Growing old oftentimes comes with the need for assistance when it comes to mobility and the first difficulties seniors face are losing muscle mass and experiencing joint problems (the most common one being arthritis). Also, losing balance or becoming immobile because of back or leg injury, weakness resulting from a surgery, diseases involving the nervous system (like a stroke or Parkinson disease) are all consequences that lead to the use of walking aids. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around half of the Australian elderly (50.7%) have a disability and 19.7% of the women and 11.9% of the men need a walking aid.
There are two purposes of the walking aids, the first one being rehabilitation as a part of a programme when recovering from an injury or operation, and the second one being the need for a long-term aid when there is a continuing difficulty with walking. Using walking aids as part of a rehabilitation process leads to a gradual progression towards unassisted walking with the ultimate aim to regain as much as independence and safety as possible. When full recovery is not possible and the illness or disability is permanent, a long-term mobility aid is required. Choosing the appropriate type of walking aids for elderly ensures the improvement of stability and helps the person to feel more confident. This type of assessment must be done by a physician. Here are the most common types of walking aids for elderly people.
The walking stick’s basic purpose is to provide help with balance and help with the pressure on the joints for seniors with light to moderate difficulties in walking. They help support the body’s weight and help transmit the heavy load from the legs to the upper body. There are different kinds of sticks: wooden, metal and folding ones. The wooden sticks have a crook handle and are available in different diameters and strengths but they aren’t as adaptable as metal sticks. Metal sticks, on the other hand, are stronger with fixed length or they can be height adjustable. They can be found with right-angled handles, crook shaped handles or anatomically shaped handgrips. The folding sticks have sectioned shafts that can be folded for storage in a handbag for example. The stability is ensured by a strong elastic that is placed inside of the shaft. A very important thing regarding the correct use is the correct height. If the height is not appropriate, then all of the support will be inadequate and can cause discomfort. The best way to adjust the correct height is to stand in the regular footwear with the arms hanging relaxed with a slight natural bend at the elbow. The distance between the wrist crease and the ground is the appropriate height.
Walkers offer great stability and are a better option than the cane when greater support is needed. However, to use a walker, there has to be a moderate hand and arm strength. The walker should be able to support up to 64% of the senior’s body weight according to a study conducted by Youdas, Kotajarvi, Padgett. Walkers with non-wheeled frames, also known as zimmer frames, are mostly used indoors. They have four legs spread widely apart but may be a bit difficult to get through doorways. There are also wheeled frames which make moving a lot easier. The correct height of a walker is measured from the floor to the wrist with the waist flexed in a range of 15 degrees. The frame should be large enough to surround the user from three sides so it can be used for both front and side support.
Rollators are wheeled walkers with hand brakes and seats and are the most popular walking aids for the elderly. They are very easy to use as they have a seat and a basket which enables doing outdoor activities like walking and shopping. They can be three-wheeled and four-wheeled. They enable a faster walk with the use of less energy. However, some seniors find them difficult to handle in situations like getting on or off buses. To choose the correct height of the walking frames, the height of the handgrips should be at the level of the wrist bone when the senior’s elbows are very slightly bent (at an angle fo 15 degrees). Most of the frames are made of aluminium and can be found in a different range of colours.