Seniors Mobility AidsWheelchairs

Manual Vs Power Wheelchair : Which Way to Go? (Short Guide)

Written by Dayna C
Last Updated :
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A wheelchair is a necessity for people who experienced an injury that limited their mobility temporarily and for the ones who need permanent assistance to get around.

But, which one?

Are you thinking manual vs power wheelchair? It’s not a choice to make without doing some research.

You need a wheelchair that will make your days (maybe years) more comfortable.

So, you must do your research and consider all aspects of the different types of top end wheelchairs.

There is no simple answer to this dilemma, and it all depends on your priorities.

Do you want to gain as much independence as possible?

Is your stamina on a high level?

How much are you willing to spend?

Both manual and power wheelchairs have their pros and cons, and today, we are considering the most important aspects of each to help you find the best fit for your needs.

Important Factors to Consider When Buying a Wheelchair Manual Vs Power Wheelchair : A Comparison

Young man in a wheelchair drinking beer with friend

As we said above, the choice of your wheelchair depends on your priorities.

Here’s what you should have in mind when making a selection:

  • Upper Body Strength

One of the crucial factors when buying a new wheelchair is your upper body strength.

Sometimes people are not honest with themselves or they don’t want to accept the fact they’ve lost the strength they once had.

Do you think you would spend most of your day in a wheelchair?

If the answer is yes, then you should keep in mind that manual wheelchairs require some stamina.

How do you feel about your muscles?

Manual wheelchairs have been improved significantly in the last few years so that the weight doesn’t make the user bothered or exhausted.

However, you should stay away from this option if your upper body strength is reduced.

People who suffer from severe paralysis or the ones with majorly limited mobility opt for power wheelchairs.

The major reason for this is the joystick that’s easy to control. It requires minimal effort, as a touch of the finger or a mild hand movement is enough to get the thing moving.

  • Traveling

The fact that you are using a wheelchair doesn’t have to mean you would stay around the house all the time.

The sky is the limit! People in wheelchairs travel cities, countries, and even continents. However, your route can affect the choice of a travel wheelchair.

Most power wheelchairs are not foldable, which is probably their biggest con.

Yet, of course, you can find some foldable power wheelchair models, and we wanted to save your time.

Here you can find a unique selection of foldable power chairs.

Foldable manual wheelchairs weigh no more than 30 pounds when folded.

You can pack yours up easily, store it in the back of your car or the trunk, and hit the road.

Electric wheelchairs are way bulkier and you would have to own a van or an SUV to pack it up. Another downside is that you would need some help with lifting the chair.

However, if you prefer power wheelchairs for other conveniences they offer, you can buy wheelchair lift – power or manual.

It is a bit hefty but worth the price for sure as it takes away the hassle of manual loading.

Another alternative to traveling with your power wheelchair is renting one while on holiday.

Numerous countries worldwide are becoming more aware and responsible for their citizens who use wheelchairs as well as foreign disabled or injured visitors.

  • Dimensions and weight

When choosing between models, it’s always good to know the wheelchair width, weight, and height.

Some chairs are on the heavy side, which is slightly more recommendable for people weighing over 200 pounds. Yet, some ultra-lightweight wheelchairs still provide extra support.

Power chairs are, in general, bulkier and heavier than manual devices.

Make sure to double-check the weight capacity and dimensions of each wheelchair before making a final decision.

Here you should have your measurements in mind (height and weight in the first place).

  • Accessories

For whatever time you would be using your chair, you need one that will meet your extra demands.

Thanks to accessories, you can make using this mobility device more comfortable and easier.

These accessories include ramps, cushions, all-weather bags, stairlifts, spoke-guards, etc.

Luckily, there’s plenty of ways to customize your four-wheeled friend.

Not only you can choose between accessories, but you will find them in vivid colors.

Well, here comes a less-fun part.

You have to maintain your wheelchair regularly, but, once it breaks down – it usually costs a lot to get it fixed.

Manual chairs are less expensive to repair as mechanisms used on them are more visible and more approachable.

Power chairs are trickier to diagnose and we would recommend a professional repairman to have it inspected.

