Before buying a wheelchair, it is always worth-while seeking medical advice from your GP, therapist or health advisor on the choice of a wheelchair to address any specific requirements you may need. They may even be able to suggest a funding stream to help with the purchase.
In order to help you decide which wheelchair to consider purchasing, please read the following guide. Although it does not replace professional and specialist advice, it will help to inform your decision in choosing the most appropriate one for your needs.
Wheelchairs have been designed with different needs in mind.
The two main ones are either Self propelled or Attendant controlled
Types of Wheelchairs
Self Propelled Wheelchairs
Three-wheeled Rollators are commonly known as Tri-walkers. Tri-walkers are generally the lightest and narrowest option. They can be easier to maneuver, as they have a tighter turning circle and can be useful if doorways are particularly narrow.
The triangular base of a Triwalker can feel more unstable on uneven surfaces than the square base of four-wheeled rollator. Most Triwalkers do not include a seat and so are generally only recommended for use by those that have more confidence in their mobility.
- Narrower frame more suitable for indoors.
- Generally lighter than Four Wheeled Rollators.
- Tighter turning circle
- Most Models have a basket, bag and tray.
- Rarely have a built in seat.
- Less Stable than Four Wheel Rollators.
- May not be suitable for heavy or large users.
Four Wheel Rollator
Most people choose to buy a Four Wheeled Rollator. Four Wheeled Rollators will be generally heavier but will feel more stable, especially when used outdoors and will be more comfortable for longer journeys. They have a greater turning radius and wider frame which may make them unsuitable for indoor use.
They will come in a wider choice of styles and sizes to suit individual needs and most come with a built-in seat.
- Most Popular Choice
- Wide Range of choice and styles
- Easy to Fold
- Most Models have either a basket, bag and tray.
- Most Models have a seat
- More Stable than Three Wheeled Models
- Heavier than Three Wheeled Models
2 in 1 Rollators
2 in 1 Rollators function as a rollator but are supplied with special handle and footrest attachments allowing them to be converted into a transport chair. Ideal for short trips although most 2 in 1 rollators are not suitable for longer journeys where a wheelchair would otherwise be required.
A cost effective option for people recovering from surgery who are transitioning from being pushed to walking on their own.
- Easy to Fold
- Can be converted to be used as a wheelchair
- Allows users to walk by themselves or be pushed by someone else
- Models can be expensive
- Some models feature small wheels making them difficult to push over uneven surfaces when used as a transport chair.
Rollator Frames made from aluminium are the most popular choice. Aluminium is light, and resistant to corrosion.
Aluminium is used to manufacturer most rollators. Beware of rollators or triwalkers advertised as lightweight, they may not be made from aluminium.
- Most Popular Choice
- Resistant to Corrosion
- Models are generally about 20% more expensive
Frames made from steel are stronger than aluminium but can be heavy. Steel frames are generally only found on low priced rollators and heavy duty rollators
Most Frames made from steel have durable powered coated paint to protect for corrosion. However this can become chipped or damaged over time allowing for corrison to begin.
- Economical Option
- Vulnerable to corrosion.
- Heavy Material.
Loop brakes are found on most rollators and Tri-walkers. Loop brakes are operated by squeezing both levers.
On most models of rollators loop brakes can be locked like a parking brake for stability when seated
- Familiar and Easy to operate
- Found on the vast majority of rollators
- Pain and stiffness in the fingers can make them difficult to operate
A seat is common feature on most rollators. Triwalkers tend not to offer a seat because the frame is narrower.
If you need to rest frequently a seat can be a valuable feature. There are many different types and styles of seat so it is important to ensure you pick the right one for you.
- Provides a convenient place to rest.
- Found on the vast majority of rollators.
- Makes the rollator heavier to lift.
- Some seats can be uncomfortable.
Storage bags are a common feature and allow for convenient storage of personal items and shopping.
There are many size and types of storage bags. Some can only hold a limited number of items and are not suitable for shopping.
- Provides convenient storage for personal items.
- Protects items from the weather
- May have limited storage
- May not be suitable for shopping and heavier items.
Baskets are normally made from metal or a strong plastic and can generally carry more heavier items.
It is important to remember that for most rollators the basket needs to be removed before the rollator can or Triwalker can be folded.
- Large Capacity.
- Can carry heavier items.
- Offer little or no protection from the weather.
- Increases overall weight of rollator.
