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Senior’s Mobility: Cane or Walker? Selection Tips

Two people walking down a side walk. One is using a cane, the other is using a walker.

A reduction in mobility is a common side effect of aging, with as many as 35 percent of those 70 years old less mobile, according to a 2020 publication of Frontiers in Physiology.

Once you’ve determined you need walking assistance, how do you choose between a walker or a cane?

You can decide whether you need a cane or walker based on your steadiness, balance, and strength.

Choose a walker if you feel unsteady or unbalanced on both sides. A cane is the more appropriate choice for weakness or pain on only one side. 

You’ve come to the right place if you’re seeking more guidance on whether to select a walker or cane.

This article will discuss matters of safety and efficiency so you can make a confident selection. 

How Do You Decide If You Need A Cane?

First, let’s discuss whether you’re a good candidate for a cane.

Canes can help you walk and are generally prescribed when you have an issue on one side of your body, such as weakness or pain from an injury, illness, or medical condition. 

Use a cane if you’re facing these scenarios.

You Can’t Maintain Your Balance

If you find yourself continually fighting for balance, this can be a side effect of age. The issue might get worse with years, increasing your fall risk.

A cane can help you recover and maintain your balance and independence.

You Have A Fear Of Falling

Do you sit out life on the sidelines due to your fall anxiety? You could make yourself so nervous about slipping that you cause a fall, so you just stay home.

There’s no need to miss out on events with family and friends when a cane can stabilize you. You’ll be less likely to fall, so you can overcome your fears.

You Generally Need Support

You’ve gotten handrails installed throughout your home, so you always have something within arm’s reach for gripping. You struggle without support, feeling uncertain on your feet.

A cane will be the support you need when you leave the house and your reliable rails. 

Is A Cane Or Walker Better For The Elderly?

Now that we’ve assessed the scenarios when a cane is the right choice for the elderly, let’s look at your other option, a walker. 

A cane has only one leg, while a walker has four. Whether a walker is the right solution depends on your stability and strength. 

Walkers provide more stability than a cane, and they can stabilize both sides of the body rather than one.

If you have an especially severe condition or injury that’s hampered your mobility, your doctor might recommend a walker. 

Since you hold the walker with two hands rather than one, like when using a cane, your wrists and hands incur less strain.

That can make prolonged use of a walker more efficient for seniors, as you don’t want to hurt your wrists when your legs or feet are already causing you pain.

However, walkers have their own issues you must consider before choosing one.

For example, using a walker is a bit laborious, as they are unwieldy. You might feel like you’re moving especially slowly.

The size of a walker can limit your ability to access some places, especially if the opening isn’t wide enough for you and your walker to fit through. 

Ultimately, whether you use a walker or a cane is a decision that requires careful thought and consideration.

You should also strongly consider consulting with your doctor or physical therapist. They have insights into your medical history and fall risk and can suggest the best option to enhance your mobility.

The following tables can also help in your decision-making.

Cane ProsCane Cons
Lightweight and easily transportable; some models even fold upCannot use them immediately after surgery
Designed for many types of surfacesNot the most effective option for severe mobility problems
Can lessen joint strain and stressYou must know how to use a cane properly or you can strain your back, arms, and hands
Customizable, including height and styleYou must walk carefully with a cane to avoid tripping over uneven or cracked sidewalks and other surfaces
Available in many styles and types to suit you
Can reduce fall risk by improving balance
Best for limited mobility problems
Walker ProsWalker Cons
They’re a sturdier, safer solution than canesThey’re heavier than a cane
Wheeled walkers make getting from Point A to Point B more efficientTransporting a walker is more difficult and might require a wheelchair ramp
They provide a great level of support They have a steep learning curve
Recommended for those with severe mobility problems
Excellent at weight bearing, especially over canes
More supportive and can reduce arm and back strain

Is A Walker Safer Than A Cane?

Safety is another matter to consider when choosing between a cane or a walker. 

Walkers are the safer option of the two. As established, a walker provides greater stability, which can keep you upright in scenarios where canes cannot.

A walker is less likely to increase your fall risk if walking on uneven or cracked surfaces. The metal bars wouldn’t get caught in a sidewalk crack the same way they would when walking with a cane. 

You must still be careful and cognizant of where you’re walking when using a walker, but there’s more leeway due to the structure and design of this walking aid. 

When Can I Use A Cane Instead Of A Walker? 

That said, you don’t always need a walker over a cane. If you have minor mobility issues, you’re better off using a cane and potentially graduating to a walker later. 

The following situations precipitate the use of a cane.  

You Have A Chronic Condition That Degrades Your Ability To Walk

Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis are two chronic conditions that can rob you of mobility. You might have better days sometimes where you feel somewhat sure of your walking ability, but a cane is always there to fall back on so you can get around. 

You’re Recovering From An Injury On One Side

Consider a cane if you broke your ankle or sprained your toe. Any other type of injury that only affects one side of the body also meets the criteria. 

A cane will support you, allowing you to avoid further strain while you recover. You also don’t have to become bedridden thanks to the cane.

You Have Weakness Or Balance Issues

Bodily weakness and unsteadiness are usually side effects of age but can also accompany some medical conditions or diseases.

In this case, cane use would be more permanent, and you might have to consider using other mobility devices if your condition worsens, such as a walker or even a wheelchair.

You Can’t Walk Without Pain

Walking should not be painful unless you’re doing it for miles per day.

If you’re struggling to get around your house or local neighborhood without pain slowing you down, you should ask your doctor about a cane or another mobility aid.

You’ve Just Had A Stroke

Strokes can cause bodily pain, muscle movement loss, and paralysis, making walking difficult and sometimes impossible.

A cane is one option you can explore to get around after a stroke if your doctor approves it. 

You Have A History Of Falling

Have you fallen recently? Statistically, you have a greater likelihood of falling again. Using a cane after a first fall can potentially prevent a second or third one, so talk to your doctor about whether you should consider a cane for keeping upright. 

You Had Surgery In the Legs Or Feet 

Surgical recovery from a foot or leg procedure could mean bed rest for days or weeks.

Once your doctor gives you the okay to be up and mobile again, a cane can assist you in walking until you feel more confident on your own two feet.

However, it’s not ideal for use right after surgery. 

You Have Hip Issues

Osteoarthritis causes the hip cartilage to lessen, and bony spurs can sometimes develop, impeding movement.

A cane is one potential remedy for the mobility issues that can follow a diagnosis of osteoarthritis. 

Bottom Line  

Walkers and canes are two of the most popular types of mobility aids. They offer varying levels of support and are good choices if you have a history of falls or are recovering from a stroke or injury. 

While we hope this article helps you choose between a walker or cane, you should always clear your decision with your doctor. 

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