Medical walkers are one of the easiest mobility devices that older adults use when they are recovering from an injured leg or foot, or an illness which has left them weak. In these instances they are a temporary mobility aid.
But sometimes older adults need mobility aids like 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.
Walker safety for the elderly is crucial to prevent falls and injuries. It involves choosing the right type of walker, ensuring it’s the correct height, and using it properly. Walkers should have non-slip grips and brakes for added safety. Regular maintenance is also key. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.
We recommend that you seek the consult of a Physical or Occupational therapist who can recommend the right walker for your needs and give you instructions on how to use your 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.Verywellhealth.com
A walking aid like a walker can be a great asset for someone who needs help with their mobility but there are some circumstances where using a walker could cause problems. Read more about The Problems With Walkers here.
There are 2 types of walkers that we’re going to discuss here.
Walkers are the most commonly adopted mobility device and are used to assist with stability, mobility and fall prevention. The purpose of using a walker is to carry out more activities independently when baseline mobility has decreased. It may be the difference between being confined in the home or engaging within the community.seniorsmatter.com
Whether you use a basic walker or maybe even one with rear wheels or a rollator type of walker, using it safely is the key to possibly preventing injury.
How to Choose a Walker
There are specific considerations that need to be taken into account when choosing a walker that will best fit your needs.
- Consider the User’s Physical Condition: The senior’s strength, balance, and mobility should be evaluated. Some seniors may need a simple cane, while others may require a walker with a seat or even a rollator.
- Choose the Right Type: There are different types of walkers. Standard walkers have four legs and provide maximum stability. Two-wheeled walkers are slightly more mobile, while rollators have four wheels and a seat for resting. Upright walkers have raised handles and are ideal for those with limited arm mobility.
- Check the Height: The walker’s height should be adjustable to match the user’s. When the user’s hands are at their sides, the walker’s grips should align with the crease of their wrists. For upright walkers – the armrests should reach at least up to the user’s elbows.
- Look for Comfortable Grips: The walker should have comfortable, non-slip grips. This is especially important for seniors with arthritis or other hand conditions.
- Consider Weight and Portability: The walker should be light enough for the senior to lift but sturdy enough to support their weight. If the senior travels often, a foldable walker might be a good choice.
- Check for a Seat and Brakes if Necessary: If the senior tires easily, a walker with a seat can be beneficial. Brakes are essential for safety, especially on rollators.
- Ensure it has Adequate Weight Capacity: The walker should be able to support the user’s weight. Always check the weight capacity before purchasing.
- Consult with a Healthcare Professional: A physical therapist or doctor can provide personalized advice based on the senior’s specific needs and conditions.
Types of Walkers
|Type of Walker||Description||Pros||Cons|
|Basic Walker||A simple frame with four legs providing maximum stability.||Very stable, good for those with significant balance issues.||Must be lifted to move, can be slow to use.|
|Front Wheeled Walker||Similar to a standard walker, but with wheels or casters on the front two legs.||Easier to maneuver than a standard walker, doesn’t need to be lifted completely off the ground.||Less stable than a standard walker, not suitable for those with severe balance issues.|
|Four-Wheeled Walker (Rollator)||A walker with four wheels, brakes, and often a built-in seat.||Easy to maneuver, good for longer distances, seat allows for rest.||Less stable than standard and two-wheeled walkers, can roll away if brakes aren’t engaged.|
|Knee Walker||A walker where you rest one knee on a padded cushion and push with the other foot.||Good for individuals with an injury to one leg or foot, easier to maneuver than crutches.||Requires good balance and strength in the non-injured leg, not suitable for those with poor balance.|
|Hemi Walker||Designed for individuals who only have the use of one hand or arm.||Allows for one-handed use, more stable than a cane.||Not as stable as a standard walker, requires good strength in one arm.|
|Bariatric Walker||A heavy-duty walker designed to support larger individuals.||Strong and durable, designed for heavier users.||Can be heavier and bulkier than other walkers.|
What Not to Do When Using a Walker
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an older person (or one of my patients) using a walker inappropriately only to fall and injure themselves!
Don’t be one of those people. Here’s a list of what not to do when you use your walker.
