Best Wheelchairs For Elderly In 2022

Updated: Jul 17, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Wheelchairs fall into one of two categories: manual or electric.
  • Lightweight manual models are best for more active seniors.
  • Electric wheelchairs are more expensive and run off battery power.
  • Power wheelchairs come in front-, mid-, and rear-wheel drive. Rear-wheel drive wheelchairs provide more stability and maneuverability than front-wheel drive wheelchairs. Mid-wheel drive wheelchairs are primarily used as bariatric wheelchairs for occupants who require a higher weight capacity.

Best Wheelchairs for Older Adults

Independence in mobility is one of the most important measures of quality of life for people with disabilities. Wheelchairs—whether powered or manual—provide nearly 2.7 million people with the freedom to get around who would otherwise be unable or have difficulty doing so. The truth of the matter is that shopping for the best wheelchair for yourself or a loved one can be overwhelming. After all, there are dozens of varieties to choose from, and features abound.

One of the first questions to ask when shopping for a wheelchair is whether you need a manual or a power one. People with less disability, who are more active, or those with a temporary injury may prefer manual wheelchairs, while those with very limited abilities, or who require extra assistance, may benefit from an electric wheelchair. However, other features must also be taken into consideration, such as the chair’s weight, foldability, maneuverability and comfort. 

The Aging In Place experts spent numerous hours researching and testing some of the top wheelchairs on the market. Here are our top picks:

What Is a Wheelchair?

The Americans with Disability Act of 1990 defines wheelchairs as devices that enable an individual with a mobility disability to get around indoors or outdoors, or both. As the name suggests, wheelchairs are literally chairs fitted with wheels. Wheelchairs are categorized into one of two categories based on mode of propulsion—manual operation and power-driven.

The Best Wheelchairs of 2022

COMPANY
Drive Medical Silver Sport 2
TYPEManual, standard
MAXIMUM WEIGHT CAPACITY250, 300
FEATURESSeat width options; arm style options
PRICE$199
Invacare Tracer SX5
TYPEManual, standard
MAXIMUM WEIGHT CAPACITY300
FEATURESCustom options; anti-tipper option; seat width options, arm style options
PRICE $1,108.28
Medline Lightweight & User-Friendly
TYPEManual, lightweight
MAXIMUM WEIGHT CAPACITY300
FEATURESElevating leg rests; removeable, flip-back desk arms
PRICE$219.99
Karman Ergo Flight
TYPEManual, lightweight
MAXIMUM WEIGHT CAPACITY220
FEATURESUltralightweight; ergonomic design
PRICE$870
Innuovo Electric Power
TYPEPower, rear-wheel drive
MAXIMUM WEIGHT CAPACITY265
FEATURESLightweight and foldable; equipped with safety features
PRICE$1,999
Spinlife Go-Chair Pride
TYPEPower, rear-wheel drive
MAXIMUM WEIGHT CAPACITY300
FEATURES25.5” turning radius; 13.20-mile drive range
PRICE$1,549

AIP Wheelchair Rating Methodology

Our Aging In Place wheelchair experts independently research and recommend products we believe provide value in the lives of our readers. We’ve conducted in-depth research on wheelchairs. Throughout this process, we considered a variety of factors for each product, including:

  • Consumer reviews
  • Price
  • Top speed (electric wheelchairs)
  • Maximum weight capacity
  • Weight
  • Functionality
  • Portability

Who Can Benefit From Having a Wheelchair?

Wheelchairs are designed for people who have difficulty walking or cannot walk due to illness (physiological or physical), injury, or disability. Some disabilities that may require the use of wheelchairs include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amputations
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Parkinson’s disease 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scoliosis
  • Spina bifida
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries

Types of Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs are categorized by their manner of propulsion—manual or power-driven.

Types Of Manual Wheelchairs

A manual wheelchair is propelled by the chair’s occupant, usually by pushing on the bars that surround each of the larger wheels of the wheelchair to cause the chair to roll forward. They also have handles on the back so that another person can push the wheelchairs. Most manual wheelchairs come in a standard or lightweight version.

Standard wheelchairs – These are the least expensive type of wheelchair, but that discount comes with a trade-off. Weighing in at more than 36 pounds, these wheelchairs are more challenging to transport and propel than lighter models. Standard wheelchairs are usually made with less-expensive materials, can be uncomfortable to sit in, and thus are not preferred for long-term or frequent use.

Lightweight wheelchairs – As the name suggests, these wheelchairs are lighter than standard wheelchairs, weighing less than 36 pounds. Most offer more customization options, such as an adjustable back, footrests, and armrests, and added cushioning for comfort. Some versions of lightweight wheelchairs include:

  • High-strength lightweight wheelchairs – These chairs are more durable than the standard or lightweight wheelchairs, but still weigh less than a standard wheelchair (about 30-34 pounds). They’re ideal for people who are active and like to go out often.
  • Ultra-lightweight wheelchairs – These are the lightest type of wheelchairs, weighing in at just under 30 pounds. They’re also the easiest to control. Ultra-lightweight wheelchairs are great for people who spend an extended amount of time in a wheelchair.

