The Role of Mobility Chairs – Past, Present and Future

by | Blog

Mobility chairs of today are a far cry from the very first recliners, which were developed in the 1850s by the French military.  Initially designed for field use but soon adopted for the home, these multifunctional reclining chairs could be used as a chair, bed or chaise longue and were portable with a steel frame and padded armrests.  It’s questionable how comfortable they would have been, especially compared to the luxurious cushioning and fabrics that we’re now used to, but in the 1850s they became a popular piece of furniture, with Napoleon Bonapart’s nephew, Napoleon III, reportedly owning one. 

Meanwhile, the British weren’t far behind in their furniture design – the first British reclining chair, the Morris chair, emerged in the 1860s.  This hinged back chair, which allowed the user to recline, became a big hit. 

Over the Atlantic, the idea of a reclining chair became more and more advanced, and early in the next century a patent was granted, in 1928, for a chair developed by two cousins – now a household name, the ‘La-Z-Boy’.  The chair reclined when the user leant backwards.  In the 1940s, further design development saw built-in footrests added, then, in the 1960s, a furniture maker who’d spent time in the Air Force developed the ‘foot-lift’ rest that we’re more familiar with now.  This design was based on kinetic motion and NASA was so impressed with the scientific design that they used it to develop seats for space shuttles.  

Again, these new style chairs became popular in living rooms all over the world due to their superior comfort and multifunctional nature.  During the same period, TVs were becoming a more common fixture in households so much of the marketing focused on the comfort and relaxation aspect of the reclining chair.  However, at the same time, more specialist companies focused on the health and mobility benefits that these chairs could offer, developing features that had been specifically designed to aid and support users with various physical difficulties and limitations.  

 Nowadays, riser recliners no longer rely on the user’s weight to tip back into a reclined position, as motors can do this at the push of a button and in a much more steady and controlled manner.  Various reclining options such as dual motor and tilt in space can provide different types of reclined positioning to provide support and health benefits – with dual motor enabling the back and footrest to move independently, while tilt in space allows the whole seat to tilt backwards maintaining the same angle.  

Cushions, padding and various types of highly developed foam materials provide support for a range of users’ healthcare needs, and fabric coverings offer health benefits as well as adding style and making the chairs aesthetically pleasing rather than just plain and practical.   For more specialist needs, bariatric riser recliners and portable chairs for use in hospitals, hospices and care homes have been developed. 

Breathable foams, cooling materials, pressure-relief technology, antibacterial and anti-viral coatings have been added … and advancements continue.  The more we learn medically about various conditions such as stroke, Parkinsons, dementia, diabetes, and other diseases, the more designers can apply this science to riser recliners to provide even better support and help patients to improve health, happiness and independence.  At the same time, technological and material advancements continue, providing even more options for further development.

So, what could we see in riser recliners of the future?  Well, the sky’s the limit! (Not literally – we wouldn’t want our chairs going off into orbit!)  But we’re limited only by our imagination.  When William Morris came up with the design of the first British recliner back in the 1860s, we doubt that he could have foreseen the type of chairs our users enjoy today … so we can only imagine what another 160 years of design development may bring!  Currently, riser recliners are generally operated by a remote control, but perhaps Bluetooth technology could enable fully remote control via an app, allowing healthcare professionals to remotely help users to recline, stand, change position or provide pressure relief?  Pressure sensors could provide notifications or alerts to carers and loved ones should a user fall, slip or slouch, or via sensors the chair could automatically inflate or deflate cushions to provide optimum support and posture correction.  Likewise, temperature sensors could offer a similar solution for temperature regulation.  Automated motion could help people to change position regularly, chairs could give reminders to take medication or log tablets that have been taken (again with updates or alerts to medical staff).  They could even manage stock levels and order repeat prescriptions on your behalf!  Automated cushion adjustment could be programmed for different users so, by scanning their fingerprints, the chair could identify who was sitting in it and adjust accordingly to the optimum size, shape and level of support.  The possibilities are endless … and incredibly exciting!  

If you were designing the riser recliner of the future, what features would you like to see? 

We’ve loved seeing – and delivering – the developments in riser recliners over the years since we’ve been providing mobility seating, and we can’t wait to see what the future will hold for our industry.

Source for historical information:

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