- Don’t Use a Walker That’s Not Adjusted to Your Height: Using a walker that’s too high or too low can lead to poor posture and balance issues, increasing the risk of falls.
- Don’t Move the Walker Too Far Ahead: The walker should only be moved a short distance ahead of you. Moving it too far can cause you to stretch beyond your balance point and potentially fall.
- Don’t Use a Damaged or Broken Walker: Always inspect your walker for any signs of damage or wear. Using a damaged walker can be dangerous as it may not provide the necessary support.
- Don’t Rush: Take your time when using a walker. Rushing can lead to missteps and falls.
- Even Surfaces: Try to use the walker on even surfaces. Avoid loose rugs, uneven pavement, or slippery areas, as these can cause the walker to become unstable.
- Don’t Carry Heavy Items While Using the Walker: 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 or perhaps wearing a fanny pack.
- Don’t Use a Walker on Slippery or Uneven Surfaces: Avoid using your walker on slippery floors, loose rugs, or uneven surfaces. These can cause the walker to slip or tip over.
- Don’t Ignore Pain or Discomfort: If using a walker causes pain or discomfort, consult with a healthcare professional. They may need to adjust the walker or provide additional training on its use.
- Don’t Forget to Lock the Brakes: If your walker has brakes, always remember to lock them before you sit down or stand up to prevent the walker from moving unexpectedly.
What is The Correct Way to Use a Walker?
Following are the basic safety rules to follow when using a walker.
- The user must have upper body strength: First things first, 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.
- Stand Up Straight: When a walker, stand up straight and look ahead, not down at your feet. This helps maintain good posture and balance.
- The handles of the walker should be comfortable and you can do that by adding padding such as these to the walker.
- Sitting down with a walker: 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.
- Walker must be sturdy: 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).
- Proper walkers for obese persons: If you are obese, please use a Bariatric Walker which is meant for individuals that require support for extra weight.
- Add appropriate accessories: 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.
- For seniors with dementia: 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.
- Consider where the walker will be used: If the indoor 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 indoor environment of the home to safely accommodate the use of a walker.
- Ensure Safety: Make sure the rubber tips on the walker’s legs are not worn out, as this can cause the walker to slip. If your walker has wheels, always lock them when you’re standing still or sitting down.
- Outdoor walker safety: 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.
- Appropriate lighting: 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
- Stand with both feet within the frame of the walker and firmly grip the handles of the walker.
- Depending on your balance and strength and type of walker, you will either glide your walker forward a short distance 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.
- The next step is to step forward with your WEAKER leg first.
- 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.
- Look forward (instead of at your feet) when using the walker.
- 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.
- Always keep both hands on the walker. If you place too much weight on one side of the walker it may tip over.
When Using a Walker Which Leg Goes First?
The weaker leg always goes first. Your joints should be slightly bent when stepping, in order to avoid injury. When turning a corner, take extra care and make sure you turn safely with the frame of the walker.
Just wanted to repeat this because in my experience, it’s the one thing that most people who use a walker (at least at the beginning) tend to forget.
Do You Lean Forward When Using a Walker?
The answer is yes. Leaning slightly forward when using a walker can help you balance and keep your posture steady as you take each step. This will also improve your stability and reduce the risk of falling.
It’s important to remember that when leaning forward, it should be done gradually—never hunch over aggressively or sharply lean forward.
Using a Walker On Curbs
Here are some guidelines on how to properly (and safely) use your walker to manage curbs.
Walking Up Curbs
- Get as close to the curb as possible.
- When you feel that your balance is secure and you can stand on both your legs (or one leg), lift the walker onto the sidewalk, placing all 4 legs of the walker on the sidewalk.
- Then raise your good leg onto the sidewalk first followed by your weaker leg.
Walking Down Curbs
- Get as close to the edge of the curb as possible but be careful not to tip off.
- Lower the walker down onto the lower level placing all 4 legs of the walker on the street or sidewalk.
- Place about 50% of your body weight through your arms onto the walker.
- Then lower your weak leg onto the lower level first followed by your stronger leg.
