A power or electric wheelchair is an excellent way to improve mobility and independence for people who use them. Power wheelchairs, also known as powerchairs, have a battery or electric motor and can be easily manoeuvred using the joystick. The padded seats and backrest offer good support, along with foot and armrests, so you can stay comfortable in the seat for longer.
There are several factors to consider when it comes to choosing the right power wheelchair, as it is not a case of one size fits all. Powered wheelchairs can be adapted and customised to fit your requirements, so it is important to think about what you need the wheelchair for, where it will be used, getting in and out and learning to use it before making a final decision.
What is Your Need for a Power Wheelchair?
For those who need a wheelchair, you may have to consult an occupational therapist or physiotherapist who can give you a professional assessment to help you determine the right chair and seating. There are a variety of reasons why you may need a wheelchair, and an assessment will ensure you choose the correct one.
Your need for a power wheelchair may be due to mobility, such as your ability to walk, sit and stand. The level of your ability to do these actions will be a factor for the chair you need. You may also have issues regarding balance or tolerance for the time spent walking and standing. Using a power wheelchair can mean daily activities which were sidelined due to these problems become manageable once again.
You might need a power wheelchair, as opposed to a manual wheelchair or mobility scooter, as they are better for posture. The special cushions, high back and customisable features mean you can keep your neck, head and spine aligned as well as your knees and hips.
Getting In and Out
Your level of mobility may influence how you get in and out of the chair, and any extra features you may need. If you can walk short distances and stand and sit with relative ease, you likely don’t need assistance for getting in and out of the chair. However, if you do sometimes struggle with going from sitting to standing, it is a good idea to opt for a lightweight chair with some helpful features. There are flip-up or removable armrests or swivel seats that make the movement easier. Some chairs also have adjustable seat heights, which can help you rise so you are closer to standing, putting less strain on your muscles and allowing you to slide from the chair to another seat such as a car, or even for getting into bed.
All chairs have footrests too, that can be moved out or flipped up, putting them out of the way when you sit or stand. Taking the time to move the footrests means you are avoiding them becoming a trip hazard leading to a possible fall, and not putting your weight on them which could cause the chair to tip over.
Where the Chair Will be Used
Where the power wheelchair will be used is an important factor on how to choose the right one. Some of the questions you might want to ask yourself include if the chair will be used indoors, outdoors or both, the distance you want to travel and how much you will be using it. Some chairs are better suited for indoor use only, but others can be comfortably used inside and out. If you often travel reasonable distances, you should check the range of the chair, and if you use it a lot throughout the day, be sure to take a look at the battery life.
For power wheelchairs that will be used outdoors, keep in mind what your local area is like; wide pavements and smooth surfaces are preferable. Think about the kerbs and how the chair will cope with going up slight inclines or even hills; if you live in a hilly area, a more powerful electric wheelchair is preferable.
Power wheelchairs, as standard, will have padded seats, but if you are using the chair for the majority of your day, you may want to invest in some extra padding and support for your lower back that can help relieve pressure on joints and muscles. You will find there are plenty of cushions, seats, backrests and supports that suit your needs and preferences to keep you comfortable and supported in a power wheelchair. Padded or moulded seat cushions can also keep your body aligned so you are not leaning to one side.
Another feature to assist with alignment and maintaining an upright posture is a belt or harness, which also improves your safety when using a chair. A harness which secures around your shoulders and torso provides support for your upper body, and you can also attach straps that hold your legs in place.
Learning to Use Your Power Chair
Powered mobility devices offer many benefits for their users, but there is also a risk of accidents due to lack of practice when using them. It has been found that basic training to improve driving skills and awareness on scooters or power wheelchairs is hugely beneficial in reducing the chance of accidents occurring. Learning to use a power wheelchair includes operating and controlling, manoeuvrability, awareness and safety and the law concerning using an electric wheelchair.
Users must also have a minimum visual acuity of 6/24; any lower and you will not be eligible to drive a powered vehicle such as a mobility scooter or electric wheelchair.
How and where you can store your power wheelchair will also be an element to consider when choosing one. Like a mobility scooter, a power wheelchair should be stored in a secure and dry place close to a power outlet to charge the battery. The location must also not be a trip hazard or a blocking a fire exit. If the chair will be stored outside, we advise getting a waterproof cover or keeping it in a shed, so rain, wind or heat will not damage it. A storage place should also preferably be level to the ground or have ramped access, so you can easily move it in and out.