For older adults who need a bit of assistance with mobility but do not require the full support of a wheelchair, medical walkers can provide the necessary balance and stability.
Looking for a walker can seem like a difficult task. Which walker is the best for you? How do I pick the right one? It might be that your doctor recommended a walker for you or other options like a cane do not give you enough support. Whatever the reason, walkers can help older adults maintain an active lifestyle by providing a safe way to stay mobile.
Finding the right walker to fit your needs is important and talking to your doctor can help you narrow down which walker would be best for you. Understanding the reason why you need a walker will help you zero in on selecting the best features to support you in the way you need.
Types of walkers
· Standard walker. A standard walker is a simple frame with four rubber-tipped legs that a person can lean on for support. These types of walkers are made of aluminum to keep them lightweight. Of all the options, standard walkers offer the steadiest support. They are the best choice for people who tend to fall or cannot place weight on a leg due to injury. However, standard walkers only allow for fairly slow movement, and they are not suitable for uneven surfaces. They are also not good for people who lack upper body strength.
· Front-wheel walker. This walker, which has wheels on the two front legs, is helpful if you need some, but not constant, weight-bearing help. A front-wheeled walker is just like a standard walker, except that it has non-swiveling wheels on the front legs. The two wheels make it easier to maneuver over rougher surfaces. Because front-wheeled walkers are designed to be pushed forward rather than lifted, they take less of a toll on your upper body. However, they do not provide as much stability as a standard walker. Some models have removable wheels, allowing them to be converted into standard walkers.
· Rollator walker. a "rolling walker" is a type of walker that has either three or four wheels along with hand-operated brakes. The difference between a rollator and a walker is that all of the legs on a rollator have wheels, some of which swivel to make turning easier. Rollators are designed for people who have relatively good balance and only require light support. Most models come with a storage basket or pouch, and four-wheeled ones also have a built-in seat to allow for rest breaks. Rollators are well-suited for outdoor use and can also be used indoors. However, they are heavier than traditional walkers and are harder to fold up to put in a vehicle.
· Three-wheel walker. This walker provides balance support like a four-wheel walker, but it is lighter weight and more maneuverable.
· Four-wheel walker. This walker is for people who do not need to lean on the walker for balance.
· Knee walker. This walker is like a foot-propelled scooter, but it has a platform for resting your knee.
If you have an unstable gait and need to bear a significant amount of weight on a walker, a standard walker is best. If you have an unstable gait but do not need to bear a lot of weight on the walker, a two-wheeled or rolling walker can work just as well. And if you just need a walker to help you balance, the four-wheeled is a great place to start.
Most walkers come with plastic grips, but you have other choices as well. You might consider foam grips or soft grip covers, especially if your hands tend to get sweaty. If you have trouble grasping with your fingers — due to arthritis, other joint pains, or nerve problems in your fingers — you might prefer a larger grip.
Choosing the correct grip will relieve unnecessary stress on your joints and help prevent joint deformities. Whichever grip you choose, be sure it is secure so that it will not slip while you are using the walker.
How to walk correctly with your walker
· If you need to place weight on the walker as you move, start by pushing the walker about one step ahead of you. Keep your back upright. Don't hunch over the walker.
· Next, place one leg, or your injured leg, into the middle area of the walker. Don't step close to the front bar. Keep the walker still as you step in.
· Finally, push straight down on the grips of the walker as you bring your other leg forward. Repeat the process by moving your walker forward and stepping into it one leg at a time.
When you use the walker, stay upright as you move. This will help protect your back. Always step into the walker, rather than walking behind it. Do not push the walker too far in front of you or set the handles too high. Also, take small steps when you turn and move slowly. Be careful when using your walker on surfaces that are slippery, carpeted, or uneven. Watch for objects on the ground. Wear low-heeled shoes that have good grips on the soles.
· Some walkers fold for easy storage and transport.
· Some walkers with wheels have hand brakes.
