When people think of a wheelchair motor, they automatically think of a power chair like a Quantum Edge or a Jazzy. Such chairs are designed to eliminate one function for individuals who have limitations to do so: self-propulsion. Because of the wheelchair motor and the control system, there is no need to have large wheels for hands to push off of. However, many individuals looking for a wheelchair don’t realize that there options aren’t limited to either a manual chair or a power chair. The in-between option is called a push-powered assist chair.
The following points are basic explanations as to how a push-powered assist chair works:
According to industry sources, a push-power device is added to a manual wheelchair. The switches attach to the hand-rims of both main wheels and the motor sits in the hubs of the wheels. Signals are communicated from the hand rims to the motor when the wheels are propelled forward or backward by the user. The batteries also sit at the hubs of the wheels and can be charged separate or attached to the chair.
Wheelchair Motor Or Not?
Conveniently enough, the wheelchair can still be used as a standard manual chair if the push-power device malfunctions or if the battery dies. So in the event that the chair stalls during a community outing, the individual can still self-propel back home without requiring the wheelchair motor. They would just have to work harder and use more muscle power to do so.
Customers could either purchase a combined wheelchair with the push-power motor or they could order the push-power motor as an add-on for a wheelchair that they already own. Some add-ons come with an optional joystick that can accompany a manual wheelchair. However, if the customer chooses the add-on, they need to make sure it will actually fit their wheelchair frame.
The next question is, “How do I know if a push-powered assist chair is right for me?”
Like any other chair, there is no “one size fits all” option since everyone has unique medical and mobility needs.
The following items should be considered when looking into purchasing a push-powered assist chair:
Assess your endurance and muscle power when self-propelling a standard manual wheelchair. What does it take for you to meet your typical daily activity and mobility needs and are you exhausted by the time you are done? Of course, there is always some fatigue after pushing a wheelchair. If you exclude wheelchair sport, leisurely racing, or abnormally long community outings, exhaustion and rest breaks should be temporary. If you require rest breaks that are dysfunctional or disruptive to your daily schedule, then it may be time to look into getting a push-powered assist chair.
Upper Extremity Conditions
Do you currently have any medical conditions or post-surgical conditions that impact your ability to self-propel a manual wheelchair? Examples include osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, total shoulder surgeries, nerve impingements, arthritis of the shoulder, wrist, fingers, elbow, fibromyalgia or CRPS (Chronic regional pain syndrome), upper extremity amputations, or hemiplegia. A push-powered device would require less demand from upper extremity muscles thus reducing unnecessary discomfort and pain with self-propulsion.
Reduced lung capacity takes a toll on overall endurance of the body. In order for muscles to work, the tissue needs a sufficient amount of oxygen. Individuals with respiratory failure (chronic or acute) experience a decrease in oxygen which can be quantified using a pulse-oximeter. If oxygen saturation drops below 90% with activity, then the body is not getting enough oxygen to the blood. In conclusion, if wheelchair users have a consistent drop in oxygen saturation with self-propulsion, then a push-powered assist chair might reduce activity enough to keep levels normal.
It is not uncommon for doctors to tell their patients with heart failure to not lift anything above 10 lbs to reduce risk of a heart attack. In these instances, the patients don’t often realize that they should include propelling a wheelchair that is clearly more than 10 lbs. A push-powered assist chair may take just enough weight off of the arms to maintain those cardiac precautions.
Joint And Spine Disorders
Arthritis, scoliosis, lordosis, kyphosis, chronic lower back pain, spinal fusions, degenerative disc disease, and herniated discs are among the few disorders of the upper body and back that could negatively impact self-propulsion. The wheelchair motor user shouldn’t feel like it is normal to experience pain with mobility, and individuals frequently use their back muscles to compensate for weak or fatigued arm muscles. Thus, there is an unnecessary amount of stress on the spine. The push-powered device takes away the unnecessary strain and preserves the joints and spine to produce functional and painless mobility.
People who are considered morbidly obese may not be able to use a push-powered assist chair efficiently. If the wheelchair user weighs more than 250 lbs, then the push-powered option may not be right for them. Too much weight in the seat negates the wheelchair motor and its purpose or could even make the wheelchair motor malfunction. Consult with your doctor if you’re unsure if you are in the bariatric category for your weight. Additionally, always look at the weight-bearing capacity of each product you research.
Veteran wheelchair users understand that flat, tile floor is a lot easier than trying to scale a rocky hill or a gravel driveway. If the user needs to have a wheelchair to get around outside and has to go up hills, cross pebble-infested paths, scale ramps, or propel long distances to get to their destinations, then a push-powered assist chair would be a helpful option. They could always switch to a powered wheelchair with a motor and a joystick, but if they are fearful of losing body strength and endurance they can go with a push-powered assist which still offers self-propulsion activity.
Consult with your doctor and/or an assistive technology specialist regarding push-powered assist chairs. Depending on what country you reside in, you may be able to use a doctor’s referral to obtain partial or full health insurance coverage for this type of chair.