A Blog For and About Today's Seniors

by Sandra K. Sprague

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's Winter but I Spend the Entire Year Avoiding "The Fall"!

Why Rollator-Style Walkers Make a Better Choice Over Standard Walkers for Most Seniors

Of course, the "Fall" I'm referring to is an actual fall; you know, one of those sudden, accidental events when you lose your balance and the ground rushes up to smack the wind out of your lungs!

Pratfalls may be funny on "America's Funniest Home Videos", but for an elderly person, a fall may be a life-changing (or life-ending) event. The National Osteoporosis Foundation maintains that "about one out of every 2 Caucasion women will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point in their lifetime". Hip fractures are particularly serious for the elderly; 10% - 20% of elderly persons suffering a hip fracture will die within six months of the event. A large majority of hip-fracture survivors stand a good chance of spending the rest of their lives in a nursing home or requiring constant in-home care.

Fall Prevention is a Key Senior Care Imperative

As president of a busy senior care agency, helping seniors to maintain maximum levels of independence in their own home is one of my primary objectives. Falls can be the worst enemy of senior independence; my caregivers are trained to help our senior clients avoid falls in many ways.

Standard Walkers vs. Rollator Walkers

Given my personal vendetta against senior falls, it is no wonder that one of my pet peeves is the standard walker.
A standard walker is a four-legged, light-weight (often less than 6 pounds) aluminum frame assistive apparatus with rubber leg tips - some models have wheels or "glide tip balls" on the leading feet. Many standard walkers fold almost flat for convenient storage. Standard walkers are intended to give an unsteady user a little extra help with movement stability. They are less expensive than other solutions, which is probably why most hospitals will send post-operative patients home equipped with a standard walker to assist in movement stability.
My considerable senior care experience has taught me that seniors needing stability assistance are taking a big chance using a standard walker. Remember, falls are unexpected and sudden; they can cause irrevocable injuries. Standard walkers can contribute to the probability of a fall in several ways:
  • Lightweight Aluminum Frame: The lightweight nature of a standard walker can allow it to get too far out in front of the user's center-of-gravity as they shuffle it forward, increasing instability and easily leading to a fall.

  • Rubber Feet or Glide Tip Balls: The standard walker is definitely best-suited for consistently-flat walking surfaces. Most seniors don't live on basketball courts - their living spaces have rugs, transitional issues such as a carpeted area leading to a linoleum floor, etc. A standard walker with rubber feet, glide tip balls or self-affixed tennis balls can unexpectedly snag or "scuff-stop" a user in mid-movement, resulting in a sudden loss of balance and possibly a fall.

  • Lead-Leg Wheels: Those standard walkers featuring lead-leg wheels only increase the likelihood of a fall. If the rear legs are lifted to free the feet from a snag, the user's weight is then only supported by the front legs with the free-rolling wheels. Without the stabilization of the rear legs, the wheeled front legs can careen away from or collapse under a user, sending them tumbling to the floor.

Rollator Walkers for Better Stability and Safety Features

Rollator Walkers are a much better option for seniors needing added stability in movement. A rollator walker is a heavier-duty assistive apparatus with a more sophisticated, ergonomic design and many more built-in safety features for unsteady users.

Typically fitted with integrated padded seat benches, baskets, cup holders and dual-lever locking hand brakes on the wheel chair-like soft-grip handles, rollator walkers have large-diameter rubber wheels which allow the unit to effortlessly and seamlessly roll over many surface-level obstructions. (Small pebbles, short-height curb edges, sidewalk cracks, etc.)

While standard walkers have relatively low weight limit ratings (generally 250-300 lbs.), many rollator walkers, with sturdier construction and load-bearing designs, are rated between 275-600 lbs.! A standard walker user may quickly tire and experience the immediate need to sit down. Most standard walkers do not offer seat features; those that do are too light to provide a great deal of stable support when used. A senior can easily lock the wheels on a rollator walker and then effortlessly sit down on a comfortable padded bench seat to take a rest before resuming movement.

The Potential Hidden Cost of a Standard Walker

It is true that walking rollators cost a bit more than standard walkers, but an unexpected fall can cost an unfortunate senior more than just money - it can cost a senior's independence and enjoyment of good health!

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