A cooling wheelchair pad or seat cushion is a necessity for people who spend extended time in a mobility chair. Sitting for long periods puts individuals at risk for developing pressure sores and bruises. In addition, vibration and heat can cause additional pain and discomfort.
In his book, Living with Spinal Cord Injury, author Adrian Cristian, MD, explains that a good seat cushion [or wheelchair cooling pad] should provide pressure relief, absorb heat, and be able to maintain its shape despite the pressures placed on it.
The National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel, a nonprofit group dedicated to the prevention of pressure ulcers, has established nine characteristics that determine the effectiveness and safety of wheelchair cushions. Following is an overview of the seating pads and cushions available to wheelchair users.
These standard seat cushions are lightweight and inexpensive. They come in a variety of foam densities and sizes to accommodate the wheelchair seat, as well as the comfort of the user.
Foam cushions typically last six to 12 months and should be checked regularly to ensure they are providing adequate pressure relief and are still comfortable.
Cooling Wheelchair Pads
Cooling wheelchair pads are similar to cooling cushions people use on car seats and office chairs. They are specifically designed to reduce heat build-up and moisture from underneath the legs and buttocks that occur from extensive sitting.
These chair pads offer pain relief and provide comfort for a number of hours, based on pad design and construction.
Gel cushions are heavy, distribute weight evenly, and provide good seating protection. While they are extremely durable, it is importantthat gel cushions maintain their shape and the wheelchair user isn’t "bottoming out" on the pad.
If so, it needs to be replaced. Sometimes gel pads are constructed with foam cores or foam bases to promote comfort and alleviate this issue.
Wheelchair Air Cushions
These cushions have air chambers and can be inflated to adjust to the wheelchair user’s comfort and sensitive areas. While lightweight and waterproof, they are subject to leaks and punctures, and should be checked regularly.
Hybrid and Other Types of Cushions
Some manufacturers make cushions by combining materials like foam and gel, as noted above. Others have developed new materials for their cushions and pads, such as composite foam to enhance air circulation and moisture prevention.
Before deciding on a cushion, ask your health care professional which type is best for you. If possible, try out different cushions and pads for yourself to see which you like the best and gives you the most comfort.
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Seat Cushion Considerations
Wheelchair Cup Holders
Advantages of a Wool Wheelchair Cover
More Information: Cooling Wheelchair Pad
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Wheelchair Tie-downs for Transport
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