Important Questions to Ask When Buying a Wheelchair

When buying a wheelchair for a loved one, it's crucial to ask questions about their specific needs and preferences, such as comfort level and maneuverability. Additionally, consider the suitability of the wheelchair for their daily activities and living environment to ensure it enhances their mobility and quality of life.

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Important Questions to Ask When Buying a Wheelchair
7 Min Read December 11th, 2023

For millions of individuals worldwide, wheelchairs are essential tools for mobility and independence. With an aging population and the prevalence of various conditions, the demand for wheelchairs continues to grow. 

In the United States alone, an estimated 3.3 million people rely on wheelchairs, with projections indicating a significant rise in the coming years. This statistic highlights the importance of selecting the right wheelchair, one that not only meets the user's specific needs but also empowers them to live a fulfilling life.

Beyond age-related limitations, a diverse range of conditions can necessitate wheelchair use. Musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis, spinal cord injuries, and cerebral palsy frequently lead to mobility impairments. Similarly, individuals living with neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) often rely on wheelchairs for daily activities. Additional factors like chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, and cancer treatment can also contribute to the need for wheelchair assistance.

Choosing a suitable wheelchair can significantly impact the daily life of an older loved one and improve their well-being. It's not just about picking a chair; it's about finding the perfect fit to empower independence and enhance quality of life. To ensure the best possible choice, let's explore five critical questions you should ask before purchasing a wheelchair.

Selecting the Right Wheelchair: Tailoring Mobility to Needs

Choosing the ideal wheelchair is not a one-size-fits-all process. With diverse options available, from manual and power wheelchairs to sports models, finding the perfect fit hinges on specific needs and circumstances.

When selecting a wheelchair for a loved one, several key factors need to be considered to ensure their comfort and mobility:

  1. Mobility Level: Evaluate whether your loved one can manually operate a wheelchair or if they require a power-assisted model. This decision hinges on their physical strength and endurance.
  2. Physical Abilities: Consider their dexterity and any limitations they might have in movement. The wheelchair must be comfortable and easy for them to operate and maneuver.
  3. Personal Preferences: Understand their priorities. Some might prefer a wheelchair that's easy to store and transport. In contrast, others might need additional features for comfort, such as a reclining backrest or tilt-in-space functionality.
  4. Lifestyle Considerations: Reflect on their typical daily activities and the environments they frequent. For someone very active, a sports wheelchair might be the best option. Conversely, a lightweight folding chair could be more suitable for those who travel often.

By carefully assessing these aspects, you can help ensure that the wheelchair you choose enhances their quality of life and aligns with their personal needs and lifestyle.

Paying Attention to Size and Weight Capacity is Key

Wheelchairs are available in various sizes and weight capacities, making it essential to find one that offers both comfort and safety. Here's what to keep in mind:

  • User's Height and Weight: It's important to choose a wheelchair that fits well and supports the user's weight without compromising legroom.
  • Ease of Transferring: Opt for a wheelchair that makes it easy to transfer to and from the bed, other chairs, or surfaces.
  • Comfort and Proper Posture: A wheelchair that fits well can significantly improve posture, reducing the risk of pain and fatigue and enhancing mobility.

Remember, the right wheelchair – comfortable and well-suited to the user's physical requirements – is crucial for optimal mobility and independence.

Adaptable to Meet Evolving Needs

A wheelchair must adapt to changing user requirements. When choosing one, consider these adjustable features:

  • Adjustable Seat Height: This feature is crucial for maintaining proper legroom and posture when using different surfaces.
  • Backrest Angle Customization: Adjusting the backrest angle is key for achieving the best possible comfort and support.
  • Flexible Footrest Positioning: Adjusting the footrests can significantly improve leg positioning and overall comfort.

Having a wheelchair with these adaptable features guarantees comfort and functionality, keeping pace with the user's changing needs over time.

Think About Portability and Storage for Your Loved One's Wheelchair

If you and your loved one enjoy traveling or have limited storage space in their home, portability could be a key feature to look for in a wheelchair. 

One reason to choose a foldable wheelchair or those with detachable parts – is because they're super handy for transport and don't take up much space. As you think about your loved one's daily routine and how often they'll be on the move, decide how important a lightweight, easy-to-store wheelchair is. 

Remember, the right wheelchair can make a big difference in maintaining an active lifestyle and ease of use at home and while traveling.

Looking for Extra Comfort and Functionality Features in Wheelchairs

When choosing a wheelchair, it's essential to consider additional features that can boost your loved one's comfort and independence. Here are some options to explore:

  • Tilt and Recline Mechanisms: These can be a real game-changer for comfort, especially during long periods of sitting, as they help relieve pressure and improve posture.
  • Pressure-Relief Cushions: If your loved one spends much time in their wheelchair, these cushions are essential for preventing pressure sores and ensuring ongoing comfort.
  • Custom Accessories: Adding personalized touches like cup holders, storage bags, and other accessories can make a wheelchair more functional and suited to your loved one's daily life.

