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How To Use A Walker Properly (Safety Tips For Seniors)

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Walkers are often used when someone is recovering from an injury or illness which has left them weak. In these instances they are a temporary mobility aid. But as we grow older, we sometimes need a walker to help us at all times. No matter what the circumstances are that you (or a senior loved one) requires the use of a walker – it’s important to know how to use it safely.

So what are the steps on how to use a walker properly? – Know the basic safety rules for using a walker, place the walker a few inches in front of you first and then step back into it.  Never use the walker to pull yourself up from a sitting position.  Never put your full weight on the walker.

Although walkers can greatly assist someone’s mobility – it’s important to know that if they are not used correctly, they can cause that person to fall.

(In a recent study released by the Center For Disease Control) Of the falls related to walkers and canes, you may be surprised to learn that most—87% of elderly falls—were attributable to walker use.

Read more about The Problems With Walkers here.

There are 2 types of walkers that we’re going to discuss here.

  1. A standard walker (like this one that my mom-in-law uses)
  2. A rolling walker (aka Rollator)

Safe Walker Use For Seniors

how to properly use a walker

Following are the basic safety rules to follow when using a walker.

  • In order to properly and safely use a walker, the user must have a fair amount of upper body strength. They will be leaning on the walker and either lifting it or pushing it forward. All of which require some strength through their arms.
  • Never use the walker to pull yourself up from a seated position because it can tilt and cause you to lose your balance. Instead, push yourself up using the arms of the chair and only put your hands on the walker when you are almost fully standing.
  • To sit down – with one hand on the walker, use the other hand to reach down towards the arm of the chair. Once you have a grip on that – release the walker and place your other hand on the other arm of the chair.
  • Never try to carry items with your hands and use the walker at the same time. Instead, I recommend adding a Walker Bag to your walker for this purpose.
  • Make sure you are using a walker that will support your leaning weight – that means about 50% of your weight. You should never put your full weight on a walker (it’s not meant for that).
  • If you are obese, please use a Bariatric Walker which is meant for individuals that require support for extra weight.
  • If possible – avoid using a walker over rugs or any surface that can get bunched up or caught on the feet of the walker. Rolling walkers should be able to maneuver over these areas.
  • Unlike many rolling walkers – standard walkers do not generally come equipped with walker accessories such as trays or bags. I would recommend to add these (if it’s appropriate for your senior loved one). It makes it much easier to place items in an attached bag then to try to use a walker AND carry that item.
  • For rolling walkers with seats – always engage the brakes before you use the walker to sit on it.
  • If your elderly loved one is showing signs of cognitive decline (dementia or Alzheimer’s), my recommendation is to assist them while they use their walker.  It can be extremely difficult for someone with these issues to learn new skills.
  • If the living environment where the walker will be used is too small to accommodate the width of the walker safely – it may be best to install grab bars / handrails throughout the area. The problems are normally with doorways and hallways.
  • As long as you are not dealing with a senior who is also a hoarder – it should be possible to declutter the living area of the home to safely accommodate the use of a walker.
  • When using a walker in outdoor areas, there may be times where avoiding a crowded area is not possible. But if your senior loved one demonstrates poor judgement (which is very common with cognitive decline) and is unable to decide how to avoid pathways that can be problematic – then I recommend that they be assisted by someone in these situations.
  • The use of lighting is extremely important for anyone who is growing older but especially important for those who have problems with their vision.  Making the living environment as bright with light as possible can help some seniors. But for those where their visual skills are too poor to be corrected with proper lighting – I recommend that they be assisted whenever they are using a walker.

How Do You Walk With A Walker?

Standard walkers have 4 legs and sometimes you will notice that the users have placed tennis balls at the foot of those legs to help the walkers glide a bit smoother.

The steps and instructions on how to walk with a walker

  1. Stand with both feet within the frame of the walker and firmly grip the side grips of the walker.
  2. Depending on your balance and strength and type of walker, you will either glide your walker forward and then step back into it’s frame OR you will lift the walker and place it about 2 inches forward and then again, step back into it’s frame. It’s important to take small steps while using a walker.
  3. Step forward with your WEAKER leg first.
  4. Keep the walker close to you – do not place the walker so far forward from you because it could cause you to lose your balance.
  5. Look forward (instead of at your feet) when using the walker.
  6. Always wear non-skid shoes while walking.  A walker can provide you with some stability to stand and walk but it will not prevent you from slipping – so the right shoes are important.
  7. Always keep both hands on the walker. If you place too much weight on one side of the walker it may tip over.

How Should A Walker Be Adjusted?

Have a Physical Therapist adjust the walker so that it is properly set for your height.  To set the height:

  • Ask the user to stand comfortable with their arms hanging by their sides.
  • Measure the distance from their wrist to the floor.
  • The grips of the walker should reach their wrists.

If you are using a walker that is too big, too small, too short or too tall – it may cause you to lose your balance and fall. It’s important that a walker be properly adjusted to your height as well as your weight.

A 90 lb elderly woman who stands 4 foot and 10 inches will have a difficult time managing a bariatric walker intended for a larger person. The same holds true for a 300 lb person using a walker that is not built to hold at least 150 lbs.

The first step is to choose the proper type of walker and the second step is to properly adjust it for the person’s height.

How To Use A Rolling Walker (Rollator) Properly

The steps for properly using 4 wheel rolling walkers (aka Rollators) are the same as what I listed above for standard walkers except for:

  • You won’t ever be lifting this type of walker when you are walking. It will always be gliding or rolling forward.
  • If the rolling walker has a seat, it’s important to put the breaks on first before you turn around to use it as a seat to rest.

How To Use A Walker On Stairs

Although there is a specific technique that caregivers and physical therapists use for going up and down stairs with a walker – when it comes to doing this with an elderly person I would recommend not to. You can see a video here of the procedure.

I would encourage you to instead, use a cane. It’s lighter , easier and safer for you and the person you are helping.

How To Use A Walker With Only One Leg

For anyone who has had a leg amputated or is temporarily unable to use one of their legs, using a walker to help with their mobility takes a little getting used to.  But with the help of a Physical Therapist, you can do it.

Here are the steps on how to properly use a walker if you only have one leg.

  • You want to avoid hopping with your good leg when using a walker. It seems logical to hold onto the walker and hop with your good leg but in actuality, it can cause you to lose your balance and it takes much more energy to “hop”.
  • Use a 2 wheel walker (with wheels in the front of the walker).
  • While standing in the frame of the walker and holding onto the side grips, move the walker forward about 2 inches.
  • Lean your weight on both arms and take a step forward.  You are almost sliding your foot forward but it’s not actually a slide.  You do lift your foot off the floor but just slightly when you’re stepping forward.
  • Repeat this process to keep walking.

Here’s a video showing you exactly how it’s done.

Recommended Walker Accessories

Below are some walker accessories that I’ve recommended to my patients and elderly family members.

Walker gliding skis – These work very well to convert a standard walker into one that can be pushed (but without wheels)

Walker Bag – These are great for holding items

Walker trays – I don’t recommend that you keep this tray on the walker while you are walking, but they are a great accessory to turn the walker into a tray table.

Cup holder – I love this product because it helps to encourage your senior loved one to drink!  I would recommend to use it with a water bottle like the Hydr Water Bottle.

Related Articles

Problems With Walkers For The Elderly

Tips To Find Cheap Mobility Aids For Seniors

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