a walker

Mastering Mobility: A Guide to Using Walkers and Canes Safely

We’re excited to have this guest post from Katie Collins!

A Guide to Safe Usage

Here are considerations to ensure your safety.

Choose the Right Mobility Aid

With preventable falls and emergency department visits due to falls on the rise, selecting the right mobility aid is not just about enhancing mobility but also about ensuring it suits your needs.

For example, mobility challenges can range from slight balance difficulties to significant mobility impairments, influencing the type of cane or walker. Walkers, for example, range from standard models requiring significant arm strength to rollators that enhance mobility with less support but greater ease of movement.

Canes also vary, with single-tip ones offering minimal support and quad-tip canes providing a broader base for improved stability. Your lifestyle is another factor when selecting an aid that's practical and safe.

As such, you may need a different mobility aid for outdoor and indoor movement. Furthermore, the environment you navigate—whether it involves uneven terrains, stairs, or predominantly flat surfaces—dictates the suitability of the mobility aid.

These factors make professional advice on mobility aids invaluable. A physical therapist or healthcare provider can assess your needs, consider your environment and personal mobility challenges, and recommend the best aid.

In some cases your insurance can help cover the costs associated with these essential items, so you don't compromise quality because of the cost. It could be a costly mistake given the financial consequences of falls among older adults are significant, with approximately $50 billion spent annually on medical costs for fatal and non-fatal fall injuries. 

Even Medicare may cover mobility aids like walkers and canes if your doctor prescribes them for home use. Nevertheless, its overage details and the amount it covers can vary based on your Medicare plan. Hence, it's advisable to compare Medicare options.

Ensure Proper Sizing and Adjustment

Before using your aid, ensure your caregiver adjusts it accordingly. 

For instance, your walker or cane should have the right height for proper posture and safety. It allows for a slight bend in the elbow when you hold onto the walker or cane, aligning with the recommendation that the top of these aids should reach the wrist's crease when your arm is at your side. This setup helps distribute your weight evenly, reducing the risk of strain on your arms, back, and legs. 

For ergonomic posture, keep your back straight, take even steps, and avoid leaning too far forward or to the side, which can lead to muscle strain or imbalance injuries. These measures may also prevent long-term physical complications.

Get Walking Training

Mastering correct walking techniques for both walkers and canes is crucial as you age, primarily to maintain balance and ensure safety. Healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists or occupational therapists, can provide walking aid training. They offer guidance on maintaining balance, navigating various terrains, and employing correct walking techniques to prevent falls and injuries. 

For instance, hold your cane on the side opposite your weaker leg and move it in tandem with the weaker leg to provide support. With a walker, you should move the device slightly forward, then step into it, keeping your weight centered to avoid leaning too far forward or backward.

These techniques are vital for preventing falls. They ensure you balance and support your body. Maintaining a steady pace is equally important; rushing can disrupt your balance and increase the risk of accidents. Hence, you can significantly reduce the risk of falls, promoting independence and confidence by focusing on deliberate, controlled movements. 

To stand up, move to the edge of the seat, use the arms of the chair for support if available, and push up while keeping the walker or cane close for balance.

On different surfaces, adjust your pace and check the device's stability, especially on slippery or uneven grounds. Further, when turning, take small steps and pivot carefully to maintain balance. If there are obstacles, pause and assess the best path. Lift the device over the obstacle if necessary or find an alternative route.

Schedule Regular Maintenance

One significant oversight is neglecting signs of wear and damage, such as cracks in the frame, loose screws, or worn-out grips, which can compromise the device's stability and safety. As such, regular inspection is essential; check for any signs of damage or wear every few weeks, especially if you use the mobility aid frequently. 

Cleaning your mobility aid is also vital for maintaining hygiene and preventing the build-up of dirt and grime that can affect its function. There are ways to do it depending on the aid and its components. Hence, let an expert maintain it for you in addition to the simple wiping your support team at home does when your aid is dirty.

Maintaining a Clear Walking Path at Home

A clutter-free environment is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, a clear path enhances safety by reducing the risk of tripping and falling. Secondly, a clear pathway allows you to move more freely with your aid, allowing for proper posture to reduce the risk of strain or discomfort. 

Additionally, an unobstructed path enhances accessibility throughout the home, which promotes your independence.

Final Thoughts

To preserve your independence and ensure safety, select the appropriate mobility aid. There are many options, and they suit different mobility issues. If you don’t already have a recommendation from a health care provider, schedule a virtual visit with us and an occupational therapist from AskSAMIE can help!

Once you get it, there are a few things to do to ensure your safety. For instance, your home environment should be conducive. As such, you may have to make practical adjustments, like choosing non-slip flooring options to provide a secure footing and removing potential tripping hazards like loose rugs or carpets. 

Additionally, your mobility aid needs regular maintenance and cleaning for longevity and reliability, further contributing to your safety and independence.

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Brandy Archie, OTD, OTR/L, CLIPP

Dr. Archie received her doctorate in occupational therapy from Creighton University. She is a certified Living in Place Professional with past certifications in low vision therapy, brain injury and driving rehabilitation.  Dr. Archie has over 15 years of experience in home health and elder focused practice settings which led her to start AskSAMIE, a curated marketplace to make aging in place possible for anyone, anywhere! Answer some questions about the problems the person is having and then a personalized cart of adaptive equipment and resources is provided.

She's a wife, mother of 3 and a die-hard Kansas City Chiefs fan! Connect with her on Linked In or by email anytime.

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