When used safely, a manual wheelchair can help an individual independently or safely move around to complete their daily tasks or if they are unable to propel themselves, allow their caregivers to safely move them from one location to another.
When an individual uses a wheelchair on a daily basis as their main mobility device, it is important they work with a health care professional who has experience completing seating and mobility assessments, such as an Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist, to obtain a wheelchair and postural support devices that meets the needs of the individual. Postural support devices such as a seat cushion, back support and other needed supports assists the individual to maintain a functional posture and pressure redistribution while sitting. For individuals with cognitive concerns, caregivers should take further precautions when using a wheelchair to ensure the safety of the person in their care.
General tips for wheelchair safety for caregivers
- Apply the wheelchair brakes when the care recipient is sitting in the wheelchair and when transferring. If it is difficult for the individual in your care to lock and unlock the wheelchair brakes, then look into using brake extensions or PVC pipe as a lever. A health care professional, such as an occupational Therapist (OT), can help review alternative options for adapting the brakes. If the wheels of the wheelchair move after the brakes have been applied, then have the wheelchair brakes assessed and repaired as needed.
- Encourage the care recipient to use the wheelchair seat cushion and back support as recommended by the health care professional who was involved in the setup of the wheelchair. These items will help with pressure redistribution and posture when the care recipient is sitting in the wheelchair. Ensure the wheelchair seat cushion is correctly placed in the wheelchair. If there is a pommel (rounded end) the pommel faces the front of the wheelchair.
- Ensure the use of the wheelchair positioning supports, such as positioning belts, head supports, other supports or trays as recommended by the health care professional who assisted with the set up of the wheelchair.
- Minimize the use of incontinence pads on top of the wheelchair cushion. They can decrease the pressure redistribution properties of some cushions and they may also cause the care recipient to slide, which can lead to more frequent repositioning being required. If incontinence is a concern most wheelchair seat cushions have an incontinence cover and /or a second wheelchair cover may be needed.
- Encourage the care recipient to change or shift positions in their wheelchair as recommended by their health care professional.
- Educate the care recipient to ask for assistance if they are having difficulty reaching needed items, otherwise, have the position of commonly needed items changed so they are easily accessible or use a reacher.
- Keep loose objects away from the wheelchair spokes.
- Do not put heavy loads on the back of the wheelchair since the wheelchair may tip backwards when the care recipient stands up.
Safety tips for wheelchair transfers:
- Apply the wheelchair brakes prior to the care recipient transferring in and out of the wheelchair. If the brakes are not applied when transferring the wheelchair could move and injury could occur.
- Ensure the leg rests are removed or swung to the side before transferring. Leaving the leg rests in place and just flipping up the footrests can create a tripping hazard.
Tips for wheelchair accessibility safe pathways:
- Keep all pathways travelled by the individual in a wheelchair clear and accessible, and remove throw rugs, clutter, and loose electrical cords.
- Arrange furniture to allow a clear path so the wheelchair can easily be moved.
- Ensure there is a way to safely enter and exit the residence of the person in your care, preferably through an accessible entrance.
Ensure the wheelchair will fit through doorways. Removing an interior door or using expandable door hinges can increase the width of the door opening.
Following these caregiver wheelchair safety tips will help keep the person in your care safe while maximizing their independence.
See also, our Elizz caregiving article on Home Safety Tips for Seniors and Caregivers.