- Personal items are visible.
Most rollators are supplied with solid tyres. Solid tyres are not filled with air and are made from rubber or a hard wearing plastic.
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- Maintenance Free.
- Can withstand punctures and debris.
- Offer little or no shock absorption.
- Limited traction on smooth surfaces.
Pneumatic tyres are similar to those found on cars and bicycles. They have a solid rubber surface but the inside is inflated with air.
Pneumatic Tyres are less commonly found on the rollators and Triwalkers
- Shock absorbtion provides a more comfortable ride.
- Can provide more traction compared to solid tyres
- Require maintenance.
- Vulnerable to punctures and debris.
How to Measure for a Rollator or Triwalker
Choosing a rollator or Triwalker with the correct handle height is very important. Choosing a rollator that is too large or small will be uncomfortable and unlikely to give you the support you need.
It is worth asking a friend or family member to help you with this measurement.
- Start by standing straight with your shoes on.
- Allow you hands to rest naturally by your side.
- Measure from crease in your wrist to the floor.
Keep in mind this is a general measurement. You may find you prefer your handles set at a higher or lower height. Most rollators and Triwalker handles feature adjustable height so try and pick a rollator where with a handle bar height can be adjusted higher or lower than your wrist measurement.
If your rollator or Triwalker features a seat it is important to ensure that the seat and the width between the handle bars is wide enough to accommodate you comfortably.
It is worth asking a friend or family member to help you with this measurement.
- Start by siting on solid surface
- Measure the widest part.
- Add 2 inches to allow for when wearing a winter coat.
Remember most Standard rollator seats range in size from 13 inches to 18 inches. Bariatric or Heavy Duty rollators have 22 inch seats. If you choose a rollator with a wide seat be sure the check the overall width especially if you plan to use the rollator indoors. A standard door in the UK is 30 inches (76.2cm)
Rollators and Triwalkers all have a weight capacity. It is very important to ensure you do need exceed this value.
Standard Rollators and Triwalkers have a weight capacity of 100 kg to 150kg. Bariatric or Heavy Duty Rollators can accommodate up to 300 kg. Each Rollators weight capacity is different and depends on the design and materials used to manufacture so it is important to check the specifications. In general, the higher the weight capacity the heavier the rollator.
We hope you have found this guide to buying a Rollator or Triwalker useful. If you have any comments or wish to share your experiences please feel free to complete the contact form below.
Self-Propelled versus Attendant Controlled
Self-Propelled wheelchairs are designed for people who have a degree of upper body strength capable of propelling themselves independently using “pushrims” on large rear wheels. They are also fitted with handles for use by attendants if and as necessary. These large wheels are easier when manoeuvring kerbs but take up more room in the boot of the car or for storage, although the rear wheels are generally detachable. Even if you will only use it for a short time independently, it is worth purchasing a self-propelling wheelchair to maintain a degree of independence where possible.
If, however, you will need to rely solely on an attendant, then a Transit or Attendant Propelled wheelchair could be a better choice. These models tend to be fitted with smaller rear wheels for easier manoeuvrability for the attendant and they generally fold more easily for transportation and storage.
Overall Wheelchair Weight
How you intend to use it is of importance. If it is to be transported by car, it will need to be easily folded and lifted. The footrests on most models can be detatchable. Wheels and armrests can also be detachable on some models, all of which can reduce the overall weight when lifted. This is an important consideration when choosing what type of wheelchair will suit your needs, as wheelchairs are manufactured in either steel or aluminium. Steel frames are heavier but cheaper to buy, so it is worth considering how many parts can be removed for ease of lifting and transportation. Aluminium frames on the other hand are more expensive but much lighter and easier to propel and lift into a car for an attendant, especially if the attendant is not strong themselves.
Wheelchairs are designed with weight in mind. When purchasing one, it is important that the correct wheelchair suits the correct weight of the user, otherwise the longevity of the chair will be compromised.
Storage and Transportation
Generally, the seat is lifted at the centre and this then brings the wheels up close together. On some models, the back rest also folds down to half its height. The footrests on most models can be removed via a quick release mechanism. Armrests and wheels can also be removed on some models to enable easier storage. This then reduces the size of the space needed for storage and/or transportation. Reassembly of the components is as simple as a few clicks.
As noted above, the rear wheels can be either large circumference wheels for self-propelled wheelchairs for independent use, or else small wheels for transit wheelchairs, designed for attendant propulsion only.
