In 2015, I wrote a 3-part Clinical Corner series on seating and mobility considerations for individuals who are bariatric. Here are links to the articles:
This month, let's revisit this general topic with a focus on considerations for power wheelchairs for these individuals.
For a general review on power mobility, refer to these articles:
There are many factors when selecting a power wheelchair for an individual who is bariatric. The obvious considerations are seat size and weight capacity. The range available in seat width and depth dimensions must accommodate the individual's size. Different models of power wheelchairs have different weight capacities. The weight capacity of the wheelchair must be sufficient for the individual. When in doubt about the weight capacity of the wheelchair, check the manufacturer's specifications to ensure the product is right for an individual.
The overall size and weight of the bariatric power wheelchair may be another consideration. The width of the bariatric wheelchair can be wider than a wheelchair that is designed for a lower weight capacity. The width of the wheelchair can impact accessibility in the environment so it is something that must be considered. The weight of the wheelchair itself may have to be considered if the combined weight of the individual and the power wheelchair approach any weight limits of electric lifting devices, such as for buildings or vehicles.
Power seating and positioning functions, such as tilt, recline, and elevating leg supports, are designed specifically to accommodate a higher weight capacity on a bariatric wheelchair. For example, a power wheelchair with a weight capacity of 550 pounds has power seating and positioning functions that also meet that weight capacity. The caveat to this is power seat elevation, which has a maximum weight capacity of 400 pounds.
There are other factors that should be considered when selecting a power wheelchair for an individual who is bariatric. A bariatric power wheelchair uses motors specifically designed for the heavier weight capacity. This means that the gear ratio is different than on an electric wheelchair with a lower weight capacity to provide more torque when required as a result of the heavier load on the motors. Recall that torque is needed, for example, when initiating momentum or overcoming obstacles. Motors that are designed for bariatric use tend to have lower maximum speeds than motors designed for lower weight capacities; however, the maximum speed should be compared between different models of bariatric power wheelchairs as maximum speed can differ between models of power wheelchairs.
Electronics and battery size should also be carefully chosen when ordering a power wheelchair for an individual who is bariatric. There are choices in electronics that can be made when configuring a power wheelchair. The greater the amperage, the stronger the electric current available for providing the power and torque required for the heavier weight on the wheelchair. The battery size affects the capacity of stored electrical energy. A set of batteries with a larger capacity means that the individual will be able to drive their power wheelchair over greater distances on a single charge.
There are many factors when selecting a power wheelchair for an individual who is bariatric. The considerations include the size available, weight capacity, finished width and weight, weight capacity of power seating functions, motors and associated maximum speed, electronics and batteries.