· Trays can help you carry food, drinks and other items to a table.
· A pouch attached to the side can carry books or magazines.
· Seats are useful for people with limited endurance who need to take breaks while walking.
· Baskets are useful for people who shop while using a walker.
Whatever walker you choose, do not overload it and make sure you maintain it.
Talk with an expert who understands your needs
With so many choices, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor, a physical therapist, or an occupational therapist before you buy a walker. They can help you get going in the right direction.
You can also work with an assistive technology specialist. This is an expert who helps individuals select and use adaptive devices.
Key features to focus on
Adjustability - Adjust your walker so that it fits your arms comfortably. This will reduce stress on your shoulders and back as you use the walker. To tell if your walker is the correct height, step inside your walker and: Check your elbow bend. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, place your hands on the grips. Your elbows should bend at a comfortable angle of about 15 degrees. Check your wrist height. Stand inside the walker and relax your arms at your sides. The top of the walker grip should line up with the crease on the inside of your wrist.
Handle height—If a walker's handles are too low, you will be forced to hunch over. If they are too high, you will have trouble transferring your weight to your arms. Fortunately, most walkers can be adjusted for different heights. You measure for a rollator or walker by asking a friend to measure the distance from the crease in your wrist to the floor while you are standing straight with your arms hanging loosely at your sides. The proper height for a walker is where the handles line up with the bend in your wrists. Ideally, you should look for a walker that can be adjusted at least an inch lower and higher than that so that you can adapt it for different shoe heights or floor surfaces.
Seat height—Four-wheeled rollators have built-in seats, so if you're considering that type of walker, you should make sure the height of the seat will work for you. Measure the height of a chair that you are able to get in and out of easily and keep this figure handy when comparing rollators. On some models, you can adjust the height of the seat.
Width—A walker that will be used indoors needs to fit through your home's doorways. Some bathroom doors are only 22 inches wide (or even less), so be sure to check yours. Most walkers are 22 to 27 inches wide at the base, but some models are extra narrow. The width between the handles is also important. Your hips should fit comfortably inside the walker; if it has a seat, you should have about an inch of clearance on each side when sitting down.
Weight of the walker—You do not want a walker that's too heavy for you. This is particularly important if you are looking at a standard model, since you must be able to lift it off the ground with each step. But weight can also be a factor with a wheeled walker if you will be loading it into a vehicle or carrying it up a front stoop.
Brake type—Most rollators come with loop brakes in the handles that engage when you squeeze the levers. If you have issues with arthritis or hand dexterity, you may find such brakes too difficult to use. Alternatively, some models have push-down brakes that are weight activated. (Standard and front-wheeled walkers do not have brakes.)
Capacity—All walkers have a weight limit, so look for one that's appropriate for your size. Most are designed to hold people who weigh up to 250 or 300 pounds, although some models can support up to 500 pounds.
Foldability—Many walkers fold for storage or transport, but the process of doing so can be easier for some models than others. For instance, some walkers have baskets that must be removed before folding. If storage space in your home is an issue or if you need to lift the walker in and out of a car, you will probably want a model that easily folds down to a manageable size.
Price—Generally speaking, a walker costs between $40 and $150*, depending on the type you choose. Standard walkers are the least expensive, and rollators are the most expensive. Walkers are covered by Medicare Part B as long as a healthcare provider deems them to be medically necessary. If you have coverage under Part B, you will typically have to pay your deductible plus 20 percent of the cost of your walker. (Note that your claim will not be approved unless you purchase the walker from an approved supplier. If that is a concern, medical supply companies that are enrolled in Medicare are where to buy walkers for seniors.)
Whichever style you choose; it is important that you maintain your walker so that it can continue to do the job you got it for. Worn-out or loose rubber caps or grips and loose or excessively tight brakes might increase your risk of falling while using a walker. For help maintaining a walker, consult your doctor or physical therapist.