If you are in a wheelchair most or all the time, hopefully it is customized and tricked out for your needs. But if it is only for a month or two there is no way most of us will go to that effort or expense.
So what are the interim solutions? The temporary means by which you can get the chair that is most comfortable for you?
Let’s start with the type of chair you might rent or buy.
- Transport or Self-pushing
As you can see, transport chairs are narrower by several inches, allowing them to fit through small doorways and into tighter spaces. However, the person in this chair is completely at the mercy of others to get around, as it is missing the large back wheels that allow them to push themselves. Decide on the priority early on, because the wrong choice can be frustrating. If you are really independent, go with the self-pushing.
- Rising Leg Rests
Some wheelchairs allow the footrest to raise. If your knee is immobilized this is critical. Otherwise you will constantly be jerry-rigging the footrests to get comfortable. If you need a rising leg rest, make sure it has pads under the calves to support your leg, otherwise again, you will be constantly fiddling around to get comfortable.
- Swing-Away Footrests
Some wheelchairs have the ability to not just flip-up the little foot rests, but to swing the whole bar out to the side while people get in and out. If the chair is for someone with limited mobility, balance and strength, this is a necessary feature. If someone is frail, weak or off-balance, they often cannot step over or around the footrests to get in. Especially when getting in and out of the car or bathrooms.
- Removable Arms
Some chairs allow you to remove the arm rests. If you are going to be self-propelling a lot, you may want to consider this option. Trying to self propel with the arm rests attached can lead to severe bruises on the backs of your arms.
- Body Width, Weight Tolerance and Height
If you are fairly average height and weight, a standard wheelchair should feet. But if you need the chair for someone who’s over 300 lbs or exceptionally tall, you may need to find a specialty chair. Rest assured, there are chairs for every shape and size and they are not hard to find, although the more custom, the more expensive, in some cases. Knowing the seat width and height you need, as well as your weight will help you make the right choice.
- Chair weight
Chairs can vary significantly in weight. Like bicycles they can be made from a variety of materials, which can affect this. Similar chairs can vary by up to 20 lbs and over $500 based on what they are made of and their weight. Decide how much you will be hauling the chair around before you decide what is important. If you will be carrying it up and down a lot of stairs for two months, maybe that 20 lbs is worth the cost.
For more details check out: Choosing a Standard Self-Propelled Wheelchair from Assist Ireland
Buy, Borrow or Rent
Only you can decide whether to buy or rent. Based on the criteria above, see what it would cost you to buy a wheelchair and then start checking out the local area for rental options. Don’t forget to check into your insurance coverage. I have found I am usually paying about 10% per month of the purchase cost to rent a chair. For me, this makes my buy or rent decision cutoff about 6 months. If I think I will use the chair for 6 months, then I would rather buy it. I’m always amazed how often it comes in handy. But I also have a garage.
There may also be loaner programs in your area. Many hospitals rent or lend equipment and if they don’t they often have a list of the vendors and charities in the area that do. You can ask to speak to their occupational therapists. They tend to be experts on equipment options available to you. Or talk to your local pharmacy; they are usually very tuned in to the local equipment options.
Others have already done a great job of describing this. The only thing I will say again and again is don’t forget your brakes. Engage them every time you are getting in or out of your chair. No matter what. Check out these great resources for full instructions on getting around in your wheelchair:
- Use a Manual Wheelchair
- Top Tips for Wheelchair Users (don’t worry about mastering the back wheel balance, it’s tricky)
- Opening Doors from a Wheelchair
- From bed to wheelchair, to toilet and back (a little dry, but fairly practical for most of us with temporary needs and lack of upper body strength)
Once you have a chair, and it is the right dimensions, and you can handle the basics of getting around. Now you need to get comfortable.
Some things to consider.
The bottom of most standard chairs is a piece of leather or plastic. It is cold in the winter, sweaty in the summer and uncomfortable after an hour. Get a cushion. You can buy a wheelchair cushion, they are the best option, but they can be expensive, so use a regular pillow if you have to. If you can afford it or have good coverage, a gel wheelchair cushion is the most comfortable. And can raise you a little higher in your seat which can be nice as well.
Make sure you have a short jacket right for the season. Shop second-hand if you don’t. There is nothing worse than spending all of your time with your coat bunched around your waist and hips because you are sitting all the time. Or getting caught under you. Think about long car rides. How would you dress? That’s probably what you will find most comfortable.
Make sure you feel good about your pant leg length, your socks and your shoes. You are about to be looking at the more than you are used to, and it will bother you if you feel pitiful. So make sure that when you sit and look down you feel good, but make sure those shoes are practical, because you still have to use the washroom sometimes, so you will need them.
Come back next week when we look at wheelchair accessories, and which ones make life a lot easier and which you can do without.