When searching for mobility products, it's important to purchase the right one for maximum independence. Much like finding the right tool for a job! However, it can be a daunting task. Especially for those that are just starting their research. Instead of getting frustrated, let's get informed.
With over 5 years of consulting experience in this field, rest assured that this guide is a valuable resource for any beginners just starting to shop. There are mobility scooters, power wheelchairs, and other types of mobility equipment available. How do we choose the right one?
Friends, family, and medical professionals may have suggestions. Talking to them first could bring up scenarios not thought about previously. Asking them the right questions should give food for thought. It does not need to be a solo experience!
Questions to ask:
What is the height and weight of the person that will be using the equipment?
Fit is important. If the user is tall, there needs to be foot space. If the user is heavy, there needs to be the right size seat. Pay attention to weight capacity. If closer to the weight capacity, that will affect the performance and power of the equipment.
What physical and/or mental disabilities do they have?
This helps to figure out what custom additions may be needed for a safe, comfortable operation.
Is there resistance to purchasing new equipment?
Getting older or being disabled is tough. Individuals may be stubborn and fight against change. However, resisting new equipment should not negatively impact their health in the process. A counselor may need to get involved to talk about their concerns. There may need to be a person they trust to encourage them. Think of all the things they can start doing once they have that independence! What have they missed out on in the past that could have been avoided by using the equipment?
Will the equipment need to be transported frequently?
If the scooter or power wheelchair needs to be transported frequently by a vehicle, do some research. If the vehicle has a class 3 hitch a lift or carrier could be added on. This means no assembly and disassembly! No heavy lifting! If it does not have a hitch see if one can be installed on the vehicle. Finding this out beforehand could limit or expand options. If no lift is involved, can a portable ramp work? Does the vehicle need to be modified?
Will there be someone assisting them with the equipment?
If unable to get in and out of the scooter or power wheelchair alone, whoever is assisting them should be present. If the assistant needs to transport the equipment, they need to be comfortable loading and unloading.
What types of places would the equipment be used in?
Indoors or outdoors? Floor or Mixed Terrain? Tight spaces? Where do they go on a typical day or weekend? Smaller equipment for smaller spaces. High traction tires for mixed terrain. This discussion is important because it goes through the goals of the user to find out what may be needed.
What is the budget? Would Medicare, Medicaid, or insurance cover the cost or will the purchase be private pay?
Some companies may not take Medicare, Medicaid, or insurance. These are private pay businesses. They don't need approval from any entity and can be purchased and used as soon as payment is made. Medicare and Medicaid may not approve the use of powered equipment. Typically, they are concerned about how traveling is within the home. If non-powered equipment can be used in the home, approval may not go through. Also, insurance companies may only cover a certain amount or certain types of equipment. See if reimbursement is possible prior to purchasing. If purchasing from a private-pay business, the insurance companies may or may not be able to reimburse. However, private pay options are boundless!
How long would the user be seated when using the mobility scooter or power wheelchair?
Typically, scooters are more for those that will not be seated for a long time. These seats are not made for extended periods of time. Power wheelchairs have more seating options. There are even memory foam, captain's seats, or air/gel cushions! Much better for longer times seated on equipment.
Does the therapist need to be involved with the decision?
If a therapist is already involved, prior to looking for equipment, it is important to let them know what may be purchased. There could be valid reasons to support or question the choice. Another thought is video recording the use of the equipment to show the therapist that it can be operated safely. Some retirement communities need to approve safe operations within the community. Renting equipment for a driving test in the community could be an option.
Is the person comfortable having an open space in front of them or more comfortable with handlebars in front?
Being an extrovert, getting close to people is important for more lively interactions. Maybe a power wheelchair would be best. Introverts may lean towards creating a social bubble for themselves. They may decide a scooter is a safer choice.
Will they need to carry any items with them that would require an add-on to the equipment?
Cane holders, baskets, bags, walker holder, cup holder...see what other accessories are available for the model chosen.
How much weight is the user able to lift on their own?
Many scooters can be broken down to 4-5 pieces with the heaviest pieces being somewhere between 25-55 lbs. Others can fold into one solid piece, but weigh more than 50 lbs. Some power wheelchairs have bases that weigh around 100 lbs.
