Tips on walker safety
One of the first indications of loss of independence is the inability to walk with confidence. For many seniors and people going through rehabilitation, a walker helps stabilize their movements as they move from area to area, task to task. The fact is, however, that self-propelled walkers do pose certain safety risks.
National Center for Injury Prevention statistics indicate that about 47,300 people aged at least 65 years end up in the emergency department because of falls while using walking devices, according to an article on homecare.com. Other statistics indicate that using a walker is seven times more like to cause a fall than using a cane. Here, industry professionals provide some advice to help match the right walker to the right person as well as tips related to selection, training and courtesy.
SELECTION AND FIT
Therapists can recommend and assist in the selection of the assistive mobility device that meets the user’s expectations. Three basic walkers described in Mayo Clinic literature:
- No wheels. Such walkers provide stability for a user who can lift and step.
- Two-wheels. The user leans into the walker for balance. The additional weight on the device makes it easier to move.
- Four wheels. If the user doesn’t need to lean on the walker for support, then a four-wheeled walker is faster.
Although most walkers are equipped with plastic grips, individuals with arthritis or other joint complications can have walkers retrofitted with a larger, cushioned grip to help relieve pain.
The therapist can work with the resident to adjust the walker to a height that reduces stress on the arms and shoulders. Make sure the height is correct. The Mayo Clinic advises that the user’s elbow should bend comfortably. Have the individual relax his or her arms at the side of the body. In this position, the top of the walker should align with the crease on the inside of the wrist.
The user needs to learn how to manipulate the walker safely and gain confidence in this new mode of mobility. Therapists can have the resident practice leaning into the walk, pushing it forward while the resident keeps his or her back straight. Cautions: The resident should step into the walker, not behind it. Make sure the user doesn’t push the walker too far ahead, which could cause him or her to lose balance.
The user must pay attention to his or her surroundings, looking for obstacles or other distractions that could impede progress. A spill on the floor can lead to major injury, for example. Make sure the resident stops, looks and listens for traffic in the halls.
RULES OF THE ‘ROAD’
The same driving rules apply to using a walker. Stay on the right side of the passageway. Don’t walk too closely behind other pedestrians. Give right of way when necessary. Running into other people or obstacles can cause serious injury.
Be careful that wheels don’t get caught when entering or exiting elevators. And never take a walker on an escalator.
A resident who uses a walker correctly and sensibly can enjoy a continuing sense of freedom. Rehabilitation nurses and physical therapists can instruct their patients on how way to navigate their devices, enhancing freedom and contributing to each resident’s sense of self-worth and confidence.
Sandra Hoban was on I Advance Senior Care / Long-Term Living’s editorial staff for 17 years. She is one of the country’s longest-serving senior care journalists. Before joining Long-Term Living, she was a member of the promotions department at Advanstar Communications. In addition to her editorial experience, Sandi has served past roles in print and broadcast advertising as a traffic and talent coordinator.