It would be best to stick to the manual’s instructions and contact the seller in case of damage.

These repairs will get a decent amount out of your pocket.

Manual Wheelchair – Pros and Cons

An woman driving a wheelchair at outside

We’ve already mentioned some of the biggest advantages and downsides of a manual chair but will explain each in-depth in this section.

Manual chairs are a breeze to transport, especially if you have a foldable model.

Not only you can store it in your car with no hassle, but you can transport it with a taxi or a train.

The second best feature of this type of wheelchairs is that you can navigate in tighter spaces easier.

Less expensive, manual chairs require less maintenance as well.

This doesn’t mean you won’t have to take good care of it, but at least you won’t have to chase after the nearest power source to charge it and rely on batteries exclusively.

On the downside, you will need some solid strength in your hands to keep those wheels moving.

A good sense of balance is also needed here.

When considering independence, a manual wheelchair gives you more options than you have right now, but you would still need someone to help you moving when your arms start hurting.

If you don’t feel safe leaving the house, you won’t need much assistance besides your wheelchair.

It will help you get through a tough time if you are recovering from an injury.

However, what if you need it long-term? It mostly depends on your lifestyle and people you can rely on in day-to-day activities.

Power Wheelchair – Pros and Cons

Overweight woman sitting in wheelchair in a protest

When comparing manual to power chairs, the latter seems to provide more convenience for the user.

Interestingly, power wheelchairs also bring more serious downsides as well.

People appreciate power chairs for the range of controls they offer.

There are touchpads and joysticks to help you move around, which means – minimal effort.

If you have reduced muscle power, this is the way to go, as a power chair will take you where you want to be at a single press of a button.

The speed of 8mph is just awesome, right?

When in a hurry, you can speed up your mobility device and reach the desired destination easier.

Or you can enjoy slow rides during sunny days and spend most of your time outside.

Don’t worry about rough terrains – your chair will move at a steady pace around almost any kind of surface.

Power wheelchairs are easier to customize than their manual counterparts.

You can combine it with armrests, leg rests, tilts, and reclines.

This is particularly useful for people who suffer from Edema, reduced mobility, sores, ulcers, etc.

The biggest plus for a power chair is that it offers you more independence.

Yet, keep in mind that it still can’t offer 100% independence, as neither can the manual wheelchair.

One of the reasons for this is that you would be somehow dependent on a power source.

Power wheelchairs use batteries that need an overnight charge to run the whole day.

If the battery gets drained completely, you wouldn’t be able to move around.

Also, batteries will deteriorate with time, depending on how your charging habits are formed.

Power chairs are larger and heavier than manual chairs.

This makes them a bit complicated to store, transport, and travel with.

In the end, can you budget stand hefty repairs and maintenance?

Beware of your current budget when purchasing a power chair, but keep the high costs of maintenance in mind for the future as well. It may be a better option to consider a mobility cart (Shoprider or Gopher) if you have some mobility and need to travel longer distances. Mobility carts also have larger storage baskets or rear containers for groceries etc.

Manual Vs Power Wheelchair : Summary

You know your needs best. When choosing between these two types of chairs, always measure the pros and cons of each and do cross-comparison.

In this article, we wanted to bring you closer to the idea of how much mobility equipment can help you with your new or permanent lifestyle.

If you are still not fully confident about the final choice, it’s always a good idea to consult a mobility equipment specialist, this person would assess your condition and your needs and make a suggestion on the type.

Also try finding a group on social media and read their opinions about their experiences.

However, we are pretty much sure you have at least one thing that feels like a better solution. Is the dilemma – manual vs power chair now resolved?

Have you made your mind about your mobility fellow traveler?

About Author

Dayna C
Dayna has an incredible passion for helping others and a background as an in-home caregiver for the elderly. She left the field temporarily three years ago to stay at home with her twins, but found that she really missed working with senior citizens. She launched LoAids as a way to help not just her own loved ones and former clients, but ALL seniors live life to the fullest in their golden years.  Follow her on LINKEDIN and TWITTER. Read her LATEST POSTS. Learn more about her HERE.

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