...effortless powered mobility.
If you are a manual wheelchair user, deciding to move to powered mobility can sometimes be a difficult decision.
When do you make that move. And what are your options? There are many factors to consider and each individuals needs and circumstances are unique. Ask a qualified seating specialist to assist you to choose a powered mobility option that best suits you.
Here are a few factors to consider before making the choice...
Making the switch: manual wheelchair to power wheelchair.
Choosing to switch to powered mobility is a mammoth decision to make; not only in terms of price but also due to the environmental and lifestyle changes that come along with the switch. Practicalities aside, it can also be quite an emotionally charged decision especially when it is a sign of disease progression or acceptance of growing struggles using other mobility products. Although daunting, for many people making the switch to powered mobility opens up new worlds and possibilities and the expressed feeling is one of wishing that the change had been made earlier. There are a few pointers to help you with the decision making process.
This is not a decision that a single person or professional can make but should be a joint decision between yourself, your family and/or significant others as well as the treating healthcare professionals involved such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists. The move is normally based on your physical abilities and needs and should not be based purely on diagnosis. If for whatever reason (weak muscle strength in upper limbs, fatigue, pain, problems with coordination etc) the physical exertion required to maneuver a manual wheelchair is leading to a decrease in your ability to function in daily life, then it is a wise decision to look at different forms of powered mobility. This decision should not be taken lightly as your difficulties may not be permanent but, with good rehab, could improve. This is why that it is important to discuss your mobility options with your team of health care professionals. Many people find that using a combination of powered and manual mobility devices to be a good compromise in maintaining physical strength as well as improving their daily functioning. There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to this decision.
Most people only think of battery operated wheelchairs when referring to powered mobility but there are actually a couple of different options that fall into this product class of devices. For example:
• Battery operated wheelchairs – these range from very basic wheelchairs through to multi-function wheelchairs with multiple seating positions, environmental controls etc. All of the wheelchair have their pros and cons that need to be weighed up. If you have a disability that is progressive in nature, it is wise to look towards what your future needs could be instead of only focusing on your current needs and abilities.
• Power-Assist Units – these are powered wheels that can be attached to a manual wheelchair in a variety of different ways and provide varying degrees of physical assistance with regards to pushing. These units are often quite small and portable which makes them much easier to transport than a standard battery operated wheelchair. You can also decide from moment to moment whether you want to make use of the power assist or push by yourself. Due to the innovative technology, these units are currently quite pricey but lower cost units are also being developed.
• Mobility Scooters – these range from small portable scooters that can be disassembled and put into the boot of a car through to scooters that are consider road worthy (please always confirm with the manufacturer whether a scooter is designed for on road use or not). Most often a mobility scooter is used by someone who has the ability to walk but requires help for longer distances and especially for community mobility. They use rather basic car style seats and therefore are not recommended should you have anything more than basic seating needs.
Accessibility and transport become even more of an issue when you are using a motorised mobility device. When you are using a manual wheelchair it is possible to be helped up or down a couple of steps if there is no ramp provided; unfortunately due to the weight of motorised wheelchairs and scooters this is not possible. It is recommended that you keep a portable set of ramps with you to assist if there is a problem with accessibility. A similar problem exists when it comes to transporting a motorised wheelchair or scooter. Most manual wheelchairs can be easily dissembled/folding and loaded into a vehicle either independently or with assistance but again, due to the weight and size, this is not as easy when it comes to motorised devices. Some motorised wheelchairs and scooters can be disassembled and loaded into an average car but they still remain heavy and difficult to load. Most times it is not possible for you to do this independently. For some wheelchairs and scooters you can use a carrier that attaches to the towbar of your car. Other options for transporting your wheelchair or scooter include larger cars which, using a ramp, the device can be driven up into the vehicle or even looking a specially adapted vans which you can drive from your wheelchair. These are often expensive changes to make and you should take this into account when making your decision.
First step would be to chat to your healthcare team and discuss the various options directly related to your situation. It is then recommended that you make an appointment to speak to an experienced seating specialist (most often an occupational therapist or physiotherapist). They will be able to guide you through the different products available as well as to assess your positioning and seating needs. This ensures that the device not only suits your environmental needs but also ensures that you are correctly positioned to improve function and to prevent complications such as pressure sores and deformities from occurring. Once you have selected the correct device for you, it will be necessary to see what funding options you have (such as medical aid, Road Accident Fund, Workmen’s Compensation etc) and if the funder will be able to cover the costs. Some motorised mobility devices are considered “off the shelf” products and will be available with minor adjustments but some are custom made according to your specifications and therefore can have quite a long lead time before you can get your device.
One last piece of advice is to keep looking until you find the perfect solution for you and your needs in order to ensure that your transition from manual to motorised is a good and seamless process. The technology used in motorised devices is constantly evolving to ensure that instead of being a hindrance, the piece of equipment can open up the world to you and restore lost function ultimately leading to a better quality of life for you.