The world of mobility aids can be quite confusing as there is so much out there to choose from – who knew there was so many different types of walking sticks available? Aids are very much based on individual needs, so we’ve done a little bit of research to hopefully get you started.
Older age affects muscle strength, joint flexibility and stamina. If this is combined with aches and pains, as well as fatigue and potential other medical conditions, it is likely that an older person will experience difficulty with:
- steps, stairs and inclines
- uneven ground or loose surfaces
- walking long distances
Firstly, it’s a good idea to get a free assessment from your local authority – contact your GP who will organise for someone to carry out a needs assessment. The assessment will advise you as to what might be needed and if any of it can be funded by the NHS or local authority.
You can find out more about what’s involved in a Needs Assessments and what you need to do HERE
Here’s our guide to the top 8 Mobility Aids to get you started……
- Grab rails
- Walking Sticks
- Walking Frames
- Mobility Scooters
1. Grab Rails
Grab rails (also known as grab bars) will provide extra confidence when negotiating steps or stairs, or when changing position and needing leverage, such as when getting in and out of the bath. There’s a wide range of rails on the market in different shapes, sizes and materials.
These work well for stairs, as you can get them cut to shape and jointed to provide a continuous run. The cylindrical shape of the traditional mop-stick handrail also provides a good grip for most hands. You can paint it to match the décor.
Metal newel-post rails
These rails fix on to the newel post, which is generally positioned at the bottom of the stairs. This type of rail twists so it fixes on to two facings. It’s excellent for supporting the person until they can get a grip on the main stair rail.
Single straight metal grab rails
These work well at the front door, or at level changes around the home, for example if there is a step up or down between rooms.
Plastic grab rails
These work best in the bathroom, particularly around the bath and shower area.
2. Walking Sticks
Walking sticks are useful if when there’s still reasonably good mobility, but need something to give a little extra confidence and balance. As well as making walking easier, using a walking stick can help reduce pain when walking.
It is very important that the walking stick is the right height, otherwise it can be potentially unsafe and can’t be used for bearing weight. The
handles of walking sticks also come in a variety of shapes, ranging from the conventional crook handle and T handle to a ‘swan neck’, designed to make the stick feel balanced, and an ergonomic handle shaped to fit your hand. Different handles will suit different people – some will be preferable for those with painful joints or a weaker grip, for example – so it’s a good idea to try out different types before settling on one in particular.
Folding Walking Stick
A folding walking stick can be discreetly carried in a bag or shopping trolley, or left in the car. Look for a model that is light, easy to fold and unfold, and reasonably compact when folded.
Tripod & Tetrapod Walking Stick
If a little more support is required, a tripod (three-footed) or tetrapod (four-footed, also known as quadrupod) walking stick is a good idea. The feet are spaced apart to give the walking stick a wider base. The neck of the stick is either straight or swan-necked; finding the right style of neck can help to distribute weight most effectively. One advantage of tripod and tetrapod walking sticks is they can be left standing up by themselves – and will stay standing up – so the user is less likely to have to bend down to collect them from the floor.
Seated Walking Sticks
Walking longer distances can be tiring, and can also put a strain on sensitive muscles or joints. A walking stick that has a foldaway seat (sometimes known as folding seat canes or stick seats) can be a useful aid, allowing the user to sit down for a rest when needed. Look for one that is height adjustable.
3. Walking Frames
Walking frames without wheels
Frames with a wider base are generally more stable, however, if you want one for indoor use, measure doorways to make sure you choose the right size for the home. When used outdoors, this kind of frame is best suited to level surfaces. Whatever width you choose, it’s important to get the right height so it is comfortable to use and provides the right support.
Two-wheeled walkers have wheels on the two front legs and rubber feet on the back legs. You move forward by lifting the back feet off the ground. This makes them easier to use than non-wheeled walking aids where the whole frame needs to be lifted up. There is no brake on the frame, but the back legs act as a brake when you put your weight on the frame.
