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Thread: Light, transportable wheelchair for part time user

  1. #1

    Light, transportable wheelchair for part time user

    Just got an email from a friend who has Parkinson's disease. His disease has progressed to a point this year that he feels the need to use a wheelchair when he is out and about. His requirements are "compact, lightweight, and transportable." His insurance will pay 90%.

    He asked me for recommendations, but I have been out of the manual wheelchair market for so long, I don't know how to advise him. I thought about my 99 year old mother who uses a walker with a seat, wheels and brakes. She doesn't have mobility issues as such but uses the chair when she is out in crowds for stability and she always has a seat to rest if she needs to.

    I'll suggest a walker to my friend, but he may be looking more long term to a time when he has to use the chair permanently. I am hoping that someone here may have some suggestions to meet his needs.

    Thanks for your help.

    All the best,

  2. #2
    A little more information would help.
    How old is he?
    Does he drive or who drives him and what do they drive?
    He could go to Walgreen's and try some walkers and chairs. Then bring back what he thought of those.

  3. #3
    He is 61 years old, 6 feet tall, about 175lbs. He doesn't drive anymore, but he does walk and would be capable of loading a chair in the trunk and walking to the front of the car, for now. Hard to say how this disease will progress. I don't think he would be using the chair at home at all, just when he is out in crowds.

    I haven't seen him for a while, so I am not sure about his abilities. Personally, I think he needs to see an Occupational or Physical Therapist for an evaluation and suggestions. Just thought I'd put this out to this community because I know we have part time walkers/wheelers amongst us.

    All the best,

  4. #4
    Optimally: 1) going to a seating clinic (the default answer if you want a truly well fit chair) In terms of manual chairs, there is certainly quite a variety.

    Types of manual wheelchairs out there:

    transport chairs: like a stroller, kind of, and impossible to self-propel except if you use your feet. I did this for a year, I have full movement but have difficulty standing and walking due to involutnary movements. (I'm a part-time manual chair user) This kind of chair is only a good idea if you have a caregiver, and even then, typically used only for short periods.

    Standard chairs: cheapest variety of occupant-propelled chairs; heavy steel bar frame that folds, molded plastic wheels, swing-away footrest, very difficult to get in and out of a sedan unless it has a nice big trunk. Quite difficult for those with poor upper body strength to push themselves in, only for short times, positioning/customization is negligible.

    Lightweight chairs: similar to standard chairs, but made of a lighter variety of steel, or in some cases, aluminum, with customization options in the higher end products. (EG, choice of armrest/footrest, possible customization of seat or back angle, choice of footrest style and seat height, maybe even choice of frame color or seat upholstery) Many of these are still relatively heavy for a self-propelling user and pose similar difficulties in transport as the standard chairs. (I've had two chairs like this, one of them broke due to poor quality, the other was too expensive when insurance failed to help out and I dropped the rental, went back to my standard chair.)

    Ultralight wheelchairs: come in two general varieties, folding and rigid, but in general, are made for users who need lighter chairs for self-propulsion, and are especially choice for active people or those who have limmited upper body strength but wish to still use a manual wheelchair.

    folding: still of the general folding design of the lightweight/standard chairs but made of very light matterials, and entirely custom-made, with an enormous variety of choices of wheels, seat angles, frame angles, frame styles, armrests, push handles, back angles, metals used (titanium or aluminum) choice of frame color, variety of footrest designs, and much better overall performance.

    rigid: the same variety as folding ultralights...minus the aspect of folding. Having a rigid chair optimizes performance and fit, given it doesn't have to do anything but have wheels and hold your body in a comfortable and stable manner. This means the chair can be contoured to the shape of the body and have a variety of adjustments to its shape and size, and are generally lighter and stronger yet than folding ultralights due to the relative lack of moving parts, which translates to more energy going into each push. The variety of rigids that are open-framed (especially those made of titanium, carbon, or magnesium) are the lightest wheelchairs in the world. Open-framed means they don't have all the box-like cross braces under the seat, but are rather L-shaped except where the axles attach to the underside of the seat. For me, having a rigid open frame chair is the easiest, because it means I can just place it in the back seat of my car, (takes up the room one passenger does...vs the folding standard chair I had took up most of the back seat, rolled/pushed in) after popping the wheels off and putting them in on top of it, and drive away. It's really light (titanium frame) and I can lift it with one far from the other chairs I used for three years. I couldn't afford a new one, given my insurance wouldn't pay for one, so I got a secondhand one and have worked on customizing it more to my needs. (EG adjusted seat back height, took off armrests, changed tension of seat upholstery, repainted the frame for aesthetics.)