Will more than 1 type of equipment be needed depending on where it is used?
Indoor power wheelchair for an apartment. Outdoor scooter for park trails. Equipment left at work and other equipment at home.
Second, know what a mobility scooter is versus a power wheelchair. What makes them different? Then you may be able to narrow down which type of equipment you need. This is not always the case, but a good place to start.
Mobility scooters usually have 3 or 4 wheels, a stadium or captain's style seat, a deck for your feet, a tiller with handlebars for steering and levers for acceleration, as well as lithium (Li) or sealed lead-acid (SLA) batteries that can be recharged.
Power wheelchairs usually have 4 or 6 wheels, a stadium or captain's style seat, a footrest for your feet, an open front with joystick for steering and acceleration, as well as lithium (Li) or sealed lead-acid (SLA) batteries that can be recharged.
So how do these notable features stack up to each other? What features may be better or worse?
Mobility scooters can carry less of a stigma, just by the description alone. It has "mobility" in the name and suggests action. Power wheelchairs may carry more of a stigma. They are typically seen as more of a medical product for those with severe disabilities. It has a "chair" in the name which suggests no movement and a lack of action.
Do not let stigma limit the types of equipment to try. As time moves on there are improvements that give scooters and chairs more of a modern look than a medical look.
Number of Wheels: Mobility Scooters 3 or 4?
Mobility scooters with 3 wheels tend to have a few benefits but also have their drawbacks. The turning radius is tight so turning around does not take up as much space. However, this diminishes some of the stability. They have more foot room. Having 1 less wheel, 3 instead of 4, also reduces the weight of the scooter. For those that may have difficulty lifting, this can be a huge benefit!
Number of Wheels: Power Wheelchairs 4 or 6?
Power wheelchairs with 4 wheels have a tighter turning radius. Some may have 4 of the same size wheels or 2 small and 2 large. The 2 large wheels could be in the front or the rear of the chair. However, a chair with 6 wheels may be more stable. The 6 wheels consist of 4 small wheels that swivel and 2 larger wheels for propulsion. These are typically mid-wheel, meaning the 2 large wheels are centered directly under the seat in the middle. Wheel placement can affect how the chair is driven so trying before buying is encouraged.
Seat Style: Stadium or Captain's Seat?
Stadium seats are found primarily on most scooters and less often on power wheelchairs. They do not have head support and are smaller and lighter. The back of the seat folds down to the padded seat and can usually be removed for a more compact scooter when transporting.
Captain's seats are found primarily on power wheelchairs and less often on scooters. Scooters that do have that style option are larger. Captain's seats may have an adjustable back for those that need to lean further back. It operates like car seats do with the handle located on the side of the chair. They also have head support attached. It may be difficult, or almost impossible, to remove the seat.
Foot Placement: Deck or Footrest?
Most mobility scooters have decks. Decks have a limited amount of space for feet. If you are a taller person with large feet, this could be an issue. If using a footrest, space for feet is not typically a problem. Some models even have extensions for their footrests! Only power wheelchairs have footrests.
Operation: Tiller with Handlebars or Joystick?
Mobility scooters have a tiller with and levers to operate the equipment. They also allow for more personal space as the tiller separates the user from what is in front of them. Some feel safer being enclosed. Power wheelchairs have a joystick to operate. This could be a learning curve and practice may be needed to improve operation. The user has an open space in front of them allowing them to get closer to people and their environment. This may benefit extroverts.
Batteries: Lithium or Sealed Lead Acid (SLA)?
Lithium batteries can store more power in smaller, lighter batteries. Airplanes will not allow these batteries in the cargo part of the plane. The cabin may hold a lithium battery that is 10AH (amp hours) or less. If travel is frequent, this could be a concern. However, most lithium batteries are roughly 5 lbs., much lighter than sealed lead-acid batteries. Sealed lead-acid (SLA) batteries are larger and heavier. They are a bit more travel-friendly because they are allowed in the cargo area of the plane.
Picking the best mobility equipment can take some time. That's okay! Much better to research first before the big purchase than not. If you know someone that could benefit from reading this guide, please forward the link or print it out. Who knows, maybe it will help someone you know!