A transporter chair is another mobility chair that is sometimes lumped into the wheelchair category. Transporters combine the function of a wheelchair with the maneuverability of a rollator or walker. Instead of two large wheels, these transporters have four smaller wheels that make self-propulsion impossible and thus are intended to be pushed by a caregiver and not the user.

Types Of Power Wheelchairs

  • Power-driven wheelchairs—also called electric-powered wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs, or powerchairs—are propelled by electric means based on a power source (typically motors and batteries). There are three types of wheelchair drive systems:
  • Front-wheel drive – These wheelchairs are made with two large drive wheels toward the front of the seat with two smaller casters at the rear for stability and maneuverability. These chairs have the power to go over bumps and curbs up to 2 inches high. These also have the smallest turning radius compared with other drive systems and can fishtail when turning at high speeds.
  • Rear-wheel drive – These wheelchairs are similar to front-wheel drive wheelchairs, but the wheel construction is opposite, with two large drive wheels toward the back of the seat and two smaller casters at the front. Rear-wheel drive wheelchairs have good stability and maneuverability, even at high speeds. They’re also less sensitive to oversteering and are the best power wheelchair for outdoor use, especially on rough terrain.
  • Mid-wheel drive – These “center drive” chairs have a total of six wheels—two large drive wheels toward the center of the seat with two smaller wheels at the front and two smaller wheels at the back. These chairs have a much tighter turning radius than the two other drive systems, making them ideal for smaller indoor spaces and flat outdoor spaces. However, these wheelchairs can sink and lose traction on softer terrain. They’re also more difficult to transport and are generally reserved for occupants who require a wheelchair with a high weight capacity, up to 600 pounds.

Power wheelchairs are sometimes confused with electric or mobility scooters, but there are some key differences. One of the biggest differentiating factors is that power wheelchairs are controlled by a joystick. This allows more control with little arm or hand strength, while also supporting the user´s arms. Joysticks can be operated with just a touch of a person’s fingertip. On the other hand, electric scooters are steered with handlebars, which requires much more upper body strength.

Best for Short-Term Use

Best for Short-Term Use

Drive Medical Silver Sport 2

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Custom options available

  • Swing-away footrests or leg rests

Cons

  • Not good for long-term use

Features

  • Type: Standard manual
  • Seat width: 16”, 18”, 20”
  • Arm style: Fixed or adjustable options, full-length or desk-length, detachable
  • Weight: 40 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 250 pounds, 300 for 18” seat width
  • Warranty: 3-year limited warranty
  • Price: Starting at $199 (as of 1/24/22)

For occasional or short-term use, Drive Medical’s Silver Sport 2 standard wheelchair checks all the right boxes. It’s compact, durable, and foldable for easy transportation. This affordable wheelchair is built with a reinforced steel frame and easy-to-clean embossed vinyl upholstery. It also comes with a carry pocket on the backrest.

Pros

  • Durable construction

  • Several custom options

  • Anti-tipper option available

Cons

  • One of the more expensive standard wheelchairs

Features

  • Type: Standard manual
  • Seat width: 14”, 16”, 18”, 20”, 22”
  • Arm style: fixed or adjustable options for full-length or desk-length, detachable
  • Weight: 40 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 250 pounds, 300 for 20” and 22” seat widths
  • Warranty: Five-year limited warranty on frame and cross braces, one-year warranty on all components
  • Price: Starting at $1,108.28 (as of 1/24/22)

In the realm of standard wheelchairs, Invacare’s Tracer SX5 is one of the best. Its carbon steel frame is lightweight and durable, making it good for both long- and short-term use. It’s also equipped with a heavy-duty inner liner to keep the seat and back from stretching and a dual-axle that can convert to hemi-height so that it can be propelled by the user’s feet.

Best Durable Wheelchair

Best Durable Wheelchair

Medline Lightweight And User-Friendly Wheelchair

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Elevating leg rests

  • Removeable, flip-back desk arms that are great for dining or office work, easy transfers

Cons

  • Not suitable for long-term use

  • Limited custom options

Features

  • Type: Standard lightweight
  • Seat width: 16”, 18”, 20”
  • Arm style: Adjustable, removable desk-length arms
  • Weight: 34 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 300 pounds
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty on frame, one-year warranty on components
  • Price: Starting at $219.99 (as of 1/24/22)

This Medline wheelchair is a lightweight folding wheelchair that’s also durable. It can support occupants weighing up to 300 pounds. It’s designed with flip-back desk arms to slip behind desks and tables easily. It also comes with flat-free tires, an adjustable seat back, and a dual-axle that converts to hemi-height for foot propulsion.

