How To Stop Elderly Wheelchair Users, Who Can’t Walk Very Far or Fast, Heads From Dropping

The elderly can be grouped depending on their mobility abilities. Each group has their own requirements that will make their wheelchair seating experience more comfortable and safe. Make sure to read every blog to thoroughly understand each category. 

Elderly who “can’t walk fast or far” often encounter poor sitting posture because they are using the wrong wheelchair configuration. It is important to learn the correct seat depth, width, and height for each user.

What is the correct wheelchair seat depth

If the seat depth is too deep, there won’t be enough space behind the user’s knees so it will be uncomfortable for the user to sit for long stretches of time. The user will begin to slide forwards to find a more comfortable seating position, compromising their spine position and dropping their head.

When the seat depth is too shallow, the lack of thigh and seat contact means the user leans forwards, drops their head, and puts all of their weight on their feet to find some stability.

Left; The seat depth is too deep and forces the user to slide down the wheelchair. Right; The seat depth is clearly too shallow. The user has no thigh support so their solution is to lean forward and find support on their feet. Source: Karma Taiwan

To measure the correct seat depth, the user’s hips should be as far back on the wheelchair as possible. Secondly, the position of the pedals should be adjusted properly. Lastly, leave a space of two fingers (3 cm)  between the edge of the cushion and the user’s calf. 

What is the correct wheelchair Seat Width

Sometimes users may think that a wider seat width may be more comfortable, however this is not true. If the seat width of a wheelchair is too wide, there is no steady trunk support for the user and they will lean to one side to find the support they originally lacked. This will cause problems in the long run such as scoliosis. If a better fitting wheelchair is unavailable, then added lateral support or wedges on each side of the user’s thighs will make them more comfortable. 

What is the correct wheelchair Backrest Height

If the back height of a wheelchair is too low, the user will have no head support and have no choice but to slide forwards and drop their head. On the other hand, if the backrest is too high, self-propelling the wheelchair becomes uncomfortable. The correct back height for a self propel wheelchair therefore should reach the shoulder blades. For elderly users who have poor trunk control, the back height should be higher to provide more support. 

Left; Backrest is too low! The user is leaning forwards and dropping their head. Right; The backrest is too high to comfortably self propel.

Curved Headrest

If the purpose for these users is to use the wheelchair for long periods of time then using a simple curved headrest will make resting in the wheelchair more comfortable. The curved headrest is height, depth, and angle adjustable. This headrest is able to be folded alongside the wheelchair. 


For this group of users, choosing a wheelchair with the correct depth, width, and seat height will prevent the elderly user’s head from dropping. If necessary, the user can also add accessories such as a headrest. to make the user more comfortable. 

The next blog in this series will explore how to help user’s who can’t walk, prevent their head from dropping by assessing their seating arrangement to make it more comfortable and safe.

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