Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Features of riser recliners

It's important that you get a chair that fits properly, and meets all your needs. If you're an average size and shape, and don't need anything complicated, you may be able to get an 'off the peg' chair. Otherwise, you'll need to get one made to measure - this is more expensive, and may take some time.

The chair's fit is especially important if you are very small or very large. Some suppliers provide chairs for very small users, with seat heights that go down to about 15 inches (38cm). For very heavy users, they offer chairs that support 30 stone (190kg) and up.

Look and feel

Back rests

There is a range of different back styles, which you can try for comfort.

Waterfall backs (sometimes called 'pillow' backs) give you extra support, and are adjustable so you can get the support where you need it.


Soft chair back

Firm chair back

Button chair back

Waterfall chair back

Head rests

Some chairs come with cushions that give you extra support for your head. These need to be at the right height (round ones just behind the neck, flat ones behind the head). Some are adjustable so you can get them right.

Side supports

Some chairs can be fitted with side supports to help keep you upright, which is important if your back is weak or tends to bend to the side at the bottom. If you think you need side support, make sure you discuss this with a professional - get an assessment.

Wooden arm ends

Sometimes called 'knuckles', these can make it easier to stand up and sit down by providing a solid gripping surface.

Fabrics

Riser recliners come in a range of fabrics, as well as leather. You can also get waterproof or stain-resistant fabrics. Some manufacturers will cover a chair with fabric supplied by you, so it will match your existing furniture, or supply matching sofas and armchairs along with your riser recliner.

Functions and operation

How many motors?

Most recliners are operated by either one or two motors, though some have more. The more motors the chair has, the more flexible it is.

One-motor chairs lift the leg rest and then recline the back so you can sit with your feet up and your back upright or reclined. Two-motor chairs are more flexible because you can move the leg rest up and down and the back rest backwards and forwards independently.

For many people, a one-motor chair that has tilt in space will be good enough. In fact, it may be of more use than a two-motor chair that doesn't have tilt in space.

Tilt in space

'Tilt in space' is a reclining action where the whole seat tips backwards, not just the back rest. This can be better, because it spreads your weight more evenly; lifts your legs much higher; and avoids uncomfortable (and possibly harmful) 'shearing', where the back rest moves separately from the seat and rubs against your back.

Some chairs with two or more motors have both actions, so you get the benefits of tilt in space, but you can still get it all the way flat if you want.

Riser recliner chown with legrest up, reclined and lying flat
'Tilt in space' riser recliner

Battery backup

Most riser recliners have emergency batteries to make sure you don't get stuck in your chair in a power cut. Some can be supplied with rechargeable battery packs so they can be used away from a plug socket.

Left-handed operation

Most riser recliners come with the hand control on the right. If you can't use your right hand, tell the suppliers when you order the chair - most can fit it on the other side.

Wallhugging

Most recliners need a lot of space behind so they don't hit the wall when reclining. Chairs with a 'wallhugging' action slide forwards as they recline so they can be put only a few inches from the wall. Of course, they do need more space in front than other riser recliners.

Crush prevention

With some riser recliners, there's a risk that children or pets could get trapped in the mechanism as you lower the chair. Some have safety devices to stop this - look for a chair that meets the relevant British Standard (BS8474). Ask company reps or sales staff about this, or look for the information in the catalogue about which chairs meet the standard.

Massage and heating

You can get built-in massagers and heat pads, which are meant to make your back more comfortable. These may make you feel better, but the physiotherapists we spoke to said they had no therapeutic value.

Pressure relief

If you spend a lot of time in your chair, it's important to move from time to time. This will help keep joints mobile, maintain good circulation and prevent discomfort and the possibility of pressure sores. Getting the right size and support can help, and so can using the reclining action in the right way (see Tilt in space).

Some chairs come with 'memory foam' cushions that mould to your body, or with gel pads to spread the pressure more evenly. There are also electrical systems that work by pumping air or water through the cushion to ease pressure points. This has the same effect as if you shifted your weight from time to time.

If you have a pressure-relieving cushion of your own that you use with a wheelchair, for example, some suppliers will provide a chair with a hole in the seat for your cushion. This can also be useful if your needs change - you can change the cushion but keep the same chair. It's sometimes called a 'drop in' cushion.

If you're getting a chair with pressure-relief features, it's best to discuss it with an expert - get an assessment.

Pressure sores

If you're sitting or lying in the same position for a long time, this may cut off the blood supply to the parts you are resting on. You may notice sore or red patches on your back, bottom or heels. These can develop into serious and painful sores, especially if you're weak through ill health.

You'll need to take advice from a district nurse or GP about this before it becomes a serious problem.

Last updated: October 2016


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