As we age, our bones and joints begin to degrade, and we become weaker. A fall while walking down the sidewalk might lead to a broken hip. This is where a wheelchair can make all the difference for the elderly. Many seniors want to keep their sense of independence but aren’t sure how to do so after a fall or when disease strikes and their mobility begins to fail.
A wheelchair intended specifically for seniors is designed to help the elderly maintain their mobility. These wheelchairs help seniors freely move around and make the most of their day. Wheelchairs explicitly designed for seniors include features that assist with medical needs are designed with additional comfort options. We've gathered our favorite wheelchairs for the elderly in this review so that you can make an informed choice on the best wheelchair for your loved one.
Types of Wheelchairs for Senior Citizens
There are primarily two types of manual wheelchairs: self-propelled and companion propelled. Self-propelled manual wheelchairs are moved around by the user. This means that the senior must be strong enough to move the wheelchair by using its wheels. Manual wheelchairs that are companion propelled are designed for a caretaker or companion to push the wheelchair along from behind.
Electric and powered wheelchairs help seniors with limited upper-body mobility. Seniors who cannot manually move around in a wheelchair may still be able to use a joystick to move their wheelchairs along. These wheelchairs are much heavier compared to manual wheelchairs because of the additional technical equipment needed for operation.
Bariatric/Heavy Duty Wheelchairs
The bariatric or heavy-duty wheelchairs are designed for heavier seniors who need additional support. These heavy-duty wheelchairs can support someone who is 300 lbs. to 700 lbs. These wheelchairs have much larger frames (20-30-inch-wide seats) and weigh significantly more (40 to 100 lbs) compared to other senior wheelchairs.
The travel or transport wheelchair is designed for a caretaker or companion to push around. These transport wheelchairs have folding frames and are lightweight. These are not durable options for long-term use and are best for seniors who are traveling or who temporarily need a wheelchair.
Reasons Why Seniors May Need a Wheelchair
Seniors with limited mobility need to use wheelchairs because they cannot successfully move around on their own. Whether disease or old age has made it difficult to support themselves, walking, or the use of a walker is not possible. Wheelchairs give seniors greater mobility and are a more supportive option compared to walkers because it allows them to sit rather than stand.
Wheelchairs provide seniors with comfort, independence, mobility, and greater socialization opportunities. Wheelchairs make it possible for seniors to stay mobile comfortably. Senior wheelchairs are designed with back support and offer cushioned seating. They allow seniors to socialize and enjoy activities that they would otherwise have to miss. The ability to move on their own also will enable them to stay independent. Rather than relying on another person to lean on for support, seniors can relax in their wheelchair and feel confident that they won't fall.
Choosing a Quality Wheelchair for an Elderly Person
When selecting a wheelchair for older adults, you need to consider their lifestyle and their physical condition. Most seniors will prefer to use manual chairs when they have the strength to navigate them successfully. Manual chairs are created with more specific customization options and provide the highest level of independence. However, the elderly with limited upper-body mobility or lack of upper body strength will do best in an electric wheelchair.
Weight Capacity or Maximum Safe Working Limit (SWL)/Chair Weight
Each wheelchair type has its own weight restrictions and a maximum safe working limit for seniors. Make sure that you select a wheelchair that can comfortably hold your loved one. We recommend staying 25-50 lbs. below the maximum safe working limit for best results.
Dimensions & Living Environment
Width and height depend on the senior’s mobility needs. Manual wheelchairs can be customized to fit individual bodies and require less space. Electric wheelchairs tend to be bulkier because of technical components but also because they are designed for seniors with limited mobility.
Transport wheelchairs are best for seniors who only need a wheelchair intermittently. Heavy-duty wheelchairs are much broader and taller than traditional wheelchairs because they are designed for bariatric patients. All homes that plan to use wheelchairs regularly will need to make some home adjustments to ensure the house is wheelchair-friendly.
