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How to Choose a Power Wheelchair

Power Wheelchairs, also known as Powerchairs or Electric Wheelchairs, are designed for people who are unable to walk at all or only able to walk very short distances. They allow people to remain independent in their own home, nursing home or retirement village and to access the local community. They operate via two motors to power the main drive wheels and are, most commonly, driven by the user via a joystick control.

Whilst you do not currently require a licence or need to register a power wheelchair in Victoria, we would always recommend that you speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional to discuss whether you are safe to drive one.

When deciding whether to buy a power wheelchair there are many things to consider. At Life Mobility we have over 15 years’ experience in helping you choose the right model, at the right price, to suit your specific needs. Some of the key things to consider are:

  1. What type of power base do I need?
Rear Wheel drive Mid Wheel drive Front Wheel drive

Powerchairs are essentially made up of two major components. The first is the “power base” which covers a number of components including the: motors, wheels, controller and batteries. The other is the seating system. There are a wide range of models available for each component and a large range of compatible options and accessories. There are pros and cons with all wheel positions on the power base, understanding the physics of the drive configuration is key to providing clients with the chair that will work best for them.

  • Rear Wheel drive power wheelchairs:

Drive wheels are at the rear with castors at the front. Most traditional looking set up.

Pros:  powerful for varied outdoor terrains, very stable, suits active users, smooth driving especially outdoors at higher speeds.

Cons: larger turning circle so manoeuvrability is compromised making it harder to access tight areas, especially indoors.

  • Mid Wheel drive power wheelchairs:

The terms “Mid” and “Centre-wheel drive” are often used interchangeably, but in reality they are slightly different. The drive wheels on a mid-wheel drive are in the “middle” of the vehicle - not at the front of the chair or the back. The drive wheels of a centre-wheel drive chair are literally in the centre of the vehicle — the distance from footplate to the middle of the drive tyre, and the distance from the middle of the drive tyre to the rear castor are identical. Given the minimal difference we refer to both models as “mid wheel” here.

Pros:  exceptionally tight turning circle and very manoeuvrable making them ideal for indoor use. Those with front and rear castors offer a very stable outdoor drive. Intuitive feel when driving as the wheel position mimics where a person’s legs would usually be.

Cons: harder to master the joystick controls for the novice, some levels of instability and relatively high centre of gravity on certain models especially on uneven terrains or while negotiating obstacles.

  • Front Wheel drive power wheelchairs:

With its drive wheels at the front, a front-wheel drive chair in effect pulls itself over terrain and obstacles such as kerbs.

Pros:  powerful, very stable especially over uneven outdoor terrains, good at driving on softer ground eg: longer grass. More possible foot positions with no front castors to interfere with set up. Lower floor to set a heights.Cons: can be more difficult to drive, especially for a novice, as most of the chair is behind you and it can be harder to see and judge your clearance when turning. Can “fishtail” at higher speeds so are generally set to lower top speeds.

2. What size power wheelchair?

Portable Light Rehab Customised 

a) Portable: Ideal for transporting in a motor vehicle as they disassemble easily and have lightweight components. They feature basic seating not designed for all-day or long-term sitting and smaller batteries for reduced range. They are very manoeuvrable for indoor use, including shopping centres, and suitable for limited outdoor use on smooth surfaces.

b) Light Rehab: The most manoeuvrable power wheelchairs with much better seating comfort for general daily use. With larger wheels and more ground clearance, they offer better outdoor capability than small portable chairs. The larger wheelbase offers more stability and the larger battery size increases their range. Although they can be dismantled they would generally only be transported with the use of a ramp or lifting system into the back of a vehicle. Ideally suited to use in the home, nursing home or aged care facility by users with very limited mobility.

c) Customised: This range covers any “high-end” or customised power wheelchairs where the power base, seating system and accessories are specifically tailored for the user. The chairs are designed for all-day use both inside and outdoors. Chairs may be fitted with tilt and recline functions to reduce pressure, elevating leg rests, custom headrests, custom back rests and pressure care seat cushioning. There are Bariatric chairs rated up to 295kg and all chairs have larger batteries for greater range. A large range of options and accessories are available for these chairs so assessment and advice is vital in making the right choice.

There are many other factors to consider. These include:

  • Your height and weight?
    • Is the weight capacity right for your size?
    • Does the seat fit you?
    • Are your legs comfortable?
  • What area do you live in?
    • Are there hills? If yes, does the powerchair have sufficient weight capacity to use on them?
    • How are the footpaths? eg: smooth or rough
    • Are there footpaths? Will you need to drive on the road?
  • Where do you want to go?
    • Are there access issues?
  • How far do you want to go?
    • Larger powerchairs have larger batteries and so offer longer range on a single charge.
  • Does it have suspension?
    • Is the suspension adjustable for lighter or heavier users?
  • How often you intend to use the powerchair each day?
    • If you want to use the powerchair everyday then you need to ensure it will handle regular use over a long period of time. You may also need to consider whether the battery size is right for the intended driving time each day?
  • Will you need to transport the powerchair?
    • What vehicle will you transport it in?
    • Who will be putting it into the vehicle?
    • Will you need to dismantle it or load it with a ramp?
  • Existing medical conditions?
    • In particular issues with medications, sight, hearing, blackouts, knees and hips can all be critical in establishing whether it is safe for you to use a powerchair
  • Hand strength and function?
    • Do you have arthritis?
    • Is the joystick easy for you to use or will you need another control system?
    • Are you left or right handed? Controls can be reversed to suit on all powerchairs.
  • Do you want to use the powerchair indoors, outdoors, or both?
    • Turning circle, width and length can all be important for powerchairs required for indoor use
  • Where will you store it?
    • Is it under cover? If not, you will need to purchase an all-weather cover.
    • Do you have an electricity point near the storage location?
    • What is the access like?
  • Who will service your powerchair?
    • We service everything that we sell and believe that anyone selling powerchairs should do the same. Our trained technicians are available to come out to your home or bring your powerchair in to our Bayswater showroom.
    • Our call out and service costs are some of the lowest in the industry. We only sell leading-brand, quality powerchairs that are carefully selected for value, reliability and proven after-sales service.
  • Do you require any accessories?
    • We offer a wide range of options and accessories including: wheelchair cushions, postural back rests, elevating leg rests, swing-away joystick controls, stump supports, oxygen bottle holders and gutter or arm troughs. Ask one of our consultants for more details.
  • And of course, what’s your budget?
    • We have a large range of powerchairs to suit all budgets – check out our latest specials for some great bargains!
    • We can also offer assistance with funding bodies who may be able to assist you.

With so many options now available, choosing the right powerchair can be quite daunting. We have years of experience in assessing users and recommending the right product. We always recommend that you test drive any powerchair you are considering and we even offer a no-obligation, free trial, at your own home for up to 7 days. Call today and speak to one of our friendly consultants to discuss your specific circumstances and needs.

To find out more about our large range of power wheelchairs, call us now on (03) 9726 2000 or visit our showroom.

Useful links

You can also read the Vic Roads guide to “A guide to choosing and using motorised mobility devices”:

pdf

Other useful links:

Using your scooter on public transport – trains, trams & buses:

http://ptv.vic.gov.au/getting-around/accessible-transport/mobility-aids

Scooter Insurance:

http://www.bluebadgeinsurance.com.au/

Recharge scheme:

http://www.rechargescheme.org.au/

 

 

 

 

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