How to Choose the Perfect Wheelchair for the Elderly: A Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to ensuring the comfort and mobility of our elderly loved ones, choosing the right wheelchair can make all the difference. But with so many options available, how do you make the right choice?

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the essential considerations to keep in mind. So, grab a cup of tea, and let’s dive in!

1. Understand the Needs of the User

Before you even start browsing, it’s crucial to understand the specific needs of the elderly person using the wheelchair.

  • Duration of Use: Will the wheelchair be used occasionally for outings, or is it needed for all-day use?
  • Mobility Level: Does the user have some mobility and need assistance for longer distances, or do they rely entirely on the wheelchair?
  • Physical Condition: Consider any specific medical conditions requiring special features, like back problems or pressure sores.

2. Manual vs. Electric: Which is Right?

There are two primary types of wheelchairs: manual and electric.

Manual Wheelchairs: These are propelled by the user or an assistant. They’re lightweight, portable, and perfect for those with upper body strength.

Electric Wheelchairs: Powered by batteries, these are ideal for those with limited strength or stamina. They come with various features like speed settings and tilt functions.

There are also a number of different specialty wheelchairs available, such as tilt-in-space wheelchairs, reclining wheelchairs, and transport wheelchairs.

3. Consider the Wheelchair’s Weight and Portability

If you plan to transport the wheelchair in a car or take it on trips, its weight and foldability are crucial.

Lightweight Wheelchairs: These are easier to lift and are often foldable, making them perfect for travel.

Heavy-duty Wheelchairs: While they might be bulkier, they offer more stability and can support more weight.

4. Seat Comfort and Support

The elderly often spend extended periods in wheelchairs, so comfort is paramount.

  • Cushioning: Look for wheelchairs with adequate cushioning to prevent pressure sores.
  • Back Support: Ensure the backrest provides ample support, especially if the user has spinal issues.
  • Adjustability: Adjusting the seat height or tilt can enhance comfort.

5. Safety Features are a Must

Safety should never be compromised.

  • Brakes: Ensure the wheelchair has reliable brakes. Some models offer both user-operated and attendant-operated brakes.
  • Seat Belts: These provide added security, especially in electric wheelchairs or during transport.
  • Anti-tip Bars: These prevent the wheelchair from tipping backward.

6. Think About Terrain and Usage

Where will the wheelchair be primarily used?

  • Indoor Use: If it’s mainly for indoor use, consider a wheelchair with a smaller turning radius.
  • Outdoor Use: Look for larger wheels and sturdier builds for outdoor use. Pneumatic tires can handle uneven terrains better.

7. Budget and Insurance

Wheelchairs can range from affordable to high-end.

  • Set a Budget: Determine what you’re willing to spend and try to find the best wheelchair within that range.
  • Insurance: Some insurance plans cover wheelchair costs, so check with your provider.

8. Test Before You Buy

Just like you’d test drive a car, it’s essential to test out a wheelchair.

Here are some stores where you can buy a wheelchair and test it before you buy it:

  • Durable medical equipment (DME) suppliers: DME suppliers provide medical devices and equipment to patients and their families. Many DME suppliers have showrooms where you can try out different types of wheelchairs before you buy one.
  • Wheelchair specialty stores: Wheelchair specialty stores focus on providing wheelchairs and other mobility devices to people with disabilities. These stores typically have a wide selection of wheelchairs available to try out, and the staff can help you choose the right wheelchair for your needs.
  • Online retailers: Some online retailers sell wheelchairs that you can try before buying them. For example, Scootaround offers a Try Before You Buy program that allows you to rent a wheelchair for up to two weeks.

If you are unsure where to find a store to try out a wheelchair, you can ask your doctor or physical therapist for a recommendation.

Here are some tips for testing out a wheelchair before you buy it:

  • Make sure that the wheelchair is comfortable and easy to maneuver.
  • Test the wheelchair in different environments, such as indoors and outdoors.
  • Make sure that the wheelchair is the right size for you.
  • Ask the salesperson or occupational therapist to help you adjust the wheelchair to fit you properly.

It is important to take your time and test out different wheelchairs before you buy one. This will help you to choose the wheelchair that is best for your needs.

9. Don’t Forget About Accessories

Accessories can enhance the wheelchair experience.

  • Cup Holders: For those who like to drink on the go.
  • Umbrella Attachments: Perfect for unexpected rain.
  • Wheelchair Bags: To carry personal items easily.

10. Maintenance and Warranty

Lastly, ensure that the wheelchair you choose is easy to maintain and has a good warranty.

  • Regular Check-ups: Just like a car, wheelchairs need regular maintenance checks.
  • Warranty: A good warranty can save you from unexpected costs.

How to Fit a Wheelchair

It is important to fit the wheelchair properly to the elderly person. This will help to ensure that they are comfortable and safe. Here are some tips for fitting a wheelchair:

  1. Seat width: The seat width should be wide enough so that the elderly person has at least 2 inches of space on either side of their hips.
  2. Seat depth: The seat depth should be deep enough so that the elderly person’s back is supported against the backrest, but their knees are not bent at more than a 90-degree angle.
  3. Backrest height: The height should be adjusted so that the elderly person’s shoulders are relaxed and their head is not tilted forward or backward.
  4. Armrests: The armrests should be adjusted so that the elderly person’s arms are bent at a 90-degree angle, and their elbows are close to their sides.
  5. Footrests: The footrests should be adjusted so that the elderly person’s feet are flat on the footrests and their legs are not bent at more than a 90-degree angle.


How often should I replace or upgrade a wheelchair for an elderly person?

The need to replace or upgrade a wheelchair varies based on its wear and tear and the user’s changing needs. On average, a wheelchair might last 3-5 years, but it’s essential to regularly check for signs of damage or discomfort.

Are there specialized wheelchairs for specific medical conditions like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s?

Some wheelchairs are designed with features catering to specific medical conditions. For instance, wheelchairs for Parkinson’s patients might have enhanced stability to counterbalance tremors.

How do I decide between large and small rear wheels for an elderly user?

Large rear wheels are suitable for self-propel users, giving them more independence. Small rear wheels are typically found on transport chairs, which require an assistant to push.

Is it advisable for the elderly to use a wheelchair even if they can walk short distances?

It depends on the individual’s health and comfort. Some elderly individuals use wheelchairs to conserve energy, reduce the risk of falls, or manage pain during longer outings, even if they can walk short distances.

How do I ensure the wheelchair is suitable for indoor and outdoor use?

Look for a wheelchair with a good balance of maneuverability (for indoor use) and durability (for outdoor use). Features like a tight turning radius and puncture-resistant tires can be beneficial.

Can I rent a wheelchair before purchasing one for an elderly family member?

Yes, many medical supply stores offer rental options. Renting can be a great way to test a wheelchair’s suitability before investing.

Bottom Line

Choosing a wheelchair for an elderly loved one is a decision that requires careful consideration. By considering their specific needs and doing thorough research, you can find the perfect wheelchair that offers comfort and mobility.

Remember, it’s not just about getting from point A to point B; it’s about doing so with dignity, ease, and joy.

Jose Alpuerto

Written by

Jose Alpuerto

With a heart that beats for the young and young-at-heart alike, Jose dives headfirst into the world of tech wizardry and safety gadgets, all with the mission of turning aging at home into an adventure. Armed with a keyboard and an unquenchable enthusiasm, he spins tales of gadgets that bring laughter and ease to the lives of the elderly, proving that growing older doesn’t mean you can’t keep the spirit of play alive.