Remember, the ideal wheelchair should cater to its user's unique needs and preferences. Ask the right questions about their lifestyle and health needs, and choose a wheelchair that enhances their ability to enjoy life to the fullest.

When selecting a wheelchair for a loved one, one critical aspect often overlooked is the size of hallways and doorways in their living environment. The wheelchair needs to be comfortable and functional for the user and compatible with the physical space it will be used in. This consideration is vital to ensure that the wheelchair can easily navigate through the home without causing damage to the property or, more importantly, limiting the user's mobility.

The standard width of doorways in many homes can range from 23 to 27 inches, while standard wheelchairs are typically 24 to 27 inches wide. This can pose a challenge, particularly in older homes with narrower doorways. 

To avoid these issues, it's important to measure the width of all doorways and hallways in the residence. Based on these measurements, you can determine the appropriate wheelchair width. Minor modifications, such as removing door frames or installing swing-away hinges, might be necessary to facilitate easier access.

Furthermore, consider the layout and size of hallways. They should provide ample space for the wheelchair to turn and maneuver without obstacles. Tight corners or crowded hallways can significantly restrict mobility, making daily activities frustrating for your loved one. Ensure there's enough clearance space for comfortable navigation.

In addition to doorways and hallways, assess other aspects of the home environment, such as the accessibility of bathrooms, the kitchen, and the bedroom. Your loved one will likely spend a significant amount of time in these areas, so ease of access is crucial. If necessary, you might need to consider rearranging the furniture or making other home modifications to accommodate the wheelchair.

For individuals who rely on wheelchairs, understanding when Medicare and supplemental insurance will cover the costs and when the user is responsible is crucial for financial planning and ensuring access to necessary equipment.

Medicare Coverage:

Medicare Part B typically covers the cost of wheelchairs, including manual, power, and even scooters, under specific criteria. These criteria include:

  • Medical necessity: A doctor must certify that the wheelchair is medically necessary for the patient's condition and that it will be used primarily in the home.
  • Durable medical equipment (DME) supplier: The wheelchair must be purchased from a Medicare-approved DME supplier.
  • Specific types: Medicare generally covers standard manual wheelchairs, power-operated vehicles (scooters) for home use, and lightweight manual wheelchairs for travel.
  • Deductible and coinsurance: Medicare beneficiaries are responsible for paying the annual Part B deductible and 20% coinsurance for covered wheelchair costs.

User Responsibility:

Some expenses may remain the user's responsibility even with Medicare and supplement coverage. These may include:

  • Costs exceeding Medicare limits: If the chosen wheelchair exceeds Medicare's allowable cost, the user is responsible for the difference.
  • Non-covered features: Medicare does not cover certain features, such as custom-made cushions or headrests. These additional features are the user's responsibility.
  • Maintenance and repairs: The user is responsible for the ongoing maintenance and repairs of their wheelchair.
  • Upgrades and replacements: Medicare typically covers wheelchair replacements every five years unless there is a documented medical need for a new one sooner. Users are responsible for the cost of upgrades or replacements outside this timeframe.

Understanding these coverage limitations is crucial for individuals relying on wheelchairs to budget effectively and plan for potential out-of-pocket expenses. 

Wheelchairs and Long-Term Care Facilities

Whether wheelchairs are provided in long-term care facilities depends on various factors, including:

Facility policies:

  • Some long-term care facilities provide basic wheelchairs for residents as part of their services.
  • Others may provide wheelchairs for a fee or require residents to bring their own.

Resident's needs:

  • The type of wheelchair needed can influence whether the facility provides it.
  • Standard manual wheelchairs might be available, while specialized or customized chairs might require the resident to bring their own.
  • Individual needs assessments and consultations with healthcare professionals often determine the necessary equipment.

Aging Has Consequences

The natural consequences of aging often lead to mobility challenges, significantly impacting one's independence. Wheelchairs emerge as vital tools in this context, offering a practical solution to maintain mobility and freedom. 

By enabling more effortless movement and accessibility, wheelchairs help seniors retain greater independence, thereby reducing their reliance on caregivers. This not only fosters a sense of autonomy and dignity for the individual but also alleviates some of the burdens on family members and professional caregivers. A well-chosen wheelchair can be a key factor in preserving the quality of life and self-sufficiency for those facing mobility issues in their later years.

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About the Author

Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.

LTC News Contributor Mallory Knee

Mallory Knee

Contributor since September 25th, 2020

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