Choosing the Best Walker–101-year-old, Aging in Place: Mobility Continues 4 years After Broken Hip Surgery

The “Best” Walker is the Right Walker
(and can change as needs change)

The right cane and the right walker empower elders, enabling them to continue their routines as before. Reduced mobility, on the other hand, is obviously not empowering, creates neediness, and can lead to less contacts with others–not helpful in aging well independently and not helpful to us if we’re caring adult children.

Having the right “tools” makes everything easier–for any situation actually. (Learned this in a “Home Repair” course; found it a truism.) It’s not rocket science that an easy-to-use, dependable walker is the right “tool” to continue mobility and an active life.

But do we realize that the first walker purchased may not be the ultimate walker? Here’s why–

1. We often select quickly (possibly the one used in rehab).
2. We often select the least expensive.
3. Subsequent factors, like balance and aging parent stability may lead to buying a studier walker.

We see many people using light weight walkers with 4 legs, tennis balls or skis on the back legs. Click link to physical therapists’ video before purchasing. It discusses important limitations (ie. light weight compromises stability. It must be picked up every time a step is taken). The research, time and money to purchase a walker that fits needs and gives parents’ confidence is well-spent.

Our first trip to the surgical supply store after R’s release from rehab yielded two walkers: a basic one with front wheels and skis on back legs, and a more expensive, heavier walker with wheels, skis on back legs and a basket/seat (which she never used).

R used the basic walker in the house…until her cane arrived three days later. Basic walker went into the garage. R says once you’ve fallen you need to feel safe when you walk. Ever since rehab, her cane has given her complete confidence to walk…until a year ago. Then serious vision problems began  affecting her balance and confidence. “Bit by bit, then more and more” she used that basic walker from the garage. Last spring she needed a new walker.

Why and how it’s used–

R wanted a tray attached to her walker, but her walker wasn’t compatible with existing ones. Thus, a new walker, with tray, was purchased . According to R it’s less wide (thus more comfortable), very sturdy and weighs less. The skis on the back legs and wheels on the front work fine on carpets. R only uses it in the house. When she goes out she always uses her cane. She feels safe with that.

She switched to her current walker, this Guardian Signature walker plus extras: the front wheels (attachments): $66.75; the back legs’ ski glides: $15; attached fold-down tray: $39.95. 2014 total: $131.80 

While not covered by Medicare, it’s “worth every penny,” according to her. (She still does her own finances.)

The tray is used daily–for moving food from oven to table, refrig to oven, delivered things to kitchen, bedroom etc. Also, R still has easy-care leafy green plants that need watering. She likes taking these plants to the kitchen sink, but holding a cane and carrying a potted plant doesn’t happen! Her current walker with the 2 recessed holes filled a need.

A friend in her 70’s, who had polio as a child, has purchased countless walkers over decades. She now prefers rollators–walkers with 4 wheels, which make them very sturdy and easy to to use inside and outdoors. (I’d never heard the term before speaking with her.)

Rollators come with seats, baskets, trays, cup-holders and various other options.  She has one for indoors which has different “amenities” than the collapsable one used for going out. The latter has a fold-up seat, offering a place to sit if needed, but no tray. It’s less heavy, making it easier to lift into/out of the car. (Grandkids love to sit on it, she tells me.) That said, I know adult children who don’t like taking parents out because it entails lifting a collapsable walker. Do they need lessons?

My friend says four wheels plus good brake handles are very important if the walker is to be used out of the house (think uneven pavement and inclines). Over the years she has purchased walkers on line or through catalogs and some at stores like CVS and Walgreens, where they “fit” the walker to your measurements. The right height is extremely important. Note walkers for shorter and taller people when checking “Related” below for rollator options. (Site selected because of the excellent pictures and information.)

Great gift: Family members contribute to the purchase the right walker. For seniors who are trying desperately to maintain their independence and age in place, the right walker helps parents age well. It clearly has for R.

Related: Rollator models
              Very good video, excellence hints by 2 physical therapists: Walkers: Wheeled vs Standard

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

When Aging Parents Can No Longer “Do.” Ways To Empower So They Can Continue to “Do.”

