Whether the person you are caring for 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.
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 uses 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 and 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 supports
- Swing away and/or removable foot supports
- Lap belts
Removable and/or swing away foot supports are important. The foot supports should be swung out of the way or removed to ensure that they do not impede the safety of transferring in and out of the wheelchair. The arm supports may need to be removed depending on the type of transfers that are required.
Unlike a manual wheelchair, the care recipient is unable to propel themselves in a transport wheelchair and will require someone to push them.
You should test out pushing the transport wheelchair while it is occupied to ensure that you can easily manage the wheelchair. It is also important to ensure that you are able to get the wheelchair in and out of areas such as the car, house, etc.
The brake on a transport wheelchair is most commonly located on the back wheels but a few models come with handbrakes that are located by the wheelchair handles.
Transport wheelchairs are often easier to get in and out of the car because 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.
You should ensure that you can safely lift and transport the wheelchair especially if you will be responsible for these tasks. The overall weight of the 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. Injury may occur if an individual’s weight exceeds the weight capacity of the transport wheelchair.
Manual wheelchair without seating components for occasional use
Basic manual wheelchairs come with a back, seat, push handles, and footrests. They can be used for transporting the person 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. The larger wheels in the back have push rims and are available in several different sizes.
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 foot supports on a manual wheelchair are important. The foot supports should be swung out of the way or removed to ensure that they do not impede safety when transferring the person into or out of the wheelchair. The need for removable arm supports will depend on the type of transfers that are required.
The brakes on manual wheelchairs are usually located on the large rear wheels and can be pushed to lock or pulled to unlock.
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 wheelchair 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 requires 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 needs of the care recipient.
Depending on the type of wheelchair required, there may be more adaptations that can be added to these wheelchairs to maximize the comfort, safety, and 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 the person’s residence, their ability to transfer into and out of the wheelchair, and transportation of the wheelchair will also 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 a physiotherapist who has experience addressing seating and mobility needs.