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Better mobility with the right wheelchair

Members of the Handicaps Welfare Association, who use different types of wheelchair, trying out the wheelchair ramp on the new three-door, single-deck bus at Choa Chu Kang bus interchange recently.
Members of the Handicaps Welfare Association, who use different types of wheelchair, trying out the wheelchair ramp on the new three-door, single-deck bus at Choa Chu Kang bus interchange recently.ST FILE PHOTO

When choosing a wheelchair, consider factors like the height and weight of the user

It is not easy to make the switch to using a wheelchair - be it on a long-term or temporary basis, such as after a stroke or leg fracture.

And if the wheelchair does not suit the user, it can lead to reduced mobility and even accidents.

There is a wide range of wheelchairs in Singapore, plus accessories to help the user better navigate certain situations.

"Choosing the right one can be very liberating for the user as it opens up endless possibilities for a more independent lifestyle," said Ms Punithamani Kandasamy, a registered nurse and caregiving trainer at Active Global.

Broadly speaking, the three types of wheelchair are manual, electric and transport.

MANUAL

Users grasp the rims of the wheels and push themselves forward. These wheelchairs are best for people who have sufficient upper body strength. They may come with push handles for caregivers to move the user.

ELECTRIC

These enable users to move about without exerting effort. Some have extra features like tilting, reclining seats and leg elevators. These wheelchairs are suitable for those with weak upper bodies.

LIBERATING

Choosing the right one can be very liberating for the user as it opens up endless possibilities for a more independent lifestyle.

MS PUNITHAMANI KANDASAMY, a registered nurse and caregiving trainer at Active Global.

TRANSPORT

Although made of aluminium or steel for durability, these are relatively compact and lightweight.

They have smaller wheels that make it easier to manoeuvre.

A flexible design makes it less cumbersome to load and unload the wheelchair from vehicles.

Other designs that are available are bariatric wheelchairs, which are bigger and built to accommodate obese users, as well as standing wheelchairs for those who are more active, said Ms Punithamani.

Accessories can be fitted to wheelchairs. They include seat cushions, belts to prevent the user from sliding off, storage bags, extended arm rests and "stair climbers" that help users navigate the staircase more easily.

Before buying a wheelchair, one should consider the user's weight and physique, said Ms Puni- thamani. "Standard wheelchairs can safely bear about 110kg of weight and exceeding it can be dangerous," she said.

That is why obese users should use bariatric wheelchairs as these are made of reinforced steel, aluminium or titanium and can handle up to 450kg in weight.

The width of the wheelchair seat should also be considered. A petite user, for example, may have trouble reaching for the rims of a manual wheelchair if the seat is too wide.

"The width of the wheelchair should be slightly wider than the user's thighs and hips. It should not rub against the back of his knees as this causes abrasion," she said.

Similarly, the height of the seat or distance of the footplates should be adjusted to suit the person's height, she added.

Another factor to consider is whether the user would usually push the wheelchair himself or rely on a caregiver. Ms Punithamani said: "A wheelchair with smaller rear wheels helps the caregiver manoeuvre it easily."

People who would usually propel the wheelchair by themselves can opt for large rear wheels.

The user's daily lifestyle needs should also be considered, she added. For instance, whether he is a working person or frequents places that have narrow passages, tight spaces or outdoor terrain.

Caregivers should take precautions, such as making sure the brakes are locked when transferring the user in and out of the wheelchair. The foot and arm rests should be lifted to prevent injuries.

Electric wheelchairs should not be used in wet weather and tail lights can be installed to make the user more visible at night.

"Do not hang large, heavy bags on the back of the wheelchair as they can cause the vehicle to tip over," she added.

Poon Chian Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Better mobility with the right wheelchair'. Print Edition | Subscribe