Following a spinal cord injury (SCI), choosing a wheelchair that is suitable for the individual becomes a very important decision that has to be made.
Ideally, someone with an SCI will work with their occupational therapist to find just the right fit. It can take time but it’s worth putting in the effort and not settling for second best.
Here we take a closer look at the wheelchair buying choices that a person with a spinal cord injury may need to make:
The first thing to mention is that wheelchairs have improved dramatically over the last 50 or so years. In the past, they were heavy, difficult to manoeuvre and pretty inflexible. Today, we have modern, lightweight designs that can be folded away and quickly put in the back of a car.
The big choice someone has to make is whether they want a manual wheelchair, where the wheels are pushed, or a power chair that is driven by electricity. The latter is more suited to individuals such as those with tetraplegia, who are unable to use their arms or lack strength in this area.
The key to choosing the best wheelchair is to try it out beforehand and make sure it ticks all the boxes.
The one issue with power chair purchases is whether they are covered under Medicare. There is some choice limitation here and an individual may need to spend their own money if they really want the power chair they are looking for.
The best wheelchair options need the individual to consider more than just how easy a particular product is to operate. For power chairs, battery life is an important consideration.
There are three different types for power chairs:
Power assist has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and can be added to many modern wheelchairs. They act as a great halfway house between manual and power chairs.
While they add some weight to the chair, many spinal cord injury patients find them indispensable, especially when going uphill. Some new wheelchairs will have this included but there is also the option to add it on to many models when making the purchase of the chair.
Another important thing to consider is the kind of seating available and the individual’s positioning on it. This will vary greatly depending on how someone uses their wheelchair.
A paraplegic wheelchair, for instance, may require special cushions to prevent pressure sores developing. Adjustable cushions that can change the user’s position are also a great advantage.
Someone who just uses their chair to get around outside and doesn’t spend all day in it, will probably need less in the way of seat cushioning and be less concerned about positioning.
Probably the most important piece of equipment a person with a spinal cord injury will buy is their wheelchair. It’s important to take time over this choice and to do plenty of research. Picking the best wheelchair undoubtedly makes a huge difference to many aspects of life, improving access, comfort and wellbeing among other things.
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