If walking has become stressful, and anxiety-inducing, if you have difficulty balancing or tire quickly, then it is time for a little assistance.
But, exactly what kind of assistance do you need?
With the abundance of options available, specifically between walkers and rollators, how do you know which one is right for you?
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a Walker?
A walker is a four-legged metal frame that supports you as you walk. It allows the user to lean on the frame for balance and rest, bearing some of the user’s body weight as they move. A walker is for people who can still walk, who don’t need a wheelchair but could use a little extra help.
Some walkers have two wheels. But as a rule, a walker relies on the user to lift the device in order to move. Which means the user does need to have a certain amount of upper body strength.
Walkers come in a variety of sizes, and shapes, with a wide variety of features.
That said, as a standard, most walkers have an aluminum frame and are height adjustable.
Aluminium is strong, so it can easily bear the weight of the user, but is also relatively light, making it easier to lift and move around. Walkers also have rubber or foam grips to make them more comfortable to lean on.
Walkers, by and large, are best suited for persons who are a little unstable, who need to lean on a device for support and move at a slightly slower pace.
Types of Walkers
While all walkers essentially do the same thing and work on the same premise, some meet more specific needs. It’s important to be aware of these differences when choosing the right walker for you.
1. A standard walker
A standard walker is a simple, lightweight device without wheels. Made of aluminium, and height-adjustable to ensure maximum user comfort, it is lifted by the user, who moves it forward one step at a time.
2. Folding walker
This used to be a consideration, but these days, most walkers are foldable. Which means, they are easily transportable. This is an important feature, as it ensures the walker is not a deterrent to independence but is rather designed to facilitate and encourage as much independence as possible. Ensure the walker you choose is foldable.
3. Two-wheel walkers
Two-wheel walkers are for users who still enjoy a fair amount of mobility, who don’t need quite as much support, as a 4-frame walker provides. But, are not quite stable enough to use a four-wheel rollator. LINK
4. Bariatric walkers
A bariatric walker is designed to support larger people. Standard walking frames are designed to support people with a weight of around 100kg. Bariatric walkers are designed to support heavier frames, of between 100 and 225kg.
The heavier the user’s body frame, the heavier the walking frame required to bear the weight. ,
In short, walkers are best suited for persons who struggle with (degree of) stability issues and need to lean on a device for support, and who consequently move at a slightly slower pace. They are available with 4 stable legs or 2 stable legs + 2 wheels.
They are lightweight, height-adjustable, and foldable for easy transport.
What is a Rollator
A Rollator is essentially a walker with wheels. They are pushed, not lifted.
While the wheels translate as increased maneuverability, it does mean a rollator is not a stability aid. And is best suited for persons who are able to walk, at a fairly even gait, fairly independently, but just need a little support with balance.
Rollators are available in two, three, or four-wheel variants. And include a selection of additional features, including hand-operated brakes, a basket for carrying shopping, and in some instances a seat bench for resting. They cannot however support as much weight as a walking frame.
Types of rollators
1. Three-wheeled rollator
Aimed at those who just need a little extra support when walking, a three-wheel rollator is narrower than a 4-wheeled rollator. They are highly maneuverable and very well suited for indoor use, easily maneuvering around tight corners. They are most suited for those who walk at a faster pace and do not require intermittent resting stops. They are less stable than four wheels rollators.
2. Four-wheeled rollator
Four-wheeled rollators are the most common type of rollator. They’re easy to push and have plenty of stability. They are best suited for those who still enjoy considerable mobility but require intermittent assistance and rest.
3. Lightweight/indoor rollator
These rollators are specifically designed for indoor use. They are very light and have slighter smaller wheels than a standard rollator. Meaning they are not suited for outdoor use or traverse uneven terrain. As indoor use translates to short distances, they usually don’t have a seat.
4. Bariatric rollator
Just like the bariatric walking frame, a bariatric rollator is designed to accommodate a larger frame. They’re built stronger, to support a heavier weight and usually have larger wheels.
Which mobility aid do you need?
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
1. Are you experiencing STABILITY issues when you walk?
2. Are you struggling to stand up from a seated position
3. Do you need help with balance but are capable of supporting your own weight when standing or in motion.
The answers to these questions will determine the mobility aid best suited for you.
1. For STABILITY issues – Choose a walker.
If you find you need to lean on something when you walk, for balance and rest, then a walker is the best support and stability aid for you.
2 For SUPPORT – Choose a rollator
If you struggle to stand up, but feel quite confident when in motion, if you are able to walk, at a fairly even gait, fairly independently, but just need a little support with balance. then a rollator will be most suitable for your needs.
3 For BALANCE – Choose a rollator
Three or four-wheeled rollators are best for people who need help with balance but are capable of supporting their own weight standing or in motion.
The 3 wheeled rollator is most suited for those who walk at a faster pace and do not require intermittent resting stops
The 4 wheeled rollator is best suited for those who still enjoy considerable mobility but require intermittent assistance and rest.
The selection of the best device for you is therefore determined by degrees of user mobility.
On a sliding scale, it would look something like this:
- 3 Wheel Rollator – more about balance than support. User can move fairly independently, at speed
- 4 Wheeled Rollator – you enjoy considerable mobility, but require intermittent assistance and rest.
- 2 wheeled walker – you don’t need quite as much support, as a 4-frame walker provides. But, are not quite stable enough to use a four-wheel rollator.
- Standard walker – need to lean on a device for support, and move at a slower pace.
Additional Considerations: Refining your choice
Most walkers and rollators are height adjustable. Make sure the one you choose is or can be set to the correct height for you.
You can find the best height position by standing as straight and as close to the frame (between the handles) as you can.
Your elbows should be slightly bent.
If the handles are set too high you may experience neck or shoulder pain, and if it’s too low you’ll be stooping, which may cause back pain.
The height may need to be adjusted a little as you practice walking, and get more comfortable with your chosen aid.
Remember this is your primary point of contact. Your hands and wrists will bear a lot of your weight. So, you want to ensure maximum comfort and maximum grip.
Foam grips are always a good comfortable default option, But, if you find you are prone to weakening grip with time, then rubber grips are recommended
If you struggle with sweaty palms and moisture, we would suggest plastic grips.
3. Foldup and stowaway
These days most walkers and rollators offer a foldup and/or foldaway function. That said, there are degrees of portability and foldability. So, be sure to pick one that meets your particular needs. If you travel a lot, make sure the walker or rollator you select is lightweight, easily manageable, and can be folded quickly into a small enough size for transport. Ask the specialist assisting you to fold the walker or rollator down for you. That way you know exactly the level of convenience on offer, and its suitability and adaptability to your needs.
4. Do you need a seat?
If you tire quickly, consider a rollator with a seat.
5. Hand brakes.
All three and four-wheel rollators should be equipped with brakes. When the brakes go on, the rollator shouldn’t move until you squeeze the handles and release the breaks
6. Do you need a basket?
Most rollators have baskets. Either on the front rail or underneath the seat