What Is the Difference Between a Power Wheelchair and a Scooter?

Rohan Mathew

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Most people aren’t aware of the differences between a scooter and a power wheelchair. However, in reality, these two mobility aids are actually staggeringly different. Now, it’s important that you understand the distinctions between these two products so that you can choose the one that’s right for your loved one’s needs. For that, we’ve got your back.

What Is a Mobility Scooter?

Otherwise called a power-operated vehicle, a scooter is a mobility device with a swivel seat and a tiller for steering. Depending on the model, this contraption can have either three or four wheels and be disassembled into four or five parts.

Several types of mobility scooters saturate the market, with some of the most popular set apart for their excellent portability. These models can easily be stored in the trunk or back seat of your vehicle, so you should be able to travel with them any time.

Portable mobility scooters also come in varying weights, with the lighter models coming in at 250 pounds. The heavier ones can weigh up to 350 pounds. Note that a scooter above 350 pounds can no longer be considered a true portable scooter.

Portable, mid, and full-size mobility scooters usually have an average speed of about five miles per hour. Basically, the difference between portable, mid, and full-size scooters centers on portability and indoor maneuverability.

The bigger the scooter you pick, the more difficult it is to travel and navigate tight and narrow spaces. However, larger-sized models do have the edge when it comes to traversing the wide variety of outdoor terrain.

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What Is a Power Wheelchair?

With power wheelchairs, you get what scooters cannot provide, which are customizable driving and seating systems. These can be personalized to meet specific disability needs and offer independent control to patients with any degree of usable movement.

A power wheelchair is also driven by a single system made up of three components, which are the seating, base, and drive mechanism. You can alter any of these parts to fit your loved one’s comfort and mobility requirements, from the back and seat cushions to the leg rest, armrests, headrest, and power options.

Whether you’re looking to fit your wheelchair with elevating leg rests, seat elevators, power-tilt, or recline, the choice depends on you and your budget. In a power wheelchair, a joystick is the common drive mechanism. You can have its sensitivity and speed tailored to suit the individual needs of the user.

The one major downside of the power wheelchair is its lack of portability. Still, you can find models that can be disassembled into four or five pieces, allowing for easy storing in the trunk or back seat of your ride.

Which Should You Choose?

If you’re deciding between a power wheelchair and a mobility scooter, first ask yourself: In what environment will the device be used daily? While these two mobility aids can certainly be used both outdoors and indoors, power wheelchairs clearly have the edge in terms of indoor maneuverability.

Some high-quality powered wheelchairs have unique, front-wheel drive designs that make them specifically suited for navigating the tight and narrow areas of your home. On the other hand, most scooter models are built for the more rugged terrain of the outdoors. Most of them feature suspension components for traversing all types of terrain, too.

Now, the last but certainly not the least important consideration you need to make when choosing between these mobility devices is the payment method. A power-mobility device for home use may have a portion of its cost covered by Medicare, for as long as it is deemed medically essential.

A face-to-face exam with your physician will have to be scheduled to discuss the need for a mobility aid. Before considering power wheelchairs or mobility scooters, your doctor will first factor in a manual wheelchair, cane, or walker. So, before Medicare helps pay for a mobility scooter or electric wheelchair, you’ll need to go through a face-to-face examination and get a special prescription from your physician.

In case you have private insurance, speak to a representative of the agency first regarding reimbursement requirements.

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Due to the way mobility scooters are driven, users are typically required to have decent strength and mobility in their arms, good control of their trunk, and excellent motor control to drive them safely and effectively.

This tells you that the device’s driving functions can’t be personalized to suit individual user circumstances. You can’t fit pressure-relieving cushions or pillows on a scooter seat or alter the seat into some type of rehab seating option.

Also, generally speaking, unlike power wheelchairs, scooters have a larger radius for turning, making them more challenging to maneuver in small spaces. More often than not, instances when scooters are preferred involve patients who don’t require specialized seating and just need a method to help them move about outside the house.