The large rear wheels on self-propelled wheelchairs are designed to minimise the effort needed to propel the independent user. Many come fitted with a quick release button for ease of storage.
Models either come with pneumatic tyres (filled with air) for better shock absorption, but can be punctured, or else in a solid rubber which are airless and provide a “harder” ride but can’t be punctured.
However, for a nominal extra, pneumatic tyres can be “puncture-proofed” by an approved mechanic to minimise the threat of a puncture.
The front wheels on wheelchairs are generally solid and capable of swivelling 360 degrees for maximum manoeuvrability.
Some models are also fitted with anti-tip wheels. These are small wheels at the rear, fitted as an added safety feature, but most can be height adjusted, or even removed, if they cause an impediment for the attendant when mounting particularly high kerbs.
Most footplates are designed to swing outwards in order to enable the user to enter or exit the wheelchair safely without having to step over the footrests. Most are easily removable for transportation.
For more specialised needs, elevating leg rests can also be purchased if a limb needs to be kept elevated or shorter padded extensions can also be purchased for an amputee.
Armrests, although essential for comfort, can impede transfers from a wheelchair especially when using a transfer board. To alleviate this, many models have detachable armrests to enable sideways transfers to/from wheelchairs. Removable armrests also help reduce the overall weight of a wheelchair for transportation, especially with a steel framed one.
Some models have swing away arms that pivot at the back, which are very useful for quick transfers. Some models even provide both options.
For access to desks/tables, armrests are an impediment. If you need convenient access to a work surface, cut away armrests have been designed. These are lower at the front and designed to fit under the table, but the result is a much shorter armrest for resting the arms.
Some specialised models come with height adjustable armrests to improve comfort and to suit more individual needs.
Ensure that the armrests are at a comfortable height as some models cannot be adjusted unless it is a specialised model. Please note that if a wheelchair cushion is used, this will raise up the seat, lowering in turn the armrests, so do make allowances for this before purchase.
Seat and Backrest
The most common standard seat widths come in 16”, 18” and 20”. It is not only essential to fit the wheelchair model to the weight of the user but also to ensure that the seat width is sufficient for comfort purposes, especially if used on a regular basis. In order to prevent pressure sores, the user’s weight must be evenly distributed across the seat. The actual height of the seat is not so important as the footrests are height adjustable to suit the user. To check that the seat is the right width, the user should be also able to rest comfortably on the arm rests and yet have enough space to sit. Too wide a seat is also as bad as too narrow a seat. Remember to include any outdoor wear when measuring, as these affect the overall width.
Also important is to match the seat depth to the user. Too short and the buttocks take the most pressure, which can result in painful sores. Too long a seat causes pressure behind the knees, so try to match the seat depth to the requirements of the user.
Backrests on most standard wheelchairs are fixed in height. Depending on the price, the padding will usually vary accordingly. A slope of about 5 degrees is generally the case. Adjustable backrests are available on more specialised models for a higher cost.
For an additional cost, headrests can also be fitted to support the head if required.
These provide additional comfort and it is recommended that the user purchases a cushion at the same time as the wheelchair. The basic ones are made of foam. These are designed with light or short term use in mind. For medium use, memory foam or a mix of foam and gel can be used but for more advanced pressure care, then a gel or air based cushion should be used to help avoid pressure sores. Please consult your GP or therapist for advice if you are in a medium or high risk category before buying.
There are a number of choices available for storing personal effects and some are also large enough to transport some shopping items. Some attach to the handles at the back with straps, similar in design to a rucksack. Others can be attached to the arms on the inside for a mobile, wallet etc or some can even be fitted under the seat.
Walking Stick Holders
These are useful for non-folding walking sticks and comprise of a clip at the top and a cup for the ferrule at the base of the frame. They are easy to fit.
The most commonly used protection is a waterproof macintosh, designed specifically for a wheelchair. It covers the user from head to toe. A blanket made of fleece or else waterproof material can also be used. This covers the waist and wraps round the front of the legs. Please consider that users can get cold very quickly in inclement weather, being largely inactive, and so require additional protection from changes in the weather.
Wheelchair Pushing Gloves
These are useful for the attendants to protect hands from blisters and to aid a firmer grip of the handles, particularly in cold or wet weather.
Gloves are also useful for users of self- propelled wheelchairs to enable a better grip on the rear wheel push rims.