Choosing The Right Walking Aids For The Elderly

Full length portrait of an elderly man with a walker and another man with a cane walking towards the camera isolated on white background

There’s a fantastic selection of walking aids for the elderly, helping your loved ones to stay independent and get around which has a huge impact on their day to day life.

There are many different reasons for using a walking aid and many different types of walking aid on the market.  In this article I will take you through some of the most common reasons for using a mobility aid, different types of walking aids to consider and their benefits.

I’m Nancy, a physiotherapist with experience in elderly rehabilitation. I’m passionate about helping older people stay as active and mobile as possible and achieve their goals.

Some of the links in this article are affiliate, which means that if you click on them and go on to purchase, I might make a commission at no cost to you.

What Are Walking Aids Useful For And How Can They Help?

Walking aids are often referred to as mobility equipment. They work on the basis of increasing the user’s base of support and therefore their stability and walking pattern. Walking aids are therefore often the most useful for people who lack balance.

However they can also be used for a variety of other issues. Here is a short list of things that they can help with:

Increasing stability
Increasing confidence
Giving awareness to others around you
Decreased weight bearing through a limb
Allows rest periods when needed
Can reduce breathlessness when walking

Do Walking Aids Prevent Falls?

Having a walking aid is actually a risk factor to falling! There is no strong evidence that directly shows that a walking aid reduces falls. However what walking aids can do is increase balance and confidence, which can help break a negative falls cycle. 

The negative falls cycle is where someone who falls loses their confidence. They then becomes less active as they avoid certain activities and therefore weaker and not as balanced, putting them at higher risk on falls. Therefore more likely to fall again and so the cycle continues.

There are many different reasons why people fall over and they require a multifactorial approach to reduce their falls risk. 

Thinking about getting a mobility scooter? We spoke with an industry expert to understand everything you need to know before buying a mobility scooter. From the different types available, to where to purchase (clue: not online!), we’ve got all the information to help you make an educated purchase.

It is also important to remember that there are disadvantages to walking aids as well, and that the wrong walking aid or a walking aid used in the wrong way can be dangerous and increase the risk of falling over.

Choosing The Right Walking Aid

There are many different types of walking aid and choosing the best one for your parent can be hard. A physiotherapist is the best person to guide you especially when someone has complex needs. 

You can access physiotherapy via a referral through your GP or you can pay for a private physiotherapist.  At ElWell, we offer physiotherapy to people in their homes in Oxfordshire.

You can also find a private physiotherapist through the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy’s (CSP) Find A Physio section.  All physiotherapists should be HCPC registered and you can check if they are registered here by entering their name.

Things To Consider When Choosing The Right Walking Aid

The functionality of the walking aidFor example do you need a walking aid with seat or a way of carrying items around the home? Find out how it’s going to meet your elderly parent’s needs.
EnvironmentWhere is it going to be used? Indoors or outdoors? Is there enough space for it around the home (kitchens and bathrooms can be particularly tricky areas).
StairsDoes it need to be taken upstairs? Do you need two mobility aids, one for upstairs and one for downstairs?
StorageWhere can you safely store it? Particularly for those living in flats with outdoor walkers.
Hand problemsDo they have any problems with grip? Or pain in their hands?
Visual problemsAny visual problems that may make it hard for them to use it? Or do they require an aid to make others aware of their visual problems?
Memory problemsWill they be able to learn how to use to and remember to use it?
BehaviourDo they want it and will they use it? Do they have a preference or feel there is stigma attached to using it? Any challenging behaviour, consider if the aid could potentially be used as weapon.
Weight bearing statusAfter an injury you may need to refrain from putting weight through a limb while it heals. Your consultant should guide you as to how much weight they are happy for your elderly parent to put through the limb.

We’ve written about useful products to make life easier at home. There’s items for the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and more. Simple tricks can make the home so much safer.

Types Of Walking Aids For The Elderly

When considering a walking aid for an elderly person there are many different types of walking aids, so here I will take you though some of the common ones.

If we start by looking at those that offer the least support and then work our way down to those that offer the highest levels of support. I have included links to some which I recommend below too.

Have you thought about your loved one’s bed set-up? If you’re considering an adjustable bed, or just want to know more about (cheaper) bed aids, then our article on this topic is for you.

Walking Sticks

Walking sticks offer increased balance and confidence but are also a great way of letting others know to beware of you when you are out and about.  Most people use one stick but you can also use two if required to increase balance.

You can have a standard walking cane which can be made from wood or there are adjustable versions made in a lightweight metal, like the one below.

We’ve written another article going into lots more detail just on walking sticks – hope you find it interesting!

You can also find an attractive folding walking stick which you can keep for certain situations or when you get tired.  

There are also ones which are designed for giving more support on uneven ground, such as this all-terrain Hurrycane.

If your parent has arthritis, you can purchase a walking aid with special grips.  Be sure to purchase one for the correct hand as they come in left and right versions.

Quadrupods and tripod sticks can be particularly useful for hemiplegics (a weakness down one side of your body). These mobility aids offer a wider base and greater stability and allow the person to weight bear through their strong side while stepping with their weaker side. 

They are also free standing so the person is free to push up from the chair into standing not needing to hold on to the stick until they are up. Quadrupods and tripods are not suitable for use on the stairs.

