Wheelchair use by patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: A survey of user characteristics and selection preferences

Marilyn Trail, Naomi Nelson, John N. Van, Stanley H. Appel, Eugene C. Lai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Objectives: To determine wheelchair types and features that are most beneficial to patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), to ascertain at what stage of disease and disability patients benefit from wheelchair use, and to pinpoint the differences in patient characteristics between the users of manual and motorized wheelchairs. Design: Internally generated questionnaire. Setting: A neuromuscular clinic. Patients: Forty-two patients (28 men, 14 women) with ALS who used wheelchairs and whose mean age was 53.9 years (range, 32-75yr). Main Outcome Measure: Wheelchair users completed a 39-item survey. Results: At the time of the survey, the patients' mean Appel ALS rating scale total score was 84.5 (range, 48-138), indicating moderate disability. Forty-one patients reported that wheelchairs permitted them greater interaction in their communities; 33 were "very satisfied" with the positive impact of wheelchair use on their activity levels. Most users did not work and needed caregiver assistance for activities of daily living. The most desirable wheelchair features provide extra comfort (supports for the head, neck, trunk, extremities) and have improved maneuverability (light-weight frame, smaller wheelbase). Undesirable features are low sling backs and sling seats, nonremovable static leg rests, and large frames. No significant differences were reported between manual wheelchair users and motorized wheelchair users in terms of overall disease symptom severity, arm and leg strength, and bulbar function. However, motorized wheelchairs offer patients a greater sense of independence and an improved sense of wellbeing. Conclusion: Information obtained directly from wheelchair users with ALS provided first-hand experience concerning the most and least desirable features of wheelchairs and may help other ALS patients make informed decisions when purchasing a wheelchair.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-102
Number of pages5
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2001


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Rehabilitation
  • Wheelchairs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation


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