How to Stand Up Using a Walker
If you are going to use your walker to help you stand up, here are the steps on how to do that properly.
- Place the walker in front of the chair or where you are sitting.
- Move your body forward in the chair.
- Place your hands on the seat of your chair (or the arms of your chair) and push yourself up.
- Place one hand on the handle of the walker and then the other hand on the opposite handle.
- Stand for a minute or so until you feel secure.
How to Sit Down Using a Walker
Here are some instructions on how to use a walker to sit down onto a chair or other seated position.
- Get as close to your seat as possible and then turn around so the seat is behind you and touching the back of your legs. We recommend that you use a seat with arms as much as possible.
- Place one hand on the arm of the seat while leaving the other hand on the walker handle.
- Lower yourself onto the seat.
- If this is difficult, a better option for you may be to place both hands on the arms of the chair before lowering yourself down onto the seat.
A Physical or Occupational therapist can help to assess what would work better for you.
Safety Tips About Walkers With Seats
If you’re thinking of getting a walker with a seat, there are some key safety tips to keep in mind.
First and foremost, be sure to use the brakes properly when seated. You should always apply the brakes before you sit down so that your walker doesn’t roll away from you when you’re seated.
Additionally, when you stand up to move the walker, always make sure that your feet are firmly planted on the ground.
Secondly, pay attention to where you’re going! Make sure to check for obstacles and loose rugs before moving your walker.
Finally, don’t forget about the weight of a walker with a seat! Depending on the type of walker you have, it can be heavy and awkward to move. Make sure you’re using your legs, not your back or arms to lift the walker when transferring it from one surface to another.
If necessary, recruit a friend or family member to help you with this!
Safety is incredibly important when using any walker, including those with a seat. While walkers with seats provide increased support and stability, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using them.
Always make sure your walker is set up properly and that all locks are securely closed before use.
Additionally, don’t overload the basket or pockets of your walker as this can lead to instability.
Before sitting down in the walker, make sure all four legs of the walker are firmly on the ground, then slowly sit down.
And when you’re ready to stand up from your seat, be sure to unlock the brakes after you get up, not before.
Finally, always check for signs of wear or damage and replace any parts that are worn or broken; this will help to keep you safe and secure.
With the right knowledge and a bit of common sense, walkers with seats can be an invaluable part of your mobility toolkit!
A Personal Story About a Walker With a Seat
Just a few years ago, my sister-in-law took her mother to a large mall. At the time, my mom-in-law was using a rollator walker with a seat.
After some time, she became tired and decided to sit on the seat of her walker while her daughter pushed her through the mall.
Essentially, using it as a makeshift wheelchair.
CAUTION: These are not meant to be used as wheelchairs!
Well, the walker hit a variation on the ground, tipped and both my mom-in-law and my sister-in-law fell to the ground.
And yes, both were injured to the point they had to be taken to the hospital. My mom-in-law cracked her head a bit and my sister-in-law broke her wrist (trying to keep the walker from tipping).
So, the moral of the story is, use a walker or any piece of equipment as it’s intended to be used!
Remember: safety first! And if something doesn’t feel right when using your walker, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor or other healthcare professional. Until then, stay safe and keep on walking!
How Should a Walker Be Adjusted?
If this is your first time using a walker, we recommend that you have a Physical or Occupational Therapist adjust the walker so that it is properly set for your height.
To set the correct 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. The top of your walker should be aligned with your 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 adjusted to your proper 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 a 4 wheeled walker (aka Rollator walkers) 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 family member or 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 or Occupational 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.
Where to Get a Walker
Walkers are considered to be Durable Medical Equipment (DME) so they are covered by Medicare. With a prescription from your doctor, you can order a walker from a medical supply store and your insurance company or Medicare will pay for it.
Otherwise, you can certainly purchase a walker on your own either online or from some drugstores or other stores such as WalMart, Costco, etc.
Again, follow the instructions above on how to adjust the walker to the right height for your needs.
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.
Rubber tips – The original rubber tips that came with your walker may wear out so make sure to replace them with new ones.
Walker wheels – Just like the rubber tips, the front and/or rear wheels of your walker can also get worn down so make sure to replace them as needed.