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Types of Walking Aids That Benefit the Elderly

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Devices that assist in walking provide stability and prevent falls, especially in the elderly. Read to know its benefits and limitations.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Published At May 31, 2023
Reviewed AtMarch 21, 2024

Introduction

With the increase in age, the ability to walk and move around may decrease and can be a difficult task for many elderly people affecting their quality of life. It can be due to various reasons or medical conditions. Simple and affordable aids may help by providing considerable assistance to these people. Each mobility aid has different benefits and features and helps in different ways.

What Are Walking Aids?

Devices that are manufactured to assist walking or improve the mobility of disabled persons are called walking aids. These are also called ambulatory assistive devices. It provides unassisted mobility, helps to perform daily activities, and enables freedom of movement, especially in older people. Traditionally these mobility aids were called mechanical devices, but recently due to advancements in technology like the sensors, and audio feedback, the scope has considerably increased.

Why Are Walking Aids Required in Elderly People?

Walking aids are required for the following reasons:

  • Prevent injury to the limbs or falls in elderly people.

  • Weakened lower body strength due to aging.

  • Medical conditions such as arthritis, stroke, and brain injury.

  • Fractures, ligament tears, and muscle sprains or strains.

  • Post-surgical treatment.

  • Impaired balance or abnormal gait (walking pattern).

How To Choose the Right Walking Aid?

Choosing the correct walking aid is a crucial decision, and hence must be decided based on the individual’s need and comfort. It is advisable to try out multiple options before purchasing, as some devices may be very expensive. Storage must also be considered, as walking aids may not always be used, and foldable options must be preferred as they can be carried if the patient desires to travel. Walking canes are preferred for patients with problems of coordination or sensations with vision, hearing, and mild cerebellar disorders. By providing an extra point of contact with the ground, canes increase the support base.

What Are the Types of Walking Aids?

Various walking aids with different features are available, which are suited depending on the condition and needs of the elderly people; these include:

Wheelchairs: A chair that can be used to move around disabled people and is recommended when such patients cannot bear weight on their limbs. It is preferable for walkers as it can be used to travel long distances. Different types of wheelchairs include:

  • Manual Wheelchairs: It is a basic type of wheelchair and can also be useful for those patients who need assistance.

  • Electric Wheelchairs: These wheelchairs are battery-operated, and the patient can move around without assistance. It is suitable for long-distance travel and eliminates the requirement of pushing a wheelchair. It aids people post-surgery with walking disorders and leg, spinal or pelvic injuries.

  • Commode wheelchairs: These wheelchairs are designed to facilitate the patients during their requirement to go to the bathroom. It is provided with a cutout seat, and patients can use the facility without getting out of their wheelchairs.

  • Stairlifts: These allow patients to move up and down the stairs and are helpful, especially for patients with joint disorders, arthritis and so on. It is battery-powered, has a wide seat with a seat belt for protection, and provides a comfortable experience for the user.

Walking Sticks or Canes: Walking sticks are simple, inexpensive, and easy to use by most patients. It helps to maintain balance and prevents elderly patients from falling. It provides maximum balance and grip for the patients and is available in various types, such as standard, tripod, and quadripod, and may be selected by the patient based on their requirements and comfort.

Crutches: These devices are designed to transfer the body weight to the upper body to help in easy movement. Crutches can be used as a single or in pairs depending on the necessity of the patient.

Walkers and Rollators: Walkers are associated with four-leg support and provide stability and balance to the patient while walking. Sufficient arm strength is required for the patients using this type of walker as it needs to be lifted for movement. It is simple, affordable, and designed to make patients feel independent. Rollators are walkers with wheels at the end of each leg of the device. These walkers facilitate quick movement but also require sufficient strength of the upper body to use them easily. It has two or four wheels with handlebars and also a seat in some varieties of rollators.

Power Scooters: These are motorized scooters designed to aid patients in traveling easily and are useful for patients with disability or injuries.

What Are the Benefits of Walking Aids?

Benefits of walking aids include:

  • Provides safety, balance, and stability and also improves the walking pattern.

  • Prevents or reduces the risk of falls and injuries.

  • Reduces the weight-bearing effort.

  • Certain walking aids benefit patients with bone or joint disorders such as osteoporosis, and arthritis, who cannot claim stairs.

  • It can help in quick recovery in post surgeries.

  • It enhances the confidence of disabled people.

  • It helps to reduce the levels of dependency.

  • It improves the quality of life and social participation.

  • It can be used for temporary or permanent disabilities.

What Are the Limitations of Walking Aids?

  • The most important disadvantage is the cost factor, where most walking aids are expensive except for crutches and canes. It has been noticed that almost 30 to 50 percent of those prescribed assistive devices abandon them immediately after receiving them as they do not match their requirements. It may be due to difficulty in handling the device, weight of the walking aid, fear of falls, or, more importantly, social stigma attached to it.

  • Walking canes completely offload the affected limb and can cause pain in the hands and axilla if used for a long time. In comparison, wheeled knee walkers may benefit considerably as they are more comfortable, stable, and do not cause pain, but they are expensive and not affordable for some patients.

  • Walkers have been associated with an increased risk of anterior tipping, and maneuvering walking aids needs more space and may be associated with difficulty climbing stairs. Many patients may need help finding it suitable in a community or social environment.

Conclusion

Devices that are manufactured to assist or improve the mobility of disabled persons are called walking aids. It benefits elderly people suffering from medical conditions such as arthritis, stroke, brain injury, fractures, post-surgical treatment and many such conditions. Despite certain limitations, walking aids are preferred by most elderly patients as they not only provide stability and confidence during walking but also improve the quality of life.

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Dr. Rajesh Gulati
Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Family Physician

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