Design & Comfort
Manual and electric wheelchairs use different wheel configurations and wheel types for design and comfort. Manual wheelchairs offer greater mobility and tend to allow more movement. Electric wheelchairs often have shock-absorbing capabilities and help to keep an individual more secure. Both types come with varying degrees of ergonomic function and comfortable padding.
Battery Range & Speed
Electric wheelchairs tend to have battery life that lasts anywhere from 6 hours to 16 hours. Once the charge is used, most batteries must be charged for an 8 to 12-hour period.
Storage, Portability & Adjustability
Most wheelchairs have a tight turning radius with the tightest radius falling around 20 inches. The tighter the turning radius is, the easier it is to maneuver the wheelchair in tight spaces. Portability often depends on the ability to break down the wheelchair. Folding wheelchairs offer greater portability. Weight is also a factor with lightweight wheelchairs being much more comfortable to travel with.
Different wheelchair models come with other features including armrests, leg rests, collapsible options, adjustable tilting and reclining degrees, and greater flexibility with seat positioning. The more features that are available, the more comfortable the fit will be for your loved one.
Insurance will cover wheelchairs for the elderly as DME (durable medical equipment) if the appropriate paperwork has been completed and the wheelchair is medically approved.
Price & Warranty
Most wheelchairs cost between $100 and $2,000, but they can also cost as much as $5,000 to $10,000. Most wheelchairs have one-year limited warranties, but some companies offer two to five-year limited warranties. A few companies provide limited lifetime warranties.
6 Best Wheelchairs for Seniors Reviewed
1. Karman Ergo Flight
best manual wheelchair for elderly
Maximum Weight Capacity
220 lbs. Weight capacity
Ultra-lightweight but with customizable ergonomic components
Limited Lifetime Warranty
The Karman Wheelchairs brand is an excellent wheelchair brand for the elderly with the Ergo Flight as one of our favorite wheelchairs from their line. We love the Ergo Flight Ergonomic Wheelchair for elderly individuals because it offers greater mobility.
The wheelchair is one of the lightest wheelchair options on the market and makes it easy to carry around the house and bring along to new travel destinations. If the senior is mobile enough and strong enough, they can carry the 19.8lb wheelchair on their own.
This is a huge selling point for seniors who are not strong enough to carry the 70 lb wheelchairs but are still strong enough to lug around 19.8 lbs. The Karman is perfect for seniors who want independence and freedom of movement.
This manual wheelchair requires elderly individuals to have enough strength to move around by using the attached wheels. However, caretakers and companions can also push the wheelchair along. The wheelchair’s frame is made out of Aircraft Grade T6 Aluminum to provide a sturdy build while remaining light.
The ergonomic wheelchair isn't a bare-bones model, however, and is ergonomically designed with comfortable components including a patented s-style ergonomic seat frame, anti-bacterial padded seat and backrest upholstery, and a swing in/away removable footrest.
Companion brakes are included to make movement easy for companions pushing their loved ones around. A storage pocket behind the backrest is handy for travel, and the desk length padded arm pads create maximum comfort for seniors.
If your loved one needs a lightweight, ultra-portable wheelchair and wants a more customizable option, then we recommend the Karman Ergo Flight Ergonomic Wheelchair.
2. Porto Mobility Ranger D09
best electric wheelchair for elderly
Maximum Weight Capacity
Three years limited warranty
The Porto Mobility Ranger D09 is the most comfortable wheelchair for elderly who want an electric model. We love the sheer portability of this wheelchair. For an electric wheelchair, weighing a mere 52 lbs is an incredible feat. This makes it easy for loved ones to help break down the chair and travel to new destinations. This is our favorite electric wheelchair model for seniors who love to travel and who frequently fly.
The two powerful 6.6AH 24V lithium batteries can offer seniors up to sixteen miles in driving distance. This distance can be doubled with a second battery set purchased as an add-on. The easy storage option means the Porto D09 is easy to fold and store.