Crutches

Crutches and most commonly elbow crutches are used after an injury where you are trying to only partially weight bear through the affected side. They require the person to have good upper body strength when used in this way. 

Elbow crutches can also be used as a single or in pair depending of the level of need.  They offer more stability than a stick but people can find them annoying to take on and off.  Generally they tend to be use as part of a rehabilitation programme or for a temporary period.

Technique is also important when using elbow crutches.  The arms can be removed from the cuffs before sitting down and only placed through the cuffs once the person has stood up and not while getting up.

You can buy a variety of colourful crutches making them a bit more fun and attractive.

You can also get underarm crutches but these are not something I would normally recommend – if they are not used correctly then can cause pain and injury under the arm.

Walkers With Wheels

When referring to wheeled walkers we tend to mean the variety with four wheels, although you can also find deltoid frames with three wheels. 

All wheel walkers should have a braking system and most are designed for outdoor use. They are suitable for people that don’t need to put much weight through the aid but lack balance or confidence.

Specific things to consider when choosing walkers with wheels are:

1. Do you need a basket for shopping?
2. Do you a seat for when you tire? If so a walker with seat and wheels would be a good option.
3. Does it need to fold to get it into a car?
4. How heavy is the walking aid?
5. How wide is it does it easily go through your front door for instance?

Wheeled Walkers With Seats

Wheeled walkers with seats are also very useful if the user suffers with fatigue or breathlessness – this is a great option.

I also like this lightweight wheeled walker which is also foldable! Made from carbon fibre and aluminium, don’t be fooled by its weight – it is very sturdy. It has height adjustable push handles, a seat and a detachable bag which can be used for shopping.

Walking Trolley

Tray trolley walkers are often used as walking aids even though they are not designed for this purposed.  However there are some now on the market that do safely offer this dual purpose.  They are great for bringing meals from the kitchen to an eating area or moving items around the home, often doubling up as a table by your chair to keep a phone and a few essentials.

Shopping trolleys however should not be used as walking aids. This is a good, afforable option.

Rollator Frames

If you’re wondering what is a rollator, you’re not alone! Rollator as a term is sometimes used interchangeably with wheeled walker, but rollators tend to be the variety with two wheels at the front and two stoppers at the back. Rollator frames give more support to the user by allowing them to put more weight through the frame. 

Rollator walking frames are designed to be used indoors only and offer those with more sizeable walking difficulties further support while helping them to maintain a fluent walking pattern.

Zimmer Frame

These are frames with no wheels that need to be briefly lifted forwards in order to move. They provide good support to those needing to heavily put weight through them.

This type of frame however will interrupt the user’s gait and will prevent them from walking freely as they will need to stop to move it forwards.

Zimmer frames can also be useful for people who are severely limited by shortness of breath. A zimmer frame can help to splint the airway open in the same way that when you get out of breath on a run you might stop and lean through your arms against a wall or your own knees.

If space is an issue you can find narrower versions and even versions that fold.

Gutter Frame Walker

A gutter frame walker (also called a forearm walker) allows you to weight bear through the full length of your forearms, offering great support for those who have severe lower limb weakness or have problems with thier hands meaning that they can’t weight bear through them.

A gutter frame can be quite challenging to use though as they are quite bulky and can be difficult to stand up to. My advice would be to see a physiotherapist if you think that you may need one of these. If they give the go-ahead, this Mobilex walker is a good suggestion.

Walking Aid Accessories For The Elderly

There are a variety of different walking aids accessories but here are few of our favourites.

Walking frame caddyThis Buckingham caddy is ideal for moving everyday items easily around the house. It increases safety as the user isn’t holding the item too.
Hand grips for crutchesThese super soft gel cushion grips relieve hand pain caused by standard crutches.
Replacement ferrulesWalking stick ferrules provide enhanced grip and stability, and can easily be replaced when worn down. Try these high quality rubber ferrules.

Walking Aids For Elderly – Safety Tips

An elderly person may need help to ensure the safe use of a walking aid and to maintain them.

Make sure that they know how to use it for instance, not to pull up on a frame as they can slip causing a fall.

Seek advice form a physiotherapist to help choose the right aid for you if needed and learn how to use it properly.

Beware of their posture when using a mobility aid as bad habits can develop quickly.

Declutter the home environment to allow room for the walking aid to be used safely.

Check the maximum load the aid is designed to take.

If you want to help your parents declutter their home, then read our article on top tips for you from a decluttering expert.

Maintenance For Walking Aids

Check regularly for damage and or wear.
Ferrules wear down and will need to be replaced.
Check the brakes are working effectively.
Check adjustable sticks and crutches as they can become worn around the joins.
Some suppliers offer annual checks for more complex walking aids.

Conclusion

Overall finding the right walking aids for elderly people can greatly improve their ability to get about and participate in activities they want to. However it is important to take time to consider which is the right walking aid for any given person. If in doubt seek advice from a physiotherapist. The wrong one or the right one used wrongly can be more of a hindrance than none at all!

FAQs

How can a walking aid help an elderly person?

They work on the basis of increasing the users base of support and therefore their stability and walking pattern.

What kinds of problems can walking aid help with?

They can help with many different problems for example balance issues, lack of confidence, fatigue and breathlessness.

Are there different types of walking stick?

Yes there are many different types of walking stick for instance, height adjustable, folding, all terrains, and quadrupods.

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