Best Lightweight Aluminum Wheelchair

Best Lightweight Aluminum Wheelchair

Karman Ergo Flight Wheelchair

Pros

  • Ultra-lightweight and compact

  • Ergonomic design for added comfort and functionality

  • Fixed axle or quick-release axle available

  • Companion brakes that allow caretakers to engage the brakes safely

  • Padded seat, armrests, and back upholstery

Cons

  • Fixed arms

  • Weight capacity is only 220 pounds

Features

  • Type: Standard lightweight
  • Seat width: 16”, 18”
  • Arm style: Fixed desk length
  • Weight: 19.8 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 220 pounds
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty, one-year warranty on parts
  • Price: $870 (as of 1/24/22)

The Ergo Flight Ergonomic Wheelchair by Karman Healthcare is made with an aircraft-grade metal frame, making it one of the best lightweight aluminum wheelchairs on the market. It’s designed with an ergonomic seat and hand rim for added comfort and functionality. It also has an S-shaped seating frame that follows the body’s natural curves to reduce the risk of pressure ulcers and scoliosis.

Best Choice for Travel

Best Choice for Travel

Innuovo Electric Power Wheelchair

Pros

  • Rear-wheel drive construction for improved stability and maneuverability

  • Lightweight and foldable for easy transport

  • Thick seat cushion to provide comfort and prevent bedsore

Cons

  • Arms are not adjustable

  • Some consumers have issues with the loud backup warning beeper

Features

  • Type: Power, rear-wheel drive
  • Turning radius: 35.5 inches
  • Maximum speed: 3.7 mph
  • Driving range: 6.25 miles
  • Seat width: 18.2”
  • Arm style: Flip-back
  • Weight: 50 pounds 
  • Weight capacity: 265 pounds
  • Warranty: One-year warranty on joystick, controller, and motor
  • Price: $1,999 (as of 1/24/22)

Innuovo’s power chair is a foldable, lightweight wheelchair designed with active users in mind. It can easily be lifted into and out of vehicles. It’s also airplane friendly, making it one of our top choices for travel. One of the best power wheelchair brands, Innuovo’s power wheelchair has numerous safety features, including a seatbelt, 360-degree joystick, solidly stable front and rear wheels, and an electromagnetic braking system for better motion control and quicker stopping.

Pros

  • Rear-wheel drive construction for improved stability and maneuverability

  • Tight turning radius

  • Swing-away under-seat storage bins

  • Available in 10 colors

  • Long-distance driving range

Cons

  • Wheelchair is heavy and can be difficult to transport

Features

  • Type: Power, rear-wheel drive
  • Turning radius: 25.5 inches
  • Maximum speed: 3.7 mph
  • Drive range: 13.20 miles
  • Seat width: 18”, 20”
  • Arm style: Adjustable width and height, flip-back
  • Weight: 128 pounds
  • Weight capacity: 300 pounds
  • Warranty: Five-year limited warranty
  • Price: Starting at $1,549 (as of 1/24/22)

Spinlife Go-Chair Pride mobility offers optimal stability and maneuverability of a rear-wheel-drive wheelchair coupled with an impressive 25.5-inch turning radius. At 128 pounds, it’s not easy to transport (the chair disassembles into six smaller pieces), but it’s more durable, as it is able to accommodate occupants up to 300 pounds. It also comes with comfort features, such as a roomy stadium-style seat and flip-back armrests that are both height and width adjustable.

Wheelchair Features To Consider

When shopping for a wheelchair, there are some features you should keep in mind:

  • Seat construction
  • Cover material and cushioning
  • Headrest
  • Footrests and armrests
  • Storage bags
  • Added customization
  • Adjustments
  • Accessories
  • Weather protection
  • Foldability
  • Brakes
  • Pop-off wheels
  • Adjustable back tension
  • Seat size
  • Chair height
  • Seat height
  • Whether or not it is covered by Medicare

Does Medicare Cover Wheelchairs?

Wheelchairs are covered by Medicare Part B as durable medical equipment, but only if the user’s doctor submits a written order stating that the user requires a wheelchair in their home and has met all requirements for limited mobility required by Medicare. Patients pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount after their Part B deductible has been met, and Medicare covers the remaining 80 percent. Some Medical Advantage plans may also cover the cost of wheelchairs.

Other Factors To Consider When Shopping for a Wheelchair

You can help narrow your wheelchair choices by first answering a few questions about your or your loved one’s needs. Factors to consider include:

  • Manual or electric
  • Weight and size of the wheelchair
  • User strength and ability
  • User body type
  • Needs and requirements
  • Lifestyle needs
  • Driving control
  • Transportation and storage capabilities
  • Design preferences

Frequently Asked Questions

The cost of a wheelchair varies depending on the type of wheelchair and its features and accessories. Manual wheelchairs are less expensive, costing as little as $100 up to more than $1,000. Power wheelchairs are more expensive and cost about $1,500 to more than $30,000 for specialized models.

Pricing is accurate as of February 24, 2022.

WRITTEN BY

Jennifer Walker-Journey is a writer with special interest in the research, development, and federal regulations of medical devices, pharmaceutical drugs, and psychedelic therapies. Her clients include law firms, healthcare systems, financial corporations, public health entities, and digital marketing groups. Her work has been featured in USA Today, HowStuffWorks, Psychedelic Spotlight, Health, AARP, Everyday Health, Women, and Sea Island Life, Salamander, and Omni magazines. She is also a contributor to the books Birmingham: Magic for the New Millennium and Birmingham At 150: Built To Last. When she is not writing, she runs, almost daily, and still considers qualifying for the Boston Marathon among her greatest accomplishments.