Walk This Way

Just like your glasses, your cane or walker should fit you correctly.

By Pamela Tronetti, DO, AGSF, medical director, Parrish Senior Consultation Center

 

When one of my patients said he didn't like "that blasted walker," I could see why. His 6-foot frame was bent in half and his hands were practically at his knees as he pushed it along.

 

I had previously insisted he get a walker and written a prescription. But rather than "waste money," his petite wife gave him a walker she'd used after her hip surgery 10 years ago.

 

Many people need assistive devices to prevent a fall, but canes and walkers need to be fitted, just like glasses and dentures. After all, you wouldn't pull Aunt Minnie's dentures out of a cup and say to a friend, "Here, use these. You'll save money."

 

Choosing the Proper Device

Canes are useful if you have a painful injury or an arthritis flare-up. You hold the cane on the unaffected side and share your weight between the cane and the affected side as you walk. All canes should have a rubber-tipped base. When properly fitted, the person's elbow will be at a 45 degree angle.

 

Quad canes are made of aluminum, have a horizontal handle and four feet that create a stable base. They give more security to the user and stay put when not in use, but people sometimes get tangled in the cane's feet.

 

A walker is necessary if the person has balance problems, neuropathy, difficulty rising from the chair or is prone to dizziness or fainting. My favorites are those with wheels, brakes and a seat. Again, elbow angle should be at 45 degrees. When using a walker, picture yourself sitting at the kitchen table. The walker should be that close to you.

 

Let Safety Be Your Guide

Many people balk at transitioning from the cane to a walker. It really is a safety issue. Ask yourself this: If I start to fall, will the cane prevent it?

 

Of course, if someone has frequent falls, a physical therapist can provide balance training at a rehab center and in the home. The therapist can also help fit the assistive device and teach the person how to use it.

 

Wheelchairs are for people who have severe orthopedic or neurological disease or who simply cannot walk due to weakness or end-stage dementia.

 

If you have a question about an assistive device, contact your physician, physical therapist or medical supply store.