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Do Seniors Need Advanced Walkers? How They Can Help

As the aging process takes place, mobility can become compromised, leading to an increased risk of falls. Seniors can feel isolated and need to depend on others for mobility assistance, so exploring all durable medical equipment (DME) available to them is essential. Advanced walkers can offer significant mobility benefits under the right conditions and improve overall independence for aging in place.

What is an advanced walker?

An advanced walker is a device that helps with balance and stability for functional mobility. Advanced walkers come in various types and have features such as built-in seats, brakes, and now, with advances in technology, smart capability to assist with safety.

Types of advanced walkers

There are many brands of advanced walkers available to seniors. Companies market their products based on different capabilities and features, but first and foremost, get familiar with the different types of advanced walkers. It is important to start with the type that would be the best fit and evaluate features and other specific components.

  • Rolling walkers (Type 1). Two-wheeled, three-wheeled, and four-wheeled (rollator) options as well as handles at the waist level
  • Upright walkers (Type 2). This walker is for standing straight up with arm support at the torso level
  • Combination walkers. Knee walkers to support one side and propel using the other leg; smart enabled and/or electric walker with self-propelling features; combination four-wheeled walker with the ability to turn into a wheelchair with handle support for user and aide

Benefits of advanced walkers for seniors

Advanced walkers offer numerous benefits for seniors. If used correctly with proper training and education, they can improve seniors' ability to perform everyday tasks and enjoy outings in their communities.

  • Increased stability and balance reduce fall risk and provide confidence during walking
  • Improved mobility allows for longer walking distances and greater independence
  • Pain management supports weight and can alleviate pain in legs or joints
  • Enhanced independence enables continued participation in daily activities
  • Improved mental well-being promotes physical activity and a sense of control

When to consider an advanced walker

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health identified that seniors can experience gradual physical decline that results in loss of mobility, physical activity, strength, endurance, balance, and sensory functions. Alternatively, seniors can also experience changes in mood and perception of functional ability, resulting in decreased overall functional movement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four seniors over the age of 65 is more likely to experience a fall, and one in five falls results in a serious injury such as a broken bone or head trauma. Once a fall has occurred, a senior is also more likely to experience subsequent falls, and it is important to identify the cause.

Falls can be mechanical or physiological, and it is best to discuss with your primary care provider when mobility is starting to become compromised. In addition to generalized decline, other medical conditions can hinder a senior’s ability to walk. Conditions such as Parkinson’s, dementia, orthopedic injuries (i.e., hip and knee replacements), obesity, cardiac issues, neurological deficits, and even certain medications can also negatively affect a senior’s ability to walk and perform daily tasks.

Use the list below as a quick guide to determine if an advanced walker may be right for you and to further discuss with your doctor.

  • Difficulty maintaining balance with a standard cane
  • Increased pain or weakness in legs or ankles
  • Fear of falling while walking
  • Difficulty standing for long periods
  • Reduced stamina or endurance when walking

Choosing the right advanced walker

When deciding the best choice for the use of an advanced walker there are a few areas to consider:

  • Type of advanced walker (rolling, upright, combination). Choosing the correct advanced walker is necessary to fit the needs of the senior. The different types to choose from are based on the ability and needs of the senior and should be selected with the help of a medical professional.
  • Cost (Medicare coverage is sometimes an option). Advanced walkers can be inexpensive, but with smart capabilities coming into play, they can now cost in the four-figure range. Make sure to keep a budget in mind if insurance isn't available, as most advanced walkers don't need all the features to be effective.
  • Size. If an advanced walker is intended for indoor use, it needs to fit in your current living quarters. Advanced walkers can typically fold down for travel; however, not all have this feature. Make sure to assess your car/trunk capacity if you plan to have the walker in the community.
  • Features. Brakes, seats, baskets, smart enabled, etc., should be chosen based on the anticipated needs of the senior.
Most importantly it is highly recommended to consult with a medical professional whether your primary care physician/specialist and/or a physical/occupational therapist in order to perform an assessment for suitability to ultimately assist with selecting the most appropriate walker. Poor selection of an advanced walker can lead to falls and even serious injury.

Safety tips

The safety tips below are general guidelines when finding the correct advanced walker. Keep in mind to also check any additional safety recommendations that are specific to the type and brand of advanced walker you plan to use.

  • Proper fit. Ensure your advanced walker is set to your specific height and adjusted prior to use
  • Use of brakes on inclines and declines
  • Proper walking techniques with the use of your specifical advanced walker (i.e., allowing for adequate heel-toe gait pattern without hitting walker components) *this requires a professional assessment typically provided by a physical or occupational therapist
  • Avoid using a walker in a hazardous environment such as uneven ground, or in inclement weather such as rain
  • Maintenance for your walker such as keeping brakes tight and handles properly aligned

Alternatives to advanced walkers

It is important to consider that advanced walkers may not be the right choice depending on the factors previously mentioned. Alternatives for functional mobility could be electric scooters, wheelchairs, exoskeletons, and/or a combination of all to meet the needs of the senior. It is always best to consult with your primary care physician when determining the right device for continued mobility.

For a lot of seniors, the benefits of using an advanced walker can assist with everyday mobility to continue independence while aging in place within the comfort of their established living environment. The importance of consulting with medical professionals on the selection of an advanced walker is of high importance since choosing the wrong type can lead to falls and even serious injury, which can be detrimental and life-altering. Advanced walkers are not hard to use; however, they typically will require proper fitting and education to maximize the full potential of the walker and the ability of the senior.

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