Soft seat cushions are ergonomically designed to provide superior comfort, and all the upholstery components are padded. We also love that this electric wheelchair is designed for movement. With a 33" turning radius, 3.7" ground clearance, 12-degree sliding slope, and long driving distance, this wheelchair is ready to ride through grass, snow, and gravel. This wheelchair also has a shock absorber built in to make the ride more comfortable.
If you can afford it, the Ranger D09 is our favorite electric wheelchair model for travelers, outdoor enthusiasts, and seniors who want maximum ergonomic comfort mixed with a highly portable model.
3. Drive Medical
small wheelchair for elderly
Maximum Weight Capacity
Inexpensive and great for temporary transport
The Drive Medical transport wheelchair is the most affordable wheelchair on our list. This is a perfect option for a senior who is waiting on Medicare or insurance approval for a more expensive permanent wheelchair. It’s also great for a senior who occasionally needs wheelchair assistance but won't be exclusively a wheelchair user. This lightweight mobility aid can be used independently by seniors or can be rolled along by a companion or caretaker.
The chair and backrest on the Drive Medical fold flat for easy transportation. Excellent maneuverability, cushioned armrests and a swing in/out footrest makes it comfortable to move around. The most significant benefit of this wheelchair model, however, is portability and price.
This transport wheelchair is not an ideal wheelchair for seniors who need a permanent wheelchair or anticipate spending most of their day in the chair. The footrests will not always stay in place and require frequent adjustment. The wheelchair is also on the smaller side and may not be comfortable for larger seniors. It also lacks the ergonomic qualities of more expensive and permanent manual wheelchairs and electric wheelchairs.
If you need a lightweight transport wheelchair for a senior or a temporary option, the Drive Medical transport wheelchair is your best option.
4. Medline Mobility
lightweight wheelchair for elderly
Maximum Weight Capacity
Stow-n-go clips for footrest lockability
Lifetime limited on frame;
The Medline Mobility is a low-cost way to transport elderly who simply need a transport wheelchair. The Medline Mobility ultralight transport wheelchair is the lightest transport wheelchair available at only 14.8 lbs. Nylon upholstery is easy to clean and carrying handles on the seat makes it easy for companions and caretakers to move from place to place.
This manual transport wheelchair has permanent armrests but detachable footrests. It can easily be folded down and is designed for quick travel with a bottle holder, identification holder, and cell phone pocket all on the chair. The Stow-N-Go clips keep the footrests on one side of the wheelchair when not needed. This is a convenient feature. The wheelchair also conveniently collapses and folds down for portability.
Where the Medline falls short is the lack of comfort. This manual wheelchair lacks the comfortable padding more expensive and permanent (not transport) wheelchairs have. The frame is also not as sturdy as those frames made from aircraft aluminum. This isn’t a problem for the casual user who needs a great transport option, but it would be a problem for a heavy user who was looking for a more permanent option.
If you want a lightweight transport wheelchair that is affordable and includes numerous pockets for holding your billfold and cell phone, then the Medline Mobility ultralight transport wheelchair is a great choice.
5. Drive Medical Blue Streak
Medical wheelchair for elderly
Maximum Weight Capacity
Calf strap option
Limited three-year warranty
The Drive Medical has an 18” padded ergonomic seat that makes all day sitting more comfortable. There is a push-to-lock function on the wheels that are great for seniors who want to have more security. The nylon material is easy to clean, and the chair is easy to fold down. However, we have noted from seniors that over time, the frame can be challenging to break down. Purchasing and using chair lubrication in the frame connectors will restore ease.
We also like the detachable desk arms that make it easy for seniors to slide under a kitchen table for meals or approach a computer desk. The calf strap is a unique feature that may be appreciated for seniors with advanced medical conditions. It can make them feel more secure and connected to their chair.
There are also elevated leg rests. Weighing in at 41.25 lbs., the Blue Streak is not a lightweight manual option. It may be too heavy for seniors who want to carry their wheelchair around on their own.
If you want to purchase a standard manual wheelchair that is affordable and has all of the essential features, then the Drive Medical Blue Streak wheelchair is an excellent fit for you.
