Over the past 2 or 3 years we have seen an increase in demand for wheelchairs for larger people who need more seat space and a stronger wheelchair frame. The population in the UK is on average getting heavier and more people are suffering from obesity than ever before.
As this happens the demand for bariatric wheelchairs is increasing. These are wheelchairs which have been designed specifically for heavier users whose requirements differ from non obese users.
Often described as extra wide or extra strong wheelchairs these bariatric models have features that ensure their larger users remain comfortable and safe. The main differences occur within these categories:
- Seat design
- Frame design
- Frame material
- Wheel & tyre design
As the carry weight of a wheelchair increases then the overall strength and rigidity has to be reflected in the design. Wheelchair weight has always been a strong selling point with lightweight wheelchairs being the most popular. However as users get heavier then the design and construction has to adapt.
Aluminium framed wheelchairs are popular for users up to 18 stone in weight. This material allows a strong frame to be constructed whilst remaining manageable in weight. Once the wheelchair has to carry users beyond the 18 stone point then steel is used in the manufacture of the frame. Steel is a stronger material, is more rigid and can be joined together using weld with more strength than aluminium. The gauge of the steel used in wheelchair frames increases with heavy duty wheelchairs which provide enhanced strength but at the same time increases the overall weight.
In addition to using stronger materials in the build of the heavy duty or bariatric wheelchairs, the design is also modified to further increase the strength. Cross bracing is the use of diagonal tubes below the wheelchair seat to provide rigidity. Most wheelchairs come with a single cross brace which is sufficient for users who weigh up to 18 stone. Beyond this weight, most wheelchair manufacturers prefer to use 2 or sometimes 3 cross braces to support the increased load from heavier users.
Extra Wide Wheelchairs
So with a stronger frame made using steel you need to accommodate the wheelchair user as comfortably as possible by providing a seat of suitable width. Historically, adult wheelchairs came in two sizes either a 16" wide or 18" seat. Larger users are now looking for extra wide wheelchairs where seat widths start at 20" and go up to 26". As the seat width increases so does the maximum user weight. Whereas traditionally the 162 and 18" wheelchairs typically catered for users up to 18 stone in weight, the new range of heavy duty bariatric wheelchairs now cater for users up to and over 50 stone or 317 KG's in weight.
Perhaps the most important part of a heavy duty wheelchair is the wheels and tyres as it is these that directly transfer the load of the chair plus the user on to the ground. For this reason most heavy duty wheelchairs use solid tyres to remove the risk of puncture from pneumatic tyres. Solid wheelchair tyres are made using PU or polyurethane which is massively strong and not susceptible to cracking nor splitting, which can occur to pneumatic tyres.
Heavy Duty Wheelchairs
Self propelled wheelchair wheels are designed with hand rims to allow the user to propel and control themselves. Bariatric models are available as self propelled but the heavier the user is the less able they are to safely propel and stop the wheelchair. Alternatives are heavy duty transit wheelchairs that are controlled by an attendant or fitting a heavy duty powerpack to either type of wheelchair. We will be exploring wheelchair powerpacks in more detail in a post coming soon.
If you are looking for a heavy duty, extra wide bariatric wheelchair then the following models are worth considering:
Heavy duty self propelled models:
Esteem Self Propelled Wheelchair - Available in three seat widths including 20" 22" and 24" up to 250 KG maximum user weight
If you wish to go bigger then the Roma Medical 1473X model comes with a wide 26" seat and caters for user’s up to 50 stone in weight.
Heavy duty transit wheelchairs
Esteem transit wheelchair - Available in three seat widths including 20" 22" and 24" up to 250 KG maximum user weight