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Wheelchair Types For Different Terrains Use: Top Models For Maneuverability & Convenience

man sitting on a wheelchair in a road full of leaves

Last Updated: September 17, 2021

For the elderly who have difficulties with mobility, illness, or injury, a wheelchair is a useful tool to help them perform daily activities. However, choosing one isn’t that simple.

Why?

There are thousands of designs out in the market, each manufactured to accommodate certain lifestyles, body types, and physical conditions.

We made a comprehensive guide to help you choose a model that meets your needs, so read further to find out!

Wheelchair Classifications

blue and black wheelchair on a field

Before choosing between the different types of wheelchairs, you need to consider whether a manual or powered wheelchair is more fitting.

Manual

The manual type is considered the standard wheelchair model. This is maneuvered using upper body force, either by the user or another person (typically a caregiver).

The user pushes the handling around the wheels, while the caregiver pushes the handles at the backrest.

Manual wheelchairs are typically cheaper than powered wheelchairs not just because of their lack of automation, but maintenance and repair fees are less as well.

This type is also typically more durable, portable, lightweight, and maneuverable compared to its powered counterpart.

Powered

On the other hand, the powered type is characterized by the use of electric and motor-powered controls to maneuver the wheelchair.

This is best for users who lack upper body strength or suffer from paralysis because it doesn’t cause fatigue during prolonged use, compared to a manual wheelchair.

Powered wheelchairs can also have additional features and modifications according to the user’s needs.

However, these tend to be bulkier and more expensive than manual, as well as requiring more maintenance.

Different Kinds Of Wheelchairs

Since there are many wheelchair types, we organized them into categories based on the user’s needs and lifestyle.

These aren’t mutually exclusive, meaning you can get a model that provides the features of multiple categories.

Maneuverability

The first section refers to the ways that different wheelchair styles allow the user to position or propel themselves.

Self-Propelled

Among the two types of manual wheelchairs, a self-propelled wheelchair depends on the upper body strength of the user, although it can be pushed by another person as well.

This type has two small wheels at the front and two large wheels at the back that the user can reach to move around independently.

Some models even allow single-arm use, wherein a special mechanism puts both wheels in motion once a single wheel is pushed.

This type is designed for long trips and permanent usage.

Transport

As the second type of manual wheelchair, this model requires a caregiver to push it for the user - It has four small wheels which means that the user can’t use the wheels of the transport chair vs wheelchair to propel themselves.

Transport wheelchairs are lighter and more portable than self-propelled, although they are designed for short trips and temporary use only.

Reclining

patient resting on a reclining wheelchair

Available in both manual and powered, a reclining wheelchair allows the backrest to tilt back from a 90° angle to almost horizontally, while the seat stays still.

By opening up the user’s hip angle, their position shifts from seated to laid back. This accommodates people who have hip extension issues and/or other hip-related injuries.

A reclining wheelchair is more difficult to maneuver than a regular model, but it can still be folded for storage and transportation.

Tilting

A tilting wheelchair has similar features to a reclining one - it allows the backrest to tilt back. This time, however, the seat tilts with the backrest.

This means that the user’s hip angle doesn’t change, so they are still in a seated position. The tilting motion helps people with spine and posture-related problems.

A tilting wheelchair is typically more expensive and less portable than reclining since it cannot fold at all.

Some high-end models (especially powered ones) feature both recline and tilt, providing additional comfort for the user by alleviating the pressure from a seated position.

Standing

From the name itself, this type has a mechanism that shifts the user into a standing position. The wheels on the base allow them to maneuver the wheelchair while standing.

This feature is available for both manual and powered models.

The standing motion solves the issues brought by prolonged sitting, such as bad blood circulation, stiffened joints and muscles, and even organ detriments, to name a few.

This also allows the user to perform tasks that require standing such as grabbing items from a high cabinet or doing particular chores.

Despite these health benefits (and looking like a cool transformer), standing wheelchairs are extremely expensive due to the advanced technology.

Convenience

This section is about the convenience brought by different types of wheelchairs for the elderly, whether it’s portability or longevity.

Foldable Frame

blue wheelchair folded in half

As the name suggests, this model variant has a moving framework that allows it to fold by bringing the sides of the wheelchair together. This feature makes it easy to store and travel with.

However, the best folding wheelchair tends to be more expensive than their non-foldable counterparts due to the additional moving mechanisms.

