05 July 2009

When a rolling walker is a transport wheelchair

July 2, 4:41 PM · Kathryn Arbour - Denver Mobility Products Examiner

Physical therapists and durable medical equipment (DME) manufacturers and dealers have spent a lifetime telling people NEVER to use a rolling 4-wheeled walker as a wheelchair. The traditional A-frame design of these ubiquitous and mighty machine

s is not designed to be pushed or rolled in any direction with someone perched on the seat. The advantage of a rolling 4-wheeled walker with brakes and a seat is that it offers a resting option for the user who may tire easily and often. Many falling injuries occur as elders try to scoot themselves while seated on these walkers.

However, all that great advice is about to change with the arrival of combination rolling walkers/transport wheelchairs. Long on the radar screen of DME manufacturers from a design perspective, the actual translation of the design into manageable pieces of mobility equipment has taken longer than most would have guessed. Some of the earliest models as recently as five or six years ago required so much manipulation for the transformation that some claimed a degree in engineering was necessary. And, weight is always a problem with DME products whose users already have physical challenges of one sort or another.
Things changed last year as a number of manufacturers cracked the code and produced some of the first viable combination units. This review examines versions created by three different manufacturers, American Bantex, Drive Medical and Medline.
American Bantex calls their unit simply a combo walker/transport chair. It sports the A-frame typical of rolling 4-wheeled walkers. When converting to a transport wheelchair, the back rest pops out of one side and into the other. Two footrests stay folded against the side of the walker ready to pull down into position once the individual is seated. The look is attractive and unobtrusive and the actions needed are minimal to create the transformation. The one difficulty occurs with steering. Rear swivel wheels that work well as a walker create some frustrations as they become front wheels of a transport chair. The individual pushing the unit fights against these unwieldy wheels. As one of the first to market, however, at a very reasonable price point, the unit sells well and users accommodate this quirky feature.
Drive Medical also released their version, dubbed Duet, in 2008 with a few big improvements over the American Bantex. All four wheels are the same. By using larger wheels, the unit moves more smoothly both as a walker and a transporter. This manufacturer also developed a footrest that swings out of the A-frame, keeping it tucked out of the way when the unit is used as a 4-wheeled walker. The backrest is sturdier and layered with extra foam. This unit also has two handles that fold out to use as armrests when in the transporter mode. These two features alone provide more comfort to the individual. The unit weighs about the same as the American Bantex version and looks quite similar, although the folding mechanism is tight and offers challenges to typical users.
Medline, a family owned U.S. business and one of the largest provider of medical supplies and related products, is introducing its version, The Translator, this summer in a few U.S. markets. The earliest version offers a number of advantages over its competitors. First and foremost, it is considerably lighter in weight with a nylon seat and backrest and a lightweight aluminum frame. The backrest simply flips over with the simplest of movements. Medline uses the footrest design popularized by American Bantex. The unit is wider, which is both a plus and a minus. A wider seat is more appealing to a large number of users. A wider frame, however, makes it difficult to maneuver easily through stores and the insides of many older homes. Of the three models this one is by far the easiest to transform. However, of the three it is also the most difficult to fold. The seat is firmly anchored in seat guides that are exceptionally tight. While this ensures a solid sitting surface, it makes it virtually impossible to fold without assistance. Once folded, though, the Medline Translator is the lightest weight model on the market and can fit easily behind the seat of a car. No heavy lifting required.
As one of the newer DME products to hit the marketplace, the combined rolling walker and transport wheelchair is welcomed by individuals and caregivers alike. The product will not eliminate the widespread popularity of both the rolling 4-wheeled walker and the transport wheelchair, but offers a satisfying solution for families who are looking for a single solution. There is an MSRP price point differential of about $50 among all three models, although dealer pricing varies widely, especially on the internet.
For more info:
See the Drive Medical Duet
Read more about walkers
A local retailer changes one woman's life with a transport chair

Kathryn Arbour is an Examiner from Denver. You can see Kathryn's articles at: "http://www.examiner.com/x-10736-Denver-Mobility-Products-Examiner

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