I can't tell you how many times over the last 15 years I've taken a call or been speaking to someone and they tell me they have one of those power scooters! Most people in the general public don't know the difference between a Mobility scooter and a power wheelchair but there is actually a big difference. I usually respond to them by asking if the device they use has handle bars or a joystick. Once they tell me that I can usually figure out what they have. I want to go over the difference between the two items so you can have a better idea of what will fit you or a loved one's needs.
- Mobility Scooters
There are many types of mobility scooters so I'm going to start with the most popular, the Portable Travel mobility scooter. These items break down and can be put in the back seat or the trunk of a car.The weight capacities range from 250 lbs and go up to 350 lbs. Once you get above that weight you really don't have a true portable travel mobility scooter anymore. These mobility scooters come in 3 and 4 wheel version and have a tiller with different types of handles so you can turn the device easily. The average speed is around 4.5-5 mph. The heaviest piece typically weighs between 35-44 lbs and they usually break down into 4 or 5 pieces.
- Mid Size
The next size mobility scooter is the Mid Size. These items will sometimes break apart but the heaviest pieces run around 55-65 lbs and are not really user friendly when it comes to breaking them down, now mind you that it depends on who is breaking it down. What I have typically seen is an elderly man or woman user and the husband or wife being the caregiver. If this is the case I would not recommend a senior to break these down as I'm under 40 and I would not want to do this on a regular basis. These mobility scooters can still be used in the home but they are typically a little bit longer in length and come with a heavier weight capacity. around 300-400 lbs. They tend to work well in outdoor environments but I always tell people that they are not ATV machines, you can't just take them anywhere.
- Full Size
This is where all the stylish looks come in. Full Size Mobility Scooters come in a lot of different forms. You can find some that look like motorcycles and other that really look like you can go off roading in (which I don't recommend). They are going to have around a 350-500 lb weight capacity and not break down at all. Maybe the seat comes off but that is about it. These Full Size Mobility scooters are made for outside use unless you have a very large open floor plan. The turning radius is around 5 ft and most of the time the door frames will keep you from getting in the house.
Power Wheelchairs are designed for both indoor and outdoor (paved) use and are steered with one hand using a joystick. Power chairs are very maneuverable and easy to use inside the home, restaurant, shopping mall, etc... since they are designed for "zero turn" maneuverability. The very first question to be answered when selecting a power wheelchair is the weight of the individual using it. Power wheelchairs, just like the mobility scooters, have weight limits. Most standard power wheelchairs have a weight capacity between 250-300 lbs. Of course you can get these with higher weight capacities, even up to 600 lbs.
Another issue with power wheelchairs is portability. You can find compact power wheelchairs that disassemble into 4-5 pieces, allowing you to put them into the back seat or trunk of a car. Each piece weighs around 30-35 lbs. These portable units normally have a weight capacity of 250-300 lbs.
Power wheelchairs also give you more adjust-ability than a scooter for special needs. Some models can have power tilt seat, elevating leg rests, seats that raise so you can reach items on a high counter or in a cabinet, etc. You also can get different size seats to fit each individual body.
Once you decide a power wheelchair is the route you want to take, MAKE SURE you find a local provider (preferably ALL STAR MEDICAL), and contact the local store so you can take a test drive. I've had many "first timers" come in with the idea that a power wheelchair is a piece of cake to use. My father in-law had that idea when he moved in with me, and quickly learned that a power wheelchair can turn very sharp. Now, he goes everywhere in his, including the lake or playing cornhole outside with his grandson. It is very easy to get used to, but you definitely want to take the time to get the joystick operations down.
Depending on the model, power wheelchairs can have 4 or 6 wheels on the ground at all times. Some of the models have the drive wheels in the middle of the unit (mid-wheel drive), some are in the back (rear wheel drive), and you guessed it, some have the drive wheels in the front (front wheel drive). Each format drives differently.