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Help with Powerchairs

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How to choose a powerchair

A powerchair or electric wheelchair can bring independence and freedom to those currently reliant on others. Once you have decided on a powerchair rather than a mobility scooter or wheelchair, there are still plenty of other choices to be made. These include the price, the style and size of the powerchair, how portable the powerchair is, and how far it goes between charges.

A powerchair can be used by someone who hasn't got the dexterity or mobility, perhaps, to drive a mobility scooter. A powerchair user might also have special seating or arm and leg rest requirements that are better served by a powerchair than a mobility scooter. The technology involved in electric wheelchairs is similar to that of mobility scooters and some powerchair manufacturers are offering models that look more like a mobility scooter than a traditional wheelchair.

Powerchairs are usually more customisable than disabled scooters, and can offer different types of control method and seating. For example, the range of the powerchair between charges may not be as important as it having an electric lift so that you can reach shelves or cupboards. It might be more important that it is available with a specialist seat, rather than dismantling to fit in the car.

Up until recently, electric wheelchairs were predominantly designed for indoor use, this has now changed as the technology and user requirements have changed. It is now possible to buy powerchairs that are equally suited to indoor and outdoor use. Nowadays, electric wheelchairs are available with a range of well over 20 miles and a speed of up to 6mph. These powerchairs come with outdoor style wheels and tyres and look more rugged and suitable for outdoor use. They sometimes have additional rear wheels to aid stability when off road for example. These models are much more suitable for outdoor use than indoor use.

As powerchair users often spend more time in their powerchairs, the powerchair needs to be right for the environment it's going to be used in. There is no point having a big high performance powerchair if it's too big to use indoors, or a small compact powerchair if it is to be used primarily outdoors. The powerchair performance may be an important factor if it is to replace a car, or provide independence and allow extended journeys.

Powerchairs are usually controlled by a joystick on the armrest which can be fitted on either armrest to suit left or right handed use. The arm rest can usually be swung out of the way so that the user can get closer to a desk or table for example. If a joystick control isn't appropriate for the user's needs, there are other methods of operating the powerchair, including a head controller, a sip and puff tube, fingertip control or foot control.

Different users will need different sorts of seat, leg rests and armrests as they provide the user with comfort and stability. A powered seat, tilt and recline back, or electric leg rests might also be an optional accessory. If the user will be spending a lot of time in the powerchair, then a wheelchair cushion, especially a memory foam cushion will be a wise investment to ensure comfort and help to prevent pressure sores.

Powerchairs charge in the same way that mobility scooters do. The battery charger will usually plug into the powerchair control unit whilst the batteries are attached. This means that the user doesn't have to worry about lifting or refitting batteries.

Once the basics powerchair requirements have been established, you can then try some powerchairs and see which is most suitable.

What is the difference between a powerchair and a mobility scooter?

Mobility scooters and powerchairs are often grouped together to differentiate them from traditional self-propelled, or pushed manual wheelchairs. There are however some fundamental differences between a mobility scooter and a powerchair.

Mobility scooters have three or four wheels and are steered using a bicycle style handlebar (or tiller) which requires two hands, and are designed to travel up to 35 miles. They are often used by people with limited mobility, or those who tire easily when walking. Depending on the model and type of mobility scooter, the scooter may disassemble into easy to manage components so that it can be easily transported in a car, or stored at home.

Powerchairs usually look more like traditional wheelchairs, and some models even look just like a traditional wheelchair with batteries and a motor attached to each wheel. The powerchair is driven using one hand by a joystick controller on the arm of the powerchair. Powerchair users tend to spend more time in their chairs than scooter users spend on their scooters. Because of this, powerchairs are usually more adaptable than disabled scooters and some models can have specialist seats and controllers fitted to suit the individual requirements of the user. For example, the powerchair can be controlled by hand, by a chin controller, or even using a sip and puff pipe operated with the mouth. The footrests can be specific to the user's needs and can include swing away or articulating footrests. Powerchairs are also more likely to be used inside although some powerchairs are equally capable indoors and outdoors. Mobility scooters are more likely to be used outdoors, although some of the smaller ones can be used indoors.

Electric scooters usually have one motor to drive the rear wheels whilst powerchairs have two motors to individually drive the rear wheels. This gives the powerchair a smaller turning circle which is ideal for indoor use, and provides a lot of traction and control. Some powerchairs even have the option of an electrically operated hydraulic seat so that the user can reach traditionally unreachable places like cupboards and shelves. Disabled scooters tend to be less configurable than powerchairs, and have fewer optional extras.

Disability scooters tend to be less expensive than powerchairs. Powerchairs have two motors, and better, more supportive seating as users often spend a lot of time in the powerchair. Powerchair users may not be able to support themselves, or be able to walk at all, and so their requirements are different from mobility scooter users.

Traditionally, powerchairs were not as easy to dismantle as mobility scooters, but this is changing and most of the powerchair manufacturers offer powerchairs that will fit into a car boot. Designs are constantly changing and improving, and powerchairs are becoming as easy to dismantle and as rugged as mobility scooters. Some powerchairs have six wheels for added stability, and some are front wheel drive for added indoor manoeuvrability.

Now that you have found out more about the differences between mobility scooters and powerchairs, you can decide which will best suit your needs.

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