In this article, we are looking at walkers and their various features, including how to use them correctly.
A walker is typically used if weakness and balance problems cannot be corrected by using a cane. Walkers provide much more stability than canes, and decrease the amount of load taken through the legs. Bigger and heavier than canes, they require more room to maneuver, and cannot be used on stairs.
There are many types of walkers, and selecting the best one depends on the level of mobility and where the walker will be used -indoors, outdoors, or both.
The three most common types of walkers are standard, two wheeled and four wheeled.
To ensure the walker is at the correct height, place both hands on the handgrips of the walker. Elbows should be slightly bent and the handgrip should be at wrist level when your arms hang by your sides. If not, the height of the walker needs to be adjusted.
This is the moist stable type of walker, but the user must have enough strength and balance to safely lift the walker, place it one step length forward, and step into the walker. This walker is designed for short distances, mainly indoor use, and to help with transfers (getting from one surface to another, such as on and off the toilet).
These walkers are not as stable as standard walkers, but are more stable than four-wheeled walkers. The wheels are typically in the front, and can be mounted in a fixed position or on a swivel caster, which increases the maneuverability of the walker. The back can either be posts or glides (sometimes called skis). Sometimes slow-down brakes on the back of the walker can be added, if you find the walker is "getting away from you" when you are walking. It is best to choose a collapsible walker, to make it easier to lift in and out of a vehicle.
These types of walkers are easy to maneuver and are equipped with a seat, basket and tray to carry items. They generally have larger wheels, which makes them much safer for outdoors and longer distances. Hand brakes will ensure that they can be easily engaged and disengaged. This type is the heaviest of the walkers, and does not fold flat, which can make it difficult to lift in and out of a vehicle.
General points to remember when using a walker:
- To sit down on a chair, stand with your back to the chair. With the walker close to you, place the back of your legs against the chair, and both hands on the armrests or sides of the chair, while lowering yourself gently onto the chair.
- To stand up, put the walker in front of you and slide forward in the chair. With your hands on the arms of the chair, push yourself up into a standing position, firmly grasping the handles of the walker.
- Look straight ahead when you are walking, as you may run into or trip over something if you are looking at your feet.
- Always walk inside the frame of your walker. If your arms are straight out in front of you when you are walking, or if you are getting a sore back, chances are you are not using the walker correctly.
Sandy Daughen is a registered Occupational Therapist.
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