You can get foldable zimmer frames in both non-wheeled and wheeled versions. Both different types either have a draw string folding mechanism allowing the frame to fold front to back or alternatively the sides fold-in. This makes both easy to store and transport.
Trolleys are made to give support whilst walking as well as offering a space to transport food or other items around the house or outside.
An indoor trolley with non-slip plastic trays can aid the carrying of meals, drinks or other items from room to room. Many of the trays clip on and are easily removed for cleaning. These versatile trays can also be used as a table to eat off or for hobbies. You can also get trolleys that can be folded and stored away.
These usually consist of larger wheels and better storage to protect what you are carrying around from the weather. Outdoor shopping trolleys are very useful when bags are too heavy to carry and you need a bit of assistance getting shopping home.
Three-wheeled walker – Also known as a tri-walker has a single front wheel that swivels and two fixed rear wheels. Four-wheeled walker are wider and more stable, however, there are smaller designs more suitable for indoor use. Both designs have easy-to-steer wheels and brakes making them a good option for people with mobility issues who like to get out and about. A rollator with seat is great for when you need to take a breather while out walking. They come with stylish accessories, including bags and baskets.
Manual wheelchairs (propelled by the user’s own strength)
These are usually most suitable for people who can walk – perhaps with a walking stick or frame – but are unable to cope with longer distances, so use a manual wheelchair when out and about. They will need sufficient strength and movement in your arms to use a self-propelled wheelchair.
Attendant Propelled Wheelchair
If someone isn’t able to manage this, they would be more suited to an attendant-propelled wheelchair, designed to be pushed from behind by another person. It’s worth noting that most self-propelled wheelchairs will also have push-handles for times when extra help may be needed.
Powered or electric wheelchairs
Sometimes called power or electric-assisted wheelchairs, this type would be ideal if a person doesn’t have the strength or stamina to use a self-propelled wheelchair, but do not wish to rely on being pushed – or if they sometimes want to take longer journeys in a wheelchair. There is a wide variety of models available, best divided into three categories:
- Indoor/portable: for use at home, or in places with smooth, even flooring such as shopping centres or garden centres. Usually easy to fold for fitting in the boot of a car.
- Outdoor: will have larger wheels for dealing with uneven terrain, as well as suspension to make the drive more comfortable. Can usually be used indoors, too, but their larger size may mean they don’t fit through some doorways.
- Indoor/outdoor: designed to offer the best of both worlds. Will not be as light and portable as some models, nor as robust as others, but may provide a good balance of features.
Powered wheelchairs are described as being either Class 2, meaning they can be used outside on pavements, or Class 3, for use on roads and pavements. All are generally a lot heavier than manual wheelchairs because their frame has to be stronger in order to support the battery and motors. Bear this in mind when thinking about the ease of transporting a wheelchair
Hiring wheelchairs: there are several schemes that are available for hiring wheelchairs, such as – NHS wheelchair service, the Motability scheme, Shopmobility, The Red Cross or the Disabled Living Centres. (make links)
7. Mobility Scooters
A mobility scooter is a medical device as well as a lifestyle choice. It’s important to get the right one – for example, with a tiller and controls that
can be operated if someone has arthritic fingers. Otherwise you could waste money or buy a scooter that isn’t the safest or most comfortable. Take advice from a mobility shop or by contacting an occupational therapist before you make a final decision on what to buy.
Although the local authority is unlikely to provide you with a mobility scooter, the occupational therapist can make recommendations about any equipment and/or adaptations you need.
When choosing a mobility scooter you’ll need to consider:
- The types of journeys you plan to make
- The types of terrain you’ll cover
- Your storage facilities
- Your body weight and size
- Your budget
Lastly but not least and possibly a very simple one which gets overlooked – appropriate footwear can also help with stability and support. Make sure that slippers around the home are supportive. It’s best not to wear ones that you slip your feet into – instead there is a good range of ‘bootee’-type slippers that have zip or Velcro fastening and non-slip soles. For outdoors wear, consider well-fitting supportive footwear with a low heel and non-slip soles.