Pushing someone in a wheelchair may appear to be an easy task, but there is more to this than meets the eye. I learned this when caregiving for my husband during his mesothelioma illness. When the need arose for a wheelchair, I discovered not all wheelchairs are the same and how important it is to choose a chair that suits both of us.
It may sound strange, picking one wheelchair over another because of the caregiver. But it makes sense if you think about it. The goal is the make your loved one’s life better and to provide quality care for as long as that care is needed. If you are ill-suited to one chair (too heavy or difficult to push or turn) then your loved one’s well-being might be compromised.
There are a number of different wheelchairs to choose from. Let’s look at them.
Designed to be pushed by a caregiver or companion, these chairs are lightweight and easy to fold and lift into a vehicle. They’re suitable for indoors and on firm flat ground only, which can make them a bit restrictive.
One of the main advantages of a manual wheelchair is its cost. Some models start under $100. Plus, there are many varieties from which to choose. Their size makes them more discreet because there is no motor noise.
They are less bulky than electric wheelchairs, easier to maneuver, and cost less to maintain than their battery-powered counterparts.
For the larger patient, heavy duty chairs with a capacity of holding 450 pounds, are available.
Manual: Pushed by Patient or Caregiver
Defined by their large rear wheel, these chairs were specially designed to be pushed by the patient using the wheels or by the caregiver using the handles.
Heavy duty and suitable for use inside and out, they are easy to fold and put into a vehicle.
One thing to consider when deciding to purchase a manual wheelchair that will be maneuvered by the patient is that patient’s strength.
It’s important to know if the person has enough upper body strength and agility for the daily task of maneuvering the wheelchair up and down ramps, and possibly curbs or steps encountered along the way.
Electric wheelchairs are designed for patients who are unable to use a manual chair but still wish to be independent. One of the advantages that set them apart from their manual counterparts is that they can be easily controlled by a variety of methods: Hands, mouth or other body parts.
If needed, the chair can be adapted to allow caregiver control.
There are also many varieties of electric wheelchairs on the market.
But they do have their cons. For example, they are costly. Some entry models start at $1,000, making it difficult for a patient or caregiver to purchase. However, some patients on Medicare or even private insurance policies may find their plans cover a portion of the cost.
Some electric wheelchairs also do not fold and could be bulky, especially for patients who need to travel on flights.
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Getting a Custom Wheelchair
Most wheelchair suppliers offer to modify chairs to the meet specific patient needs. Seat size and padding can be adjusted as well as the height of the arm and foot rest.
For patients who spend a lot of time in the chair, a reclining wheelchair is available. Able to be reclined into a full tilt, these chairs allow the patient to lie back with their feet above the level of their heart. It’s particularly beneficial for patients with a cardiovascular condition.
Questions to Ask Before Buying a Chair
Because pushing the chair will rely on your strength, it is important to take your needs into consideration.
Asking yourself the following questions can help you determine which chair is best suited to the needs of both you and your loved one.
- What type of chair can I reasonably handle?
- Is the combined weight of my loved one and the chair too heavy for me to push?
- Does the size of the chair make it hard for me to manoeuvre in tight places?
- Is the handle height putting strain on my neck and shoulders?
- Does the chair have duel controls so that I can control the chair as well as my loved one?
- Will I be pushing the chair on different ground and road surfaces?
- Is the chair easy to fold and lift the chair into the car?
- What is the price range of the chairs that are available?
Safe Lifting Practices
The next thing to consider is how to move your loved one from the bed into the chair and back again and also how to get your loved one in and out of the car, as well as where and how to store the chair in the vehicle.
Neither of these tasks is easy. Caregivers risk serious injury to their backs when attempting to do them without instruction.
Proper education in regard to body positioning when lifting, turning and transferring patients from one location to another, is vital to the prevention of injury to the patient and the caregiver. Those who provide care at home should ask professional CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) as well as nursing or physical therapy staff at their local hospital for instruction on safe lifting to avoid injury techniques.
You will notice that the occupational therapist in this video is using a Gait Belt. The device is primarily supposed to protect the patient from possible injury during transfer from the bed into a wheelchair however it is also beneficial to the caregiver who has something firm to hang onto when transferring the patient.
Talk to your occupational therapist about the Gait Belt and where you can obtain one. Gait Belts can be purchased online.
After watching the video, think through the steps before you decide to lift your loved one. If you don’t feel confident do not attempt it. If possible, ask someone in the house to assist you.
One of the things I found particularly difficult when pushing my husband around was wheelchair ramps. Brian was a big man, and pushing his weight uphill was not an easy task. Coming down the ramp also presented a problem.
Brian’s weight forced the chair to roll faster than I could handle, and I worried he might be flung from the chair. The only way I could assure his safety was to slow the movement of the chair by pulling back on the handles as I moved down the ramp.
This placed a lot of strain on my neck and shoulders and I was always glad to be back on level ground.
I have since learned that wheelchairs should be taken down a ramp while walking backward. Here’s how you do it:
Before stepping onto a downward ramp, turn yourself and the wheelchair around. With the back of the wheelchair in front of you, take a firm grip on the chair’s handles and slowly walk backward down the ramp. Remember to glance behind you every now and then to see where you are going.
Using this technique keeps you in control of the chair and prevents you and your loved one from getting injured.
I wish I’d known this technique when I was caregiving, it would have saved me a lot of trouble.