Choosing The Right Walking Aids For The Elderly (Updated, 2023)
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.
- What Are Walking Aids Useful For And How Can They Help?
- Do Walking Aids Prevent Falls?
- Choosing The Right Walking Aid
- Things To Consider When Choosing The Right Walking Aid
- Types Of Walking Aids For The Elderly
- Walking Sticks
- Walkers With Wheels
- Walking Trolley
- Rollator Frames
- Zimmer Frame
- Gutter Frame Walker
- Walking Aid Accessories For The Elderly
- Walking Aids For Elderly – Safety Tips
- Maintenance For Walking Aids
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 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:
Giving awareness to others around you
Decreased weight bearing through a limb
Allowing rest periods when needed
Can reduce breathlessness when walking
Do Walking Aids Prevent Falls?
OK, I’m about to debunk a myth here – having a walking aid is actually a risk factor to falling. I know this sounds crazy but there’s no strong evidence that directly shows that a walking aid reduces falls.
The wrong walking aid or a walking aid used in the wrong way can be dangerous and increase the risk of falling over. So it’s ever more important to make sure you and your loved one do you due diligence and choose the mobility support that’s best for them. It’s not one size fits all!
The right walking aid can 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.
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
Right, you know that choosing the right walking aid is key. But how do you go about this? Read on to feel educated but we just want to flag that if your loved one has complex needs, then individual advice from a physiotherapist could be necessary.
You can access physiotherapy via a referral through your GP or you can pay for a private physiotherapist (look for one on the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy’s (CSP) Find A Physio section).
Things To Consider When Choosing The Right Walking Aid
|The functionality of the walking aid||For 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.|
|Environment||Where 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).|
|Stairs||Does it need to be taken upstairs? Do you need two mobility aids, one for upstairs and one for downstairs?|
|Storage||Where can you safely store it? Particularly for those living in flats with outdoor walkers.|
|Hand problems||Do they have any problems with grip? Or pain in their hands?|
|Visual problems||Any 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 problems||Will they be able to learn how to use to and remember to use it?|
|Behaviour||Do 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 status||After 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.|
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.
If your parent has never used a mobility aid, then it’s likely that a walking stick is a good place to start, especially if balance is their main concern. If they feel supported and stable with this, then that’s a win – you’re on the way to helping them regain their independence.
Plus, they’re a great way of letting others know when you’re in public that they may need to take a little more care around you. No strangers banging into you when they’re rushing to the shops!
To make a walking stick work best for your mum or dad, follow this criteria:
- Height adjustable walking stick: The stick should be relieving pressure on joints and reducing falls risk, but if it’s the wrong height then it won’t be. Your chosen walking aid should rest at hand height so no hunching is needed.
- Comfort: If you want your parent to use their mobility aid, make sure it’s comfy on the hand.
- Safety: Look for a CE mark and you know the walking stick has been tested and safe for long term use.
Knowing all this, this is a good entry point height adjustable walking stick. It is lightweight, with a smooth ergonomic handle and a deep ferrule (the bit at the bottom of the stick that absorbs impact).
We’ve written another article going into lots more detail just on walking sticks – hope you find it interesting!
If your parent doesn’t need a walking stick all the time, but feels more confident having it on them then a foldable walking stick could be the way to go.
Keep it in your bag and get it out when needed (maybe when walking to and from the bus stop for example). Or, your parent can pop it away when they arrive at lunch – it stops people seeing they have a mobility aid and also creates more leg room.
This folding walking stick is a good option (and you could even get a few for different bags, leave one in the car etc!). It’s height adjustable so you don’t have to compromise on safety for convenience.
Don’t like the floral pattern, or want more to match different outfits? They’re a good price so go and take your pick from the wide selection! It collapses into four parts (that remain joined).
The Hurrycane is a tri-foot walking stick so it gives more support if your parent feels unsupported or is going to be walking on uneven terrain (hello cobbles!). It’s ever so slightly bigger at the bottom but you’d have to really squint to see it, and that extra size provides that extra support.
The base also pivots which makes it more supportive (it moves with you in essence) and it also folds up so isn’t cumbersome. I like it a lot. And it also comes in a variety of colours.
You need to grip a walking stick, so what happens when arthritis affects your hand movement? Luckily there are specific walking sticks for arthritis sufferers that don’t require such a grip and relieve joint strain.
I like Fischer handle walking sticks. The handle looks a little like a wave, and this design means that the user can spread their weight across the palms. You can get a Fischer walking stick for left or right handed so make sure you buy the right one! And yes, they can be adjustable like this one.
A quad walking cane ticks certain boxes that a walking stick can’t. Stays upright and where you left it (unlike a stick that needs to be placed over something or can drop to the floor). Tick. Provides more solid stability. Tick.
So if your loved one has been looking a little unsteady using their original cane, and you think they need something else (maybe an alternative to a zimmer frame) then this could be the natural next step.
A quad walking cane doesn’t need to be cumbersome or eye-catching though. Enter the Benecane. The four feet sit neatly (and ergonomically placed) at the bottom, balanced out by an adjustable stick and handle with good grip.
The handle is offset which means it helps with balance too by distributing body weight evenly and the stick is made from aluminium so is super lightweight.
Word of warning though, please don’t use a quad cane on the stairs as it’s a falls risk! It might be ou want to invest in a stair lift to help your parent get up and down stairs.
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.
What should you look for with crutches? You want a height adjustable elbow rest (and ideally a cushioned one which moulds to your shape if you’re going to be using the crutches for a while). You should also be able to adjust the height of the leg and need a good shock absorbing ferrule at the bottom. This option is a great cost-effective alternative to the NHS standard issue grey crutches and and you can also buy cushioned hand grips for these handles to prevent blisters.
Please note, I wouldn’t normally recommend underarm crutches as when used incorrectly they can cause pain.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 caddy||This 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 crutches||These super soft gel cushion grips relieve hand pain caused by standard crutches.|
|Replacement ferrules||Walking 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.
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.
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!
They work on the basis of increasing the users base of support and therefore their stability and walking pattern.
They can help with many different problems for example balance issues, lack of confidence, fatigue and breathlessness.
Yes there are many different types of walking stick for instance, height adjustable, folding, all terrains, and quadrupods.