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How do you know when it is time to replace your wheelchair cushion?
You have to begin with visually inspecting the cushion and the cover for signs of wear. Since wheelchair cushions are categorized by their primary and secondary materials, the inspection will vary according to the type of material in the cushion.
Typical materials in a cushion include foam, viscous fluid, elastomer and air to mention a few. For instance, a cushion that has fluid inserts within a foam base was identified as foam being the secondary material while the fluid was considered the primary material.
Wear & Tear Study for Wheelchair Cushions
A study was carried out to see the effect of cushion usage over time. The cushions were inspected every 6 months and researchers inspected the cushion covers looking at the condition of the zippers, material, seams, attachments and pockets. If possible the cushion covers were removed and the cushion itself was inspected.
The average daily cushion use of the participants in the study was 12 hours per day.
The results indicated that the cushion covers showed the most wear and tear especially to the seams and fabrics. As the cushion age increased, so did the percentage of damage to the cushion cover.
For the cushions themselves, foam cushions had more visible signs of damage compared to those filled with fluid or air.
For foam cushions 12 months old or less, 60% showed compression set, changes in stiffness or granulation. That figure jumped to 84% when the cushion age was 36 months or older.
For the air cushions, 12 % of visual inspections showed damage to the air bladder and 3.5% indicated damage to the valve. Cushion age was not used for this part of the study.
For fluid cushions, 5% of inspections indicated damage to the fluid bladder seams or the welded parts and 14% showed tears and breaks that were visible. Again, cushion age was not part of this study.
Different Materials for Cushions
The material alone could be the reason for the discrepancy in noticeable wear between foam, fluid and air cushions. By its makeup, foam compresses once a load is applied. Fluid and air displace when a load is applied. Therefore different materials react differently when under loads.
The study indicated that age isn’t the best predictor for wheelchair cushion replacement. Visual inspection is the best way to determine when a cushion or its cover needs replacing. The way and the amount of time the cushion is used will also affect how quickly it will need to be replaced.
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