    Hopefully your friend's insurance and PT and OT can work together to get him the kind of chair he needs, whatever it may be. Depending on insurance, a chair may be payed for only if its use is essential to doing things in one's wheelchair accessible home, (that's the typical requirement for full insurance reimbursement) but some insurances (particularly veterans who get their services through the VA) may cover above the bare minimum of his needs for in-home use. But if his insurance is like most folks', he'll end up covering part or most, if not all of his expenses for an outside-of-the-home use wheelchair.
    Tourette's Syndrome - motor tics of the legs, feet and back, which can make it difficult or impossible to walk

  5. #5
    Thanks for the tutorial. I'll send this to my friend, I know he will appreciate the information.

    All the best,

  6. #6
    I'd suggest taking him to a specialty mobility/seating store to see what he likes. They should have some demo models available in a range of chairs, which he can at least sit in/try, and will likely have walkers and scooters on hand too to try. That's how I figured out for sure what type of chair I wanted...figuring out the model, etc came later with more research. Oh, another thing I left out...being properly fitted for a wheelchair, and its design meeting your needs, is the most crucial part of the process. If you need light weight...a standard chair is a nightmare. Most weigh in the ballpark of 50 pounds, depending on size...and given the height of your friend, it will be a big chair, and weigh that much more. I'd say for weight purposes alone, you'd have to go with at least a lightweight, if not an ultralight. Compactability...well, folders are nice for sticking in a closet or in the corner when not in use, but can actually take up more room in the back seat of a car than a rigid chair. But if the trunk is big enough a folder can go in it, too, although lifting it to go there is significantly more difficult, especially with lightweight or standard chairs. For compactability/portability issues, I'd look into a chair with quick-release wheels, which although it may not sound safe, or even useful, believe me, it is a lifesaver, since you can position the wheels independently of the chair and can make a big difference in saving space/fitting it into a small car trunk or seat. Quick release wheels come on many folding lightweight wheelchairs, and are an option on all ultralight chairs...that I know of, at least.
    Tourette's Syndrome - motor tics of the legs, feet and back, which can make it difficult or impossible to walk

  7. #7
    Welcome. Sorry for the dual posts, I keep re-reading your post and coming up with more. I hope it helps him find a solution.
    Tourette's Syndrome - motor tics of the legs, feet and back, which can make it difficult or impossible to walk

  8. #8
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Houston Texas
    Here are some of the tools I have used. I know you asked for manual wheelchair recommendations (which I have none) but you mentioned that he might not use a manual at home so I thought I would mention some tools I have used.

    First was this seat cane. I have the $20 sporting goods version but this one is different from the sport seat canes from the golf section of sporting goods stores which are usually blue plastic and no adjustable height. This one costs a little more but the height of the seat/handle adjusts.

    Then I went to a different type of seat cane - I have not used some of these but the one I used was hard for me to balance but that's one of my biggest problems. I bought this single legged one:

    I wish I had purchased one of these instead. This one adjusts for a taller person.

    Here is another site with some interesting seat canes. I like the one with the quad legs.

    Then I went to this rollator - this one has a seat that adjusts as well as the handles. They adjust separately. This is one study walker. With his height, he might prefer a seat closer to his normal seating level as all of the usual rollators are quite short. The 10" wheels in front help to go over little things in the front yard like twigs, etc. With the seat at it's highest level, I can sit high enough to wash dishes or cook or iron. The seat is hard so it makes a makeshift table next to my chair. It rolls very nicely -I got the knock-off from Cosco of the Norwegian/Dutch/Swedish design (can't remember which). It also doesn't look so medicinal - Mine was part of the breast cancer thing so it came it Pepto Bismol Pink but I took a can of spray paint and painted it silver. Took the paint very well - could use another coat but works well and gets so many compliments when out and about. It's a SPORTY rollator!

    I thought I would throw these ideas out for his use at home - these are still tools that I use inside my home every day. They could be used until he gets a wheelchair or for those days when he feels strong enough to stay out of the wheelchair. I also use my seat cane to stablize when going from my trunk to the driver's seat.

    I hope you will get more manual chair recommendations. My next steps were a super hemi (I'm 5' 4") folding wheelchair that I propel with my feet. Due to his height, he might be able to get a regular wheelchair to work for him this way - or some hand/arm/foot propulsion combination.

    Then my next step was a lightweight scooter that breaks down to fit in the trunk. His legs may be too long for this model (and he hasn't specified power) but I love my scooter!

    Anyway, hope some of those tools are helpful regardless of the manual chair he chooses. Can't help much with that as I have just used a super hemi folding wheelchair which I self-propelled.


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