Many different assistive devices exist to help with mobility issues. Factors to consider when choosing mobility aids for seniors include the ability to stand and walk, balance, how much weight needs support, hand and upper body strength, and whether one or both sides of the body need support.
Devices for Seniors Who Cannot Stand Up
Wheelchairs and scooters help those who cannot stand or walk on their own. Electric wheelchairs and scooters offer more control to the user, but the user must be able to understand the controls and operate the device correctly.
Manual wheelchairs take a lot of upper body strength for the user to propel. Most seniors who need this type of chair will also need a family member or caregiver to help them move around, as well as navigate ramps and curb cuts. All wheelchair users will need help getting in and out of vehicles—even those with low profiles and ramps. Additionally, wheelchair users will need help securing themselves and their chairs within a vehicle.
Devices for Ambulatory Seniors
For those who can stand and walk, rollators, walkers, and canes may be a good choice. There are many different styles of canes. They vary in the tip (single or quad), handle style, grip, and the amount of weight they can support. Canes generally should support about 25% of body weight; however, bariatric canes are for extremely heavy users. Canes are useful for ambulatory seniors who have balance issues or weaknesses on one side of the body.
Unlike canes with a single shaft, walkers use a four-legged frame for stability and balance. They come with or without wheels, and rollators have wheels and a built-in seat. Many rollators also have a basket for carrying items. Rollator and wheeled walker users must have enough grip strength to use hand brakes and learn how to lock the wheels to sit down.
Walkers are made to support about 50% of body weight. They require upper body and grip strength. Those without wheels must be picked up and put down with each step, and this can be exhausting for someone with respiratory illness or heart problems. Wheeled walkers require less endurance. Walkers with two wheels in front and posts in the back are more stable, but the rear posts can sometimes skip or drag. Walkers help those with weakness on both sides of the body as well as balance issues.
There is no “one size fits all” with mobility aids. Canes and walkers must be the appropriate height for the user, measured from the floor to the wrist. The angle of the user’s elbow when using the device should be about 15-20 degrees. When purchasing a mobility device, review the sizing instructions and measurements to ensure a good fit.
Insurance coverage is also a factor when choosing mobility aids. Find out whether Medicare or other insurance will cover the device as durable medical equipment necessary in the home. Aids used only outside the home might not be covered.