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.

Aging Parents: 101-Year-Old, 4 Years After Broken Hip Surgery, Still Mobile and Living Alone

To begin the New Year, a happy follow-up–on Sr. Advisor R’s once broken hip.

Four years ago this month R left the rehab center after spending 4 months there. At the time Medicare only covered 3 months. Fortunately R had a secondary policy that helped with the 4th month. Don’t know what Medicare covers today. Do know that getting all information about insurance coverage, in advance, makes sense. It provides a framework for decision-making. That’s always helpful.

Today, at 101, R is completely mobile. She now walks with a cane when she goes out (which she didn’t do before she broke her femur). She uses her cane at home when she “feels unsure.”

While “feeling unsure” isn’t something younger people normally experience when walking or driving a car, it seems to be a feeling older people are attuned to. For example, I remember Edie (a Woman’s Club member in her late 90’s who aged well) saying something like “On days I don’t feel sure of myself, I don’t drive.”  “Know Thyself” seems important for aging well independently.

What has changed since R’s surgery:

R says she has no mobility problem–gets around fine, however–

The leg affected by her broken hip has never been as limber or as strong as it was before the surgery and is weaker than her other leg. Exercise is a must.

The muscles are weaker (even though she has religiously done the exercises learned in rehab since returning home). That leg also has less range of motion. For example, she says “I can’t just raise that leg (while sitting down) to put on a sock without help from my hand to rest my leg on a stool that I put in front of me. Then I can put the sock on.”

“If you don’t exercise that leg you’ll have trouble walking. So many just sit in a chair and don’t bother to do the exercises and pretty soon that leg doesn’t work so they walk less and sit more,” says R. “Many people just give up. I don’t want that to happen. I’m either going to be out of here (dead)–or I’m going to continue doing what I have to do. If you want your independence, you have to keep doing–your exercises and everything else.”

R credits the right cane (see next post) for giving her ease of mobility. She’s certain that the cane she’s now using is a big reason she’s been able to continue to go out with friends and live independently, alone. It was an important purchase that has helped her age well.

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.