Types of Walking Assistance Devices for Seniors
There are many walking assistance devices and mobility aids designed to help elderly people who have problems moving around safely. The likelihood of falling as one grows older increases quite a bit and a fall can be dangerous, so it makes sense that a wide variety of different walking aids have been developed to provide safety and support to those who need it.
In fact, there are so many mobility aids and walking devices available today that whilst there will be something out there to meet the needs of anyone, it’s hard for many to figure out where to even start! An industry that began with simple aids such as a walking stick (commonly called a cane), has developed crutches, walkers, rollators, knee scooters, and more. Honestly, it can be intimidating when you’re first researching walking devices given all the options!
Thankfully, we have put together this guide to all the common types of walking assistance devices for elderly people available today. We hope this guide gives you a starting point for understanding exactly what products are out there and how they can help you:
In This Article
7 Types of Walking Mobility Aids for Elderly People
Canes are perhaps the most common and standard type of walking aid a senior is likely to use. By the time most of us reach our seventies, our balance will be starting to falter and a cane can really help for stability whilst reducing strain on the legs and being an easy, portable device to keep around. Most canes come in a “standard” length of 36 inches, a great height for most, but one that can be adjusted to the user’s needs.
If you ever feel at risk of falling, a cane can be very useful as a non-intrusive device that still allows for a lot of independence. Similar to crutches, canes help to support the body’s weight and help transfer some the load from the legs to the upper body.
One thing to note with canes is that although they take strain off the lower body to assist with walking, they do place greater pressure on the hands and wrists. So if you you have a weaker upper body, or arm/hands issues, a cane might not be the best choice of walking device unless you only intend to use it sparingly. Despite this, in the USA, 1/10 seniors over the age of 65 use one – so they must have some great positives!
Common Types of Canes
- Quad canes:
Quad canes are a heavier and more stable type of cane that have four feet at the bottom of the stick. These make them a great walking device for those suffering from more serious balance/stability issues.
- Forearm Canes:
Forearm canes are a type of cane that offer extra support for the forearms by having an extension to take some of the weight from the hands and wrists and and transfer it to the upper arm. These are also commonly known as crutches (which we discuss further below), and a great walking assistance device when you need to transfer a lot of pressure from the lower body to the upper body.
- Adjustable Canes:
As mention above, some canes have adjustable lengths. These are useful in some circumstances but are usually less stable than standard canes. Generally speaking we suggest people look for a properly measured standard cane before looking at adjustable options.
Crutches, like canes, take the weight from the legs and transfer some of it to the upper body instead. Crutches are commonly used by the elderly in pairs and are generally a lot more obstructive, cumbersome and difficult to use than standard canes.
They tend to be better as a temporary walking device, often used after a leg injury. However, once someone is considering a walking assistance device for long term use, there are usually better options.
Walkers, also known as Zimmer frames, have a metal frame with four legs. Sometimes they will have wheels on the two front legs to make forward movement easier. There also different type of walkers, including 2-wheel walkers and rollator walkers (discussed at4).
Walkers provide more support and balance than canes and crutches because they have a much wider contact with the ground. The user will generally place weight on the two sides of the frame, receiving great stability whilst maintaining a fair level of independence.
Despite being larger than canes and crutches, walkers are still generally lightweight and often foldable. In some cases, a walker can be even lighter than crutches!
However, as far as walking devices for the elderly go, walkers are not always the best option. They are often difficult to maneuver when out and about, when there are little difference in the high of the pavement and other similar obstructions. For this reason, if you’re looking for a walking aid to help you when outside the home – walkers might not be the best option.
While the Zimmer frame is the most basic form of a walker, there are others, such as rollators.
Rollators have a frame with four wheels, handlebars and often a seat where the user may rest when desired. Rollators normally have hand brakes for additional safety, given the number of wheels.
Rollators are especially useful for seniors who need more walking support than average, but are not wanting to consider a wheelchair at this point in time. They provide really great safety and stability for the user, but their size, weight, and bulkiness can, like walkers, cause issues during day-to-day use.
5. Knee Scooters
While similar to a rollator, the knee scooter/walker has been designed to allow the user to rest one knee on a padded cushion while propelling the walker with the other leg.
Knee scooters are an especially great walking aid if you have only injured one leg or if you want a walking device that allows you stay active. They’re really fun to use too, but probably not the best option for those with general weakness/limited mobility.
If you want to learn more about them, feel free to check out our guide to the best knee scooters.
Unlike most walking assistance devices covered above that give the user some work to do, a wheelchair basically does the moving for you – especially if you choose an electric wheelchair! A wheelchair is best used by those who should not or cannot put weight on their lower limbs or those who cannot walk. The wheelchair can be the right mobility aid for those with more serious disabilities or who need to travel over greater distances.
7. Mobility Scooters
While they’re similar to wheelchairs, mobility scooters are bulkier machines, usually designed to be used outdoors, battery powered and with steering controls. Again, like with wheelchairs, mobility scooters are not so much “walking assistance devices” as they are walking replacement devices! But they can be great for those who have trouble getting out and about
Other Options for Walking Assistance
Whilst the above is a good outline of the types of walking assistance devices available for elderly people today, they are not the only options! In fact, there is a wide variety of alternatives to walking assistance device to consider when thinking about improving your stability and independence when walking:
Ramps, whilst great for assisting anyone with walking, can be especially important for those using wheelchairs and scooters. Those who use walkers, canes or crutches also find that ramps make access much easier.
A stair lift can be installed in almost any home. This device has a seat with a control. The user sits on the seat and using the control the seat will move up the staircase or down, permitting easy aces to the different floors of a home or office without having to tackle them by foot.
Sturdy handrails may be installed almost anyplace needed, such as bathtubs, toilets, and other locations within a home or office to make the risk of falling much less likely and provide support when moving around.
Risks to Consider
As with any tool, walking assistance devices come with risks. For example, underarm crutches are known to lead to a condition known as crutch paralysis which is caused by excess pressure on the nerves in the armpit.
Improper use of mobility aids may also lead to other injuries. Seniors are especially at risk of falling and causing serious injury to themselves when using devices they have not been trained to use properly. Given that only about one-third of all users receive their mobility aids from a medical professional, this is significant risk to consider.
Thankfully this risk is easily mitigated: As with all the content on our site, it is sound advice to make an appointment with a doctor or physical therapist to learn the proper use of your device and what the best option is for you before making a purchase.
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