Did you know that there are many different types of wheelchairs, each with a variety of features? If your older adult needs a wheelchair, knowing about the available types helps you choose the one that best fits their mobility needs and health conditions. Vive Health gives an overview of the 6 main types of wheelchairs for seniors, features and accessories, and Medicare coverage.
If you’re in the market for a manual wheelchair for your older adult, you may be surprised to learn that manual wheelchairs come in a variety of sizes, weights, and features.
For example, someone who has generally good mobility but needs a wheelchair when they walk longer distances might choose a basic lightweight wheelchair.
Someone with more severe mobility limitations might need a specialty wheelchair that allows caregivers to easily help them in and out of it.
This quick overview describes 6 different types of manual wheelchairs, helpful features and accessories, and how to get one that’s covered by Medicare.
6 main types of manual wheelchairs for seniors
1. Ultra lightweight and lightweight wheelchairs
Manual wheelchairs typically weigh between 25 to 40 pounds. They work well for travel and are easier to lift in and out of the car for quick errands.
These lightweight chairs are often constructed with titanium, carbon steel, or aluminum. They have large back wheels with much smaller front wheels.
These wheelchairs allow a person to push themselves. Or, caregivers can use the gripped handles to push their older adult in the chair.
2. Standard wheelchairs
Similar to lightweight manual wheelchairs, standard wheelchairs also have large back wheels and small front wheels. The difference is that they weigh more than lightweight wheelchairs.
For people with enough upper body strength, these are the most common type of wheelchair. Of course, caregivers can also push these using the handles.
3. Bariatric and heavy duty wheelchairs
Heavier people can benefit from heavy duty wheelchairs that are engineered with stronger frames and large seats to support those who weigh between 300 to 700 pounds.
Designed for ample weight disbursement, heavy duty chairs may feature a reclining seat and also make it easier for a caregiver to manually push their older adult without using excessive force.
4. Tilt and recliner wheelchairs
If your older adult needs help from two or more people to get in and out of bed or onto the toilet, a wheelchair with a tilting or reclining seat could be helpful.
These types of manual wheelchairs allow a caregiver to safely lower a backrest towards the ground and then, with another person, lift their older adult out of the chair and onto a bed or recliner.
5. Transport wheelchairs
Transport wheelchairs are often used in hospital settings, but are also available for home use.
They’re different from standard wheelchairs because they have small back and front wheels — instead of large back wheels and small front wheels.
This means that the person sitting in the wheelchair can’t propel themselves. They need to be pushed by someone else.
Transfer wheelchairs are usually lightweight and are good for short outings. However, the small wheels might not roll as well over outdoor terrain as well as the larger wheels of a standard wheelchair.
6. Other types of wheelchairs
There are also a variety of specialty wheelchairs available to suit different needs.
For example, pediatric wheelchairs are specifically designed for children, sport wheelchairs are for athletes with disabilities, and hemi height wheelchairs are for people who use their feet to move the wheelchair.
Wheelchair features and accessories
The features and accessories that maximize their wheelchair’s comfortable and usefulness will depend on your older adult’s needs.
These might include:
- Gel or memory foam seat cushions
- Cushioned or structured backrest
- Ergonomic arm pads
- Leg rests
- Headrest (removable)
- Seat (or safety) belts
- Snow or beach wheels
- Utility lighting
Medicare coverage for wheelchairs
If a wheelchair is medically necessary and your older adult has Medicare Part B, it could be partly or completely covered.
Wheelchairs are considered durable medical equipment (DME). That means getting Medicare to cover it requires a written order from a doctor and rental or purchase directly from an approved DME provider.
To help your older adult get the wheelchair that best suits their needs, talk with their doctor and research the different types available.
You may also want to look for a local DME company that’s Medicare approved. And, if there are any questions about coverage, call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE to find out.
Keep in mind that the timelines for processing and receiving a wheelchair can take anywhere from a couple weeks to months.
Recommended for you:
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Guest contributor: Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living healthy lifestyle, she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.
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