weight limit of 600 lbs.
Rear Wheel Drive
This type of electric wheelchair is designed for speed and easy maneuverability. The drive system is found at the back and the casters are in the front. It requires more space when turning because the turning radius is wider, but it offers directional stability and maneuvers well on rough terrain.
How to Choose an Electric Wheelchair
When choosing an electric wheelchair, you have to consider your personal needs and the different types of electric wheelchairs. Each type of electric wheelchair has pros and cons, so here are a few factors you should think about the most:
The Type of Electric Wheelchair
How long will you be using the wheelchair and where will you be using it? Do you travel regularly by car? These are some of the questions that will help you determine what type of power chair you need.
The Weight Limit
Different electric wheelchairs will have different weight limits. Consider your or your loved one’s weight and find a wheelchair that can accommodate it.
The Drive System
As previously explained, electric wheelchairs come with different drive systems, all of which are great for some situations and not so great for others. Consider all of these options while you’re shopping for a power chair.
If you are planning to use the electric wheelchair indoors, go for one that can make sharp turns and maneuver in small spaces. Take a close look at your home and see how much more space, if any, can be created. In any event, make sure you don’t create more of a risk for accidents. For example, consider expanding doorways and removing obstacles from hallways.
If you intend to use the electric wheelchair outside, choose one that can maneuver rough terrain well and has enhanced safety features. Wheelchairs with larger wheel casters work well outdoors, for example.
If you intend to use the electric wheelchair for long periods at a time, then comfort should be a top priority for you. The seating and positioning should be enhanced for maximum comfort and it should have custom backrests that support the back adequately. The seat should have extra padding with contouring forms, and gels for additional support.
Immobilized individuals should invest in a power chair that can tilt-in-space to relieve pressure and increase blood flow. This will help prevent the formation of pressure sores but will require a custom-fit power chair to guarantee maximum safety and comfort.
A wheelchair that doesn’t fit properly will exacerbate pre-existing conditions.
The Control System
Most power wheelchairs are controlled using a joystick and keypad. While the joystick controls the direction and speed, the keypad controls the degree of recline and speed.
The physical condition of the user will influence how well they can use the joystick and keypad. Some electric wheelchairs are built with advanced features to cater to patients who will have trouble using controls. Some of those features include:
- Sip and puff systems that are controlled by inhaling or exhaling into a tube
- A head control that allows the user to use the back or side of their head to control the wheelchair
- A foot control that allows the user to use pedals and buttons on the footrest to control the wheelchair
- A chin control that allows the user to use their chin to control the wheelchair
- A speech control which allows the user to control the wheelchair with speech