There are four main alternatives when it comes to choosing the right wheelchair cushion. These four alternatives are foam, gel, air floatation, and urethane honeycomb. Foam is affordable, quite lightweight and comes in a wide variety of densities, as opposed to the soft and airy material of old. As a matter of fact, foam cushions now have a memory that allows them to ‘remember’ your individual shape.
Unfortunately that memory is not long-lived and the cushion may lose its shape. Foam offers even support and no leakage, and can be cut to alleviate pressure ulcers. In general, foam wears out more quickly than other fabrics, and contrary to its intended purpose, old and compressed foam may actually cause sores. However, due to their low price foam cushions shouldn’t be too hard to replace.
Gel wheelchair cushions
provide great pressure distribution and are rather comfortable. In addition, they may be supplemented with inserts to stabilize the legs. The gel is actually attached to a foam base, and this endows it with superior conformability. The major downside of gel cushions is that they are heavier which, among other problems, would defeat the purpose of a lightweight wheelchair. Moreover, they are more likely to leak and less able to absorb shock. There is also the risk that they will bottom-out; that is, that gel will be pushed aside by the user’s weight. This problem may be avoided by kneading the gel at least once a day in order to keep the fluids flowing and evenly spread.
Air flotation cushions are lightweight and distribute pressure evenly. Unlike their gel counterparts they won’t bottom out as long as they are inflated adequately. Furthermore, they are waterproof and can be modified to alleviate pressure ulcers. Air flotation is a closed system of interconnected rubber balloons organized in rows. By shifting the air out to the surrounding balloons the pressure is uniformly balanced against the skin of the user. Sounds pretty good, but that agreeable state of affairs requires high maintenance and constant pressure checking to be kept working properly. Also, air flotation cushions are less stable and have a higher chance of puncture and leakage.
Last but not least, urethane honeycomb is highly lightweight and have a low profile appearance. The weight is evenly distributed, and support and shock absorption are the order of the day. These wheelchair cushions consist of single cells arranged in the pattern of a beehive, which keeps the skin cooler and prevents moisture and skin breakage. Probably the biggest selling point of these cushions is that they present no risk of puncture or leakage. To leave no loose ends, let’s add that they are machine washable and dryable. They don’t seem to have too many drawbacks, other than their very newness, which means they don’t have an extensive track record as of yet.
Related Read: How to choose the right size wheelchair?