“No one likes to see a lessening of themself.”
Julia age 80+

I’ve never forgotten a counseling course at Teachers College.  We were told how important it is NOT to take something away from one’s psychological foundation (it gives us our psychological strength/confidence) without replacing it with something positive/helpful. To take something away and not replace it, weakens the foundation.

Yet normal age-related changes can take away–or at best lessen vision, hearing, energy, flexibility, strength and much else. As we try to help parents age well at some point we become aware of the “lessening” (which parents may have tried to cover up–think driving).

How can we support, compensate, empower or substitute so elders can continue to “do?”

While we know one size doesn’t fit all, we can do some of the leg-work and perhaps partner in the final “doing.”

Five Examples

1.  Julia, a noted master gardener and very proud woman–then in her 80’s– had less energy, less muscle strength and was physically less flexible. Bending and digging in her garden was painful. As a Mother’s Day gift, her adult children accompanied Julia (she still drove) to the nursery. She selected the plants; they planted Julia’s garden. Julia could continue to pick and enjoy the vegetables and flowers and pull a few weeds when she wanted to. With her children doing the physical labor, Julia  continued to do what she loved.

2.  Karen was an instinctively supportive daughter. She always bought more than she needed when items were on sale at the grocery store. Her mother (87) loved cooking, but food shopping was difficult and tiring, especially in NYC with taxis involved. So Karen, who worked full-time, would plan–on a weekly basis– an afternoon, take the “extras” to her mother and they’d cook together. Karen’s mother could continue to “do.” Priceless togetherness–plus her mother had a new supply of nutritious, delicious prepared food–some of which they froze.

3.  Failing hearing was creating a significant loss for Linda’s friend’s mother, whose mainstay was playing bridge. Her bridge group no longer wanted to play with her because of her hearing loss. The friend’s idea: replace  She continued her mother’s weekly bridge games–by asking 6 good friends to play in every-other-week rotations. (See “How a Good Friend Helps.”)

4.  Mobility problems can cause additional problems from falling to isolation. Thus how we support and substitute is key. If it isn’t easy for elders (and those who transport them) to get around, they don’t.  This means doing the research and getting it as right as possible the first time. Translated: initially buying the best required equipment, making certain it’s adjusted so the fit is right, and making certain one uses it correctly–especially canes and walkers (light-weight ones, heavier ones with a basket or tray and/or seat); and wheelchairs (companion wheelchairs, “regular” wheelchairs).  For still-driving people, perhaps a mini-van, whose back area easily accommodates a wheel chair (and obviously a walker), makes everything more doable.

(A polio victim’s son found a used Chrysler Town and Country mini-van for his 74-year-old mother, with a remote that opens/closes doors and the tailgate and a pushbutton inside that opens/closes the aforementioned. She has continued her life, causing little additional burden to anyone.)

5.  Safe driving requires good vision, hearing and reflexes. Carefully-planned solutions need to be substituted or result in isolation or unsafe driving. One daughter offered transportation for social outings when parents no longer drove at night. Since she or her siblings needed to know ahead of time, they and the parents decided on the one night parents would go out each week. With advanced notice they’d make themselves available 1-2 additional nights.

Towns/cities provide transportation services for seniors. Getting them to replace being able to jump into the car and go at will with a bus schedule can be difficult. That said, Aunt Mildred took the bus downtown to the Beauty School in Portland until she was in her early 90’s (and baked cookies for the drivers). When she moved to assisted living, a small bus came, by appointment, so she could continue her hair appointments at the Beauty School (where she also enjoyed gossip, and her manicure).

Creative thinking isn’t everyone’s forte. But we can tap our parents’ doctors, out-of-the-box-thinking friends with aging parents, and professionals specializing in geriatrics (ie. geriatric social workers) for ideas to supplement the “lessening”—as we try to help parents age well by continuing to “do.”

RELATED:  Mayo Clinic article on Canes
                        NY Times article re: problems from non-fitting canes
                        How to buy a cane
                        The Right Cane for Aging Parents  8/13/11 Help! Aging Parents

Note: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.
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