The moving component also adds a bit of weight, so if you want a lightweight folding wheelchair, you need to look for materials such as titanium which can get quite expensive.

Rigid Frame

Contrary to the foldable frame, this one is welded in one piece so it can’t be folded. Due to the lack of moving components, a rigid wheelchair isn’t best for travel.

However, fewer moving parts also means that it’s more affordable, lightweight, durable, and requires less maintenance.

We recommend this if you want a long-lasting wheelchair.

Narrow Frame

Wheelchairs can be quite bulky, making it difficult to move through slim corridors and doorways.

Most manual wheelchairs have an average width of 25 inches, while powered wheelchairs can be up to 40 inches wide!

The width of standard doorways is 32-36in which means that most wheelchairs can pass through, although only on a straight line. There simply isn’t enough space for rotation.

Narrow wheelchairs can range from 18-22in wide, perfect for a small home or apartment. These are also lightweight and oftentimes foldable which are convenient for traveling.

Body Type

wheelchair with big wheels on the middle of a park

This portion is about the types of wheelchair you should consider depending on the user’s body type regarding height and weight.

Bariatric

Also known as the heavy-duty wheelchair, the bariatric wheelchair is designed for obese users, classified by a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and above.

An average wheelchair has a weight capacity of 300lbs and width of 25in, while a bariatric model has about 700lbs of weight capacity and a width of 30in.

However, this wheelchair is not made of lightweight material. Its framework is made of steel with reinforced crossbars to withstand pressure, making it heavy and hard to maneuver.

Hemi Height

A Hemi height model is built with a dual-axle frame which provides height adjustability to accommodate the user.

This can be adjusted from the standard height (19.5in from seat to floor) to Hemi height, which is generally two-three inches lower.

This feature is best for users that are under 5’2” since the Hemi height allows them to maneuver the wheelchair with their feet.

Ergonomic

The ergonomic type uses advanced technology compared to a standard model. Its purpose is to provide comfort and reduce the required effort to operate a wheelchair.

The frame is typically made of lightweight yet strong materials such as titanium and aircraft-grade aluminum, and it can fold as well.

On the other hand, the seat improves stability, weight distribution, and the user’s center of gravity. It also alleviates pressure throughout the body for less pain.

Custom Made

Among all the wheelchair types, the custom-made is the most versatile since you may add and adjust features to accommodate the user’s needs.

This can also be detailed to fit the user’s color and design preference, especially for wheelchair athletes. Not only will they have improved mobility and comfort, but they will be riding in style as well!

The price of a custom-made wheelchair varies depending on the construction from the materials used, added features, design, and degree of automation.

Travel

Finally, among the different wheelchair styles, a terrain model is specifically designed for people who love the outdoors and adventure despite old age.

It provides mobility on surfaces that normal wheelchairs can’t pass through, such as sand, snow, gravel, and other terrains.

This is possible due to its construction - there are large and wide wheels/tires (or even tank tracks!) that prevent the wheelchair from sinking or rocking around on uneven grounds.

Due to their heavy-duty design and features, terrain models are difficult to maintain, transport even using the best wheelchair carrier for vehicle, and they are very expensive.

However, some public beaches provide terrain wheelchairs either for rent or free of charge.

Here's a video showing the BOMA7 All-Terrain Wheelchair and what it can do:

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the types of wheelchairs for elderly people?

The different types of wheelchairs are classified into three sections according to maneuverability, convenience, and body type. Under these subsections are features that are made to suit a specific condition.

Remember that these types are not mutually exclusive - for example, you may look for a model that is powered, reclining, tilting, and ergonomic at the same time.

This opens up many possibilities to accommodate the user’s daily needs.

Do I need a doctor’s prescription to buy a wheelchair?

Although you don’t need to consult a doctor, we recommend doing so since they can prescribe a wheelchair type that helps with specific conditions and daily activities.

They can also assess whether the user needs a wheelchair or they should use other mobility equipment instead, such as a crutch, cane or whether they'll consider a power wheelchair vs scooter.

The Bottom Line

As we age, our body goes through different physical conditions and we may not be as fit as we were before.

This is the case for a lot of our elderly loved ones, wherein they become more frail and prone to illnesses, resulting in mobility issues.

At the moment that crutches or canes don’t work anymore, we need to choose the right wheelchair model to help them perform their daily activities.

From choosing between manual and powered models to accommodating the user’s specific needs, we hope we helped you choose among the types of wheelchairs out in the market!

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