The right walker can enhance a person’s mobility and independence. But the wrong fit can mean additional pain, mobility challenges, and even an injury. Here are the factors you need to consider when helping a loved one select the right walker for their comfort and wellbeing.
Sizing Criteria for Selecting the Right Walker
While selecting a walker might seem straightforward, there are many factors to consider when it comes to fit. A properly fitting walker helps promote the user’s mobility, helps keep them safe, and is convenient and easy to use.
How can you ensure the right fit for your loved one? Crucial sizing criteria include:
- User height
Other factors are at play, too, but first, we’ll look at how height, weight, and strength are the essential measurements to think about when selecting a walker.
How Height Affects Walker Sizing
It makes sense that a taller person would require a taller walker, but it might surprise you how tiny differences in height can impact the user’s body. Even an inch or two in the wrong direction, whether up or down, can mean posture problems and difficulty using the walker.
Someone who is too tall for their walker might hunch over it, causing back pain and prolonged muscle problems. An incorrect size can also present safety hazards as the person is not able to use it the way it’s designed.
Since fall hazards are already significant with people who have mobility challenges, reducing the risk of tripping is a helpful preventative step. A too-short walker can cause a person to stumble, but a too-tall walker is just as hazardous.
With a walker that’s too tall, a person of smaller stature may find it difficult to hold on properly. They may be straining arm and shoulder muscles, trying to maintain a grip while they walk.
For an ideal fit, have your loved one try a walker out for comfort and usability. Their elbows should bend at around a 15-degree angle, which is a loose bend rather than straight out or at 90 degrees. With relaxed arms, the person should be able to grip the handles of the walker securely.
How Weight Can Impact Walker Fit
You might not think that weight is a factor for standard walkers. Of course, with a walker that has a built-in seat, weight becomes a significant measurement. But even for standing-only type walkers, weight can make a difference.
Someone heavier or overweight needs a heavy-duty device. The product should carry a rating, such as a maximum of 350 pounds, that tells you whether it’s a good fit for your loved one. Also, consider that many people prefer to hang bags or other items on their walkers. This frees up their hands to hold onto the device, but it also adds significant weight to the frame.
If a heavier person uses a walker with a low weight rating, it could present a fall hazard. Depending on the material type, the walker could bend or even snap, causing injury to the user. Therefore, paying close attention to weight limits is vital.
Body size also factors in, because some walkers include a seat for occasional use. A walker needs to be wide enough that the user can walk within the supportive frame. It also needs to provide enough surface area for sitting, as applicable.
Why User Strength Matters with Walker Fit
Although your loved one may be mobile enough to walk with the assistance of their device, it doesn’t mean they can handle lifting and maneuvering it with ease. Regardless of their height or size, they may deal with muscle weakness or other conditions that leave them vulnerable to pain and strain.
If your loved one has difficulty with lifting, folding, and pushing objects, consider a lightweight or ultra-lightweight model. A lightweight rollator, for example, is easy to lift and fold as necessary. Further, a traditional walker, the type without wheels, may be too heavy for many people to manage. In many cases, a wheeled model is much more suitable for people with muscle weakness.
Special Considerations When Selecting a Walker
While your priority should be getting the right fit for your loved one, there are other elements to consider when choosing a walker. For example, we tend to use the term “walker” to encompass every mobility assistance device that requires standing. But there are walkers and rollators, which have different features and suit unique needs.
Here are special considerations when selecting a walker, from the type of walker to the features and accessories it offers.
Walkers versus Rollators
Technically, a walker involves four “feet.” Today, many use two feet and two wheels, but you might picture a walker with tennis balls on the “feet” to help it slide across the ground. Either way, the general term also encompasses four-wheeled walkers, also known as rollators.
A significant difference between walkers and rollators is that rollators are free to roll on their own. A user must push the device, but they must also operate hand brakes to slow down or fully stop. For some people, a rollator can offer increased independence and help them get around faster.
That said, a rollator isn’t for everyone, and you need to consider specific factors for your loved one, such as:
- Hand and grip strength (to manage the brakes)
- Reaction time (to handle speed and slowing down)
- Ability to walk for extended periods (or the inclusion of a seat)
- Specific health needs (such as carrying oxygen on the rollator)
Common Walker Features
Plenty of features and accessories can help your loved one feel better about using their walker. Many features make it easier to use and handy to have around. Here are common walker features you may want to consider when selecting a device.
- Wheels: As noted, many walkers feature either two or four wheels for enhanced mobility. Wheels can reduce the need for people to lift or push their walkers with as much force.
Brakes: Rollators with four wheels use hand brakes to slow down and stop. Brakes are a nice safety feature, but users need grip strength to be able to operate them.
- Seats: A folding or permanent seat can provide a rest spot for users who have difficulty walking long distances. The option to sit down can mean more freedom for people with mobility challenges without the need for a wheelchair.
- Baskets and bags: An attached basket, bag, or spot to clip one on provides necessary storage space for your loved one. Whether they need to bring medical devices, medication, food, or just a sweater along, walkers with storage meet such needs.
- A fold-away tray: Some walkers include a tray option which folds down when not in use. Trays and even cupholders offer further utility for your loved one and can promote independence.
Large wheels: Many rollators have larger-diameter wheels for traversing uneven ground. If your loved one requires additional stability but still enjoys walking beyond sidewalks, bigger wheels might be the perfect solution.
- Sizing adjustments. Walkers often have height adjustment buttons or tabs. However, many walkers have limited size ranges, and you may not be able to make them wider or deeper, for example.
While these walker features may be available on various devices, you might not find every element you need in a single model. Therefore, you should prioritize fit and comfort above other features and accessories.
When to Choose a Wheelchair versus a Walker
For many people, using a walker is the first step when mobility challenges occur. However, in some cases, it might be a better idea to use a wheelchair rather than other mobility devices. Overall, a walker is probably a good fit for your loved one if they:
- Can walk for short distances without assistance
- Have a temporary condition that requires short-term aid
- Are mostly independent and can maneuver safely
- Have adequate grip strength to hold onto and steer a walker
- Do not have a health condition which could result in severe injury if they do suffer a fall
In contrast, a wheelchair may be a safer and more comfortable option if:
- Your loved one has a condition which may cause their health to decline further
- They have already experienced a fall and suffered an injury
- They lack muscle strength to maneuver a walker or hold onto the handles
- Your loved one requires substantial caregiving assistance for daily tasks, including
- getting out of bed and handling personal care
- Walking any distance causes exhaustion or stress
While opting for a wheelchair rather than a walker is not a decision many caregivers face for their loved ones, it is another variation of normal for many families.
Final Thoughts on Selecting the Right Walker
Choosing the right walker for your loved one involves knowing their body type and health needs. But it also requires understanding their motivation and level of independence. Overall, using a walker can often provide the stability they need to continue to enjoy their current hobbies and pastimes while staying safe.