Choosing a Wheelchair, Powerchair, or Mobility Scooter
Last updated: September 2022
You’ve checked with your insurance about what durable equipment and mobility aids they will cover for myasthenia gravis (MG). You’ve discussed your needs with your physician. You’ve ruled out walkers, rollators, canes, and crutches. What’s left to consider? Wheelchairs, scooters, and powerchairs.
This may not be how you pictured your life, but in my experience, a wheelchair is better than nothing. You may be feeling ready to do whatever is necessary to resume your life. There are many models and types of scooters and wheelchairs to choose from, so let’s get started!
Generally, you will be measured for whatever device you choose. They will consider weight, height, leg length, etc. So don’t be surprised if the representative approaches you with a tape measure.
A manual wheelchair is operated by the patient or someone pushing it. These are perfect for some people, but they require upper body strength. They are usually lightweight and will fold up for storage or transport. They also include a brake for both large wheels. For safety’s sake, these should always be used when sitting down or getting up.
For this type of mobility chair, no other special equipment is necessary. They will fit in the trunk of a car or the back of a larger vehicle. Fortunately, there are several accessories that can be attached.
Some attachments may include:
Leg pads - These keep your feet in place and prevent the foot and leg from slipping backwards.They are also known as a leg rest which can be used when legs needs to be elevated.
Heel straps - These are straps behind the heels to keep the feet from falling off the footplates.
Add-on motor - If you have a manual chair but you’re having difficulty pushing it yourself, there is an add-on product that is motorized. It will attach to your chair. When needed, all you have to do is engage the power. You will still need to propel the chair yourself, but you will get a little extra power. If you ever experience myasthenia gravis muscle weakness, this type of chair isn’t for you!
Baskets, bags, or pouches are other accessories to choose from. Since both hands are needed for pushing the chair, it’s rather difficult to "drive" the chair if you are also trying to carry something.
Making it comfortable
For comfort and safety, there are many different kinds of cushions, pads, and covers. When sitting in a wheelchair for some time, comfort is the name of the game. In my opinion, you will definitely want a cushion to sit on! They can come as gel pads, egg crates, foam pads, and more. You can also get an incontinence-resistant cover.
Pads for the arm rests or the foot plate are also available. The footrest covers are soft and easy to apply. They also provide a slip-free surface. To keep your fingers safe from the wheelchair spokes, you can apply spoke covers.
If you receive IVIG treatment, you can have an IV pole attached. Should you need oxygen, some poles come as a combination unit. The oxygen tank holder can also comes as a separate unit, so choose whichever you need.
For eating and drinking, there is an assortment of cup holders, lap trays, and many other products available.
Motorized scooters and powerchairs
I’ve saved 2 of the best mobility aids for last! The mobility aid that may suit you best could be a motorized scooter or powerchair. A powerchair is a mobility device that is powered by electricity. They have batteries which power it. They also have to be charged via electrical outlet periodically for it to work.
They generally have anti-tip wheels in front of the drive wheels. They are to keep the unit from tipping too far forward, thus dumping its passenger on the ground.
If you are unable to have mobility freedom, but want mobility independence, these power units may be for you!
Different types of powerchairs
There are 3 types of powerchairs:
- Front-wheel drive
- Mid-wheel drive
- Rear-wheel drive
A powerchair representative can help you weight the pros and cons of the different types including maneuverability and weight capacity.
They can be used inside or outside
A motorized scooter or powerchair can work inside the home or outside. They come in an assortment of sizes and models. You should talk to a representative to discuss how you perceive using the product.
Getting the correct product depends on the level of activity you intend to use it for, your size, and the size of your home. If you intend to use it inside, make sure it will work in your home. In my opinion, a powerchair would maneuver better in a home.
Scooters come with 3 or 4 wheels. As a general rule, the 3-wheel mobility scooters are better inside than outside and are smaller and more compact. They also have smaller wheels, which tend to have less resistance, making it more difficult to travel in the outdoor environment.
The 4-wheel scooter is great for using outside and have many sizes, shapes, models, and abilities. There are models that are covered and resemble a small automobile. They even have heat and air!
You’ve heard of all-terrain vehicles. They make all-terrain mobility scooters and powerchairs, as well. Not only will they take you through your yard with ease, but many can also traverse the beach! If you love the beach, you don’t have to give it up.
They have batteries which power it. They also have to be charged via electrical outlet periodically for the device to work. Sometimes the batteries need to be replaced, which can be rather costly.
How to transport
Many models will also fold up and fit in the trunk or back of your vehicle. Otherwise, you would either need to outfit a van or SUV for a powerchair or scooter or get a carrier.
A carrier attaches to the outside of your vehicle, by which you would load your scooter/chair for transport. Some are manual and some are hydraulic.
If transporting your power unit outside the vehicle, you may want to also consider a cover to keep it out of the rain or snow. Our representative suggested a grill cover in order to save us some money, as these are not included on the insurance.
My mobility devices
I am in a powerchair, but still use a couple other mobility devices. I use a cane to provide stability getting into our SUV.
With the pain and weakness I have in my legs, I can no longer step up on the running board or swing my leg into the vehicle. I now have to use the step, then running board to ease myself into the SUV, then swing my legs in. My husband or other person then picks the step up and puts it in the vehicle. The rollator walker is used inside our home when walking short distances.
My most frustrating MG symptom is _____.