Whether the person in your care has been using a wheelchair for years or this is a new development in their care needs, caregivers need to be knowledgeable about the different types of wheelchairs available. This can help you and the person in your care to find the wheelchair type that best suits both of your needs.
Caregivers need to be knowledgeable about the different types of wheelchairs available.
Here’s some comparison information on transport wheelchairs and manual wheelchairs.
A transport wheelchair has four small wheels with two push handles and is meant to move an individual between destinations. It is not meant for someone to sit in for long periods of time. Transport wheelchairs are useful if the care recipient has difficulty walking lengthier distances or if you are going on a longer outing than usual.
Transport wheelchairs are meant for temporary use. They are not meant for use if the care recipient spends lengthy periods of time sitting in the wheelchair and use the wheelchair as their main mobility device.
Transport wheelchairs typically do not have as many options for seat widths and come with a basic fabric back and seat. They do not offer pressure redistribution, therefore are not meant for individuals with seating needs.
Transport wheelchairs are available with different options that may include:
- Fixed, flip back or removable arm rests
- Swing away removable foot rests
- Lap belts
Removable and/or swing away leg rests are important, as the leg rests should be swung out of the way or be removed to ensure they do not impede safety of transferring in and out of the wheelchair. The need for removal of the armrests will depend on the type of transfers completed.
Unlike a manual wheelchair, the care recipient is unable to propel themselves in a transport wheelchair and will require someone to push them.
Caregivers should test out pushing the transport wheelchair while it is occupied to ensure they can easily manage the wheelchair and if they are able to get the wheelchair in and out of the key needed areas, for example a car, or house, etc.
The most common type of brake on a transport wheelchair is located on the back wheels while a few models do come with handbrakes that are located by the wheelchair handles.
Transport wheelchairs are often easier to get in and out of the car, as they are compact. Some styles of transport wheelchairs have a handle and a folding back in order to increase the ease of lifting the wheelchair.
If the caregiver will be responsible for lifting the transport wheelchair in and out of the car they should ensure they can safely move the wheelchair. The overall weight of different types of transport wheelchairs may vary but some styles are available in a light-weight version.
Ensure to check the weight capacity of the transport wheelchair prior to use. If an individual’s weight exceeds the weight capacity of the transport wheelchair, injury may occur.
Manual wheelchair without seating components for occasional use
Basic manual wheelchairs come with a back, seat, push handles and footrests and can be used for transport for lengthier distances or for short-term use after an injury or illness. Manual wheelchairs have smaller castors in the front and larger wheels in the rear that come in several different sizes. The larger wheels in the back have push rims.
Manual wheelchairs come with basic seating and are not designed to sit in for long periods of time.
These types of manual wheelchairs are often seen in malls or stores for customer use and come in various widths.
If using a cushion with this type of manual wheelchair, ensure that the cushion does not slide on the wheelchair seat as it may or may not come with a way to secure the cushion to the seat.
Like the transport wheelchair, the removable and/or swing away leg rests on a standard wheelchair are important as the leg rests should be swung out of the way or be removed to ensure they do not impede safety when transferring in or out of the wheelchair. The need for removable armrests will depend on the type of transfers completed.
The brakes on manual wheelchairs are usually located on the large rear wheels and can be pushed or pulled to lock.
Unlike the transport wheelchair, an individual can use their hands or feet to propel the standard wheelchair depending on their functional abilities, or it can be used as a caregiver operated wheelchair and simply pushed
The overall weight of manual wheelchairs may vary. Manual wheelchairs are heavier than transport wheelchairs so you will need to determine a plan for lifting the wheelchair in and out of the vehicle, house etc.
Remember to check the weight capacity of the manual wheelchair prior to use and ensure that the individual’s weight does not exceed the weight capacity of the manual wheelchair or injury may occur.
Manual wheelchairs with seating components as a main mobility device
These wheelchairs are measured and ordered specifically for the individual using them. Wheelchair seating and positioning devices are recommended when an individual requires the wheelchair as their main mobility device and sits in the wheelchair daily.
The individual would require a modular or custom seat and back for postural support and/ or for pressure redistribution. There are also various types of manual wheelchairs available depending on the functional need of the care recipient.
Depending on the type of wheelchair required, there are more adaptations that can be made to these wheelchairs to maximize the fit for the client, and to maximize functional use of the wheelchair for mobility.
The individual in your care can work with a therapist and vendor to have their needs assessed and to trial a wheelchair.
Indoor, outdoor and entrance accessibility of their residence, transferring in and out of the wheelchair and transportation of the wheelchair are other items that will need to be considered.
For more information or to discuss wheelchair needs further connect with a health care professional such as an occupational therapist or physiotherapist who has experience working in seating and mobility.
See also our Elizz caregiving article on Manual Wheelchair Safety Tips for Caregivers.