6. Foldawheel PW-1000XL
Top of the Range
Maximum Weight Capacity
Electric wheelchair with a 2-second fold-up qualityElectric wheelchair with a 2-second fold-up quality
Two year limited warranty
The PW-1000XL is a robust electric wheelchair for seniors who need more support and stability. The wheelchair has strong, secure padding for the most comfortable ride with air-breeze mesh that is both washable and detachable to make cleaning a breeze.
The double joined armrest can be raised to find the most ergonomically comfortable and supportive spot. When standing, the footrest can be folded inward. This is a unique feature that makes it possible to stand closer to the wheelchair and provide something to hold onto for seniors.
The Foldawheel is a fast wheelchair with operating speeds up to 5mph. With the two included lithium batteries, the wheelchair can travel approximately 18.6 miles before needing to be recharged. It's possible to add a battery and add an additional 9.3 miles to your travel distance if you plan to use your wheelchair often.
The frame is made out of aircraft aluminum alloy and comes with a spring suspension system to absorb shock. There is also built-in anti-tilt support to ensure that seniors won’t fall over while sitting in the chair. This is particularly important for seniors with advanced medical conditions who need help staying upright. The PW-1000XL also comes with an optional headrest.
The drawbacks of this wheelchair start with the size and weight specifications. Although the wheelchair was designed to hold up to 330 lbs, many users over the 250 lb. weight mark have described it as uncomfortable. Seniors have also added that the chair is not as easy to maneuver compared to other high-end wheelchairs.
If you want the top-of-the-line electric wheelchair when it comes to comfort and portability, you want the Foldawheel PW-1000XL wheelchair.
How Wheelchairs Work
Wheelchair Wheel Types
Power Wheelchairs vs. Manual Wheelchairs
The two most popular wheelchair options for seniors are power wheelchairs and manual wheelchairs. Manual wheelchairs tend to be the most popular choice for seniors who are particularly active and want to create their own personal configuration. Manual wheelchairs require that the senior has enough upper-body mobility and strength to propel the wheelchair forward.
However, manual wheelchairs can also come with handles that allow companions and caretakers to maneuver the wheelchair. The primary benefit to manual wheelchairs is that they allow for exceptional mobility and can even come in sportier options for active seniors. Manual wheelchairs also do not need to be charged, are easier to transport, and are lower maintenance options.
Power wheelchairs are electronic and operated by the user but via a joystick controller. Power wheelchairs are heavy and typically require transportation by a special van. These wheelchairs offer greater support and comfort for users.
They make it easy to rest in different positions during the day and adjust posture. They also can help seniors with orthopedic problems who require additional bracing. Power wheelchairs, however, do not provide as much mobility compared to manual wheelchairs.
How to Assemble a Wheelchair for Seniors
Every wheelchair manufacturer uses different wheelchair parts and has unique assembly instructions. However, there are a few basic instructions that you can follow to assemble your wheelchair.
First, take out all of the pieces and organize them in a way where you can see all of the pieces. Then, begin to attach the parts. Most wheelchair manufacturers will ask you first to adjust the leg rests while the wheelchair user is seated in the chair.
Then, you can begin to make other adjustments to the seat and backrest as well. When the pieces have been assembled, and adjustments have been made, it's time to test the locking system. It's important to make sure that the senior understands how to use the brakes and that the locking system is working.
Next, it's essential to look at every screw position to ensure that the wheelchair does not have structural problems. Once this step has been completed, you are free to use your wheelchair.
Wheelchair Safety and Maintenance Guidelines
Wheelchair safety is a critical component of owning a wheelchair. Many communities are starting to host wheelchair maintenance clinics to teach wheelchair users how to care for their wheelchairs properly. Your wheelchair keeps you safe, and you want to make sure that you keep it in great shape to avoid repairs as well as injuries.
To keep your wheelchair safe, engage in regular maintenance cleaning. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability breaks down the regular cleaning process for you in this video. Cleaning your wheelchair regularly with a clean rag and mild detergent will also help keep nasty smells at bay.
