Is there a benefit to power assist wheelchair use? Algood SD, Cooper RA, Fitzgerald SG, Cooper R, and Boninger ML address the question in their article, Impact of a push rim-activated power-assisted wheelchair on the metabolic demands, stroke frequency, and range of motion among subjects with tetraplegia. The study focuses on users with spinal cord injuries, but the results can be applied more generally. Here's a summary of what the article discussed:
It’s common knowledge that physical activity is imperative for our health. It can help prevent high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, arthritis and many other conditions. There are many sports and activities wheelchair users can get involved in to stay active. How about a little wheelchair freestyle, for example? Check out this video!
There are many common issues linked to long-term manual wheelchair propulsion that a power assist wheelchair can help with.
If you are in a manual wheelchair, then you have undoubtedly seen the advantages that it can offer you in your daily life over a power chair. Some of the benefits of a manually-propelled chair when compared to its joystick-controlled counterpart, are: Independence Exercise Transportability Cost However, there can also be many drawbacks to long-term manual wheelchair use, which include: Fatigue Repetitive stress injuries Lack of powered assistance on inclines and uneven terrain Since our upper extremities were not designed for self-propulsion, the desire to lead an active lifestyle in a manual chair could potentially be derailed over time by the limitations of the shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
The joystick-controlled power chair was created as a solution for people who lacked the ability to push themselves in a manual chair, but its user base has grown to include many other groups as well. Perhaps you can self-propel everywhere except for steep hills, and unfortunately you just so happen to live in San Francisco? Maybe you just wish to avoid long-term damage to your upper extremities, so electronic wheelchair propulsion was your only option? Depending on your situation, a power assist chair may be a far better fit than a full power chair. The power chair was initially created for those who have minimal to zero pushing ability. However, if you’ve retained or gained even limited pushing ability, then a power assist chair is a lighter and more transportable option that provides more exercise than guiding a joystick or other form of controller on a traditional power chair. If any of the scenarios below apply to you, then you should consider power assist for your next wheelchair.
If you are unfamiliar with power assist, please check out our article “What is a Power Assist Wheelchair?” Your wheelchair decision isn’t always black-and-white – one that's strictly about your personal preference. If you’re relying on insurance funding, then qualifying for a chair within your insurance’s coverage criteria is equally important. Not only does the chair need to fit you, but you also need to be the right candidate for that particular chair in order to receive funding approval. This is especially true with custom rehab equipment, such as power assist, that costs more than your standard transport chair. Power assist fills a gap between manual and power chairs, but being a high-end niche product, insurance companies need to know that it is undoubtedly the best option. Here are 2 critical questions that must be answered before insurance will consider funding a power assist wheelchair.