As well as regularly cleaning your wheelchair, you want to make sure that you frequently inspect your wheelchair for loose bolts and screws. Travel with a kit that includes lubrication for frame joints and an Allen wrench, adjustable wrench, and several screwdriver types for quick repairs on the go.
Medicare Funding for Power Wheelchairs
Medicare is a federal health insurance program for individuals who are 65 years old or older. This program helps seniors get the healthcare that they need and can provide seniors with power wheelchairs as well as manual wheelchairs. The requirements for Medicare require getting doctor approval for DME (durable medical equipment).
To meet the requirements, the senior will need their doctor to submit a written order that a wheelchair is necessary. The senior must have limited mobility and must be unable to complete daily living activities without a wheelchair. The senior must also be able to either operate the wheelchair individually or have a caretaker or companion who can operate it for them. Medicare will pay 80% of the approved cost for the wheelchair.
Traveling with the Elderly on Wheelchairs
When you travel with an elderly person who needs to bring their wheelchair, there are a few tips that you can follow to ensure the trip runs smoothly. First, make sure that you carry a kit for possible quick repairs on your journey. Your kit should include an Allen wrench, adjustable wrench, and several screwdriver options.
You also want to bring light oil lubrication. Second, make sure that you know how to take the wheelchair apart and put it back together again. Finally, make sure you understand the rules for air travel and make those reservations concrete before heading to the airport.
When it comes to air travel, it’s essential to plan and know what each airline's regulations are regarding wheelchairs on flights. Airlines are required to check-in your wheelchair for free, so make sure that you speak to the airline when you make your booking.
Most of the time, your wheelchair will need to be transported below the plane rather than on it. Airlines will give you a temporary wheelchair to use to get on/off the plane. This may differ for patients who cannot use other wheelchairs (because they have more severe disabilities that require a more personalized set-up).
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a wheelchair cost?
Wheelchair costs vary widely depending on the type of wheelchair. You can find wheelchairs from $100 to $150 to $1,000 to $2,000. There are also extremely customizable wheelchair options that hit $5,000 to $10,000. The more specific or customizable a wheelchair needs to be, the more it will cost. Electric wheelchairs also cost more because of the electrical parts.
Is it essential to get fitted for a wheelchair?
It's a great idea to get fitted for a wheelchair. We recommend measuring before the wheelchair and your body before purchasing a wheelchair online. We also recommend visiting a local hospital or care center to test specific wheelchair sizes before going online to purchase.
What are the best wheelchair brands?
The best wheelchair brands are Drive Medical, Medline Mobility, Porto Mobility, Karman, Roscoe Medical, NOVA, and Foldawheel. These are our preferred wheelchair brands.
Which wheelchairs are covered by Medicare or Insurance?
Medicare will cover both electronic and manual wheelchairs, but you will first need to qualify for coverage. Speak to your doctor about beginning the approval process. Insurance companies will also cover both electronic and manual wheelchairs depending on your needs. Insurance companies list wheelchairs as DME or durable medical equipment, and this qualification must be met by your condition and your doctor's approval.
What are wheelchair cushions? Where is the best place to buy them?
Wheelchair cushions are cushions that can be added to your wheelchair to protect your back and spine as well as make you feel more comfortable. From foam to air-filled to gel-topped, there are a variety of wheelchair cushions that can make your wheelchair experience more comfortable. We recommend purchasing wheelchair cushions from Amazon.com for affordable prices and a wide selection.
Each of these wheelchair models are wonderful choices for elderly and senior individuals. However, our favorite option for seniors is the Porto Mobility Ranger D09. This model sets itself apart from the others when it comes to comfort, durability, flexibility for travel, and battery range.
If you want an ergonomic electric wheelchair that is highly portable and ultra-comfortable, then you want the Porto Mobility Ranger D09. For seniors who prefer the added mobility of a manual wheelchair, we recommend the Karman Ergo Flight Wheelchair.
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