Mobility Aids and MS: Walkers
According to the National MS Society, about 2/3 of people with MS have walking difficulties, and many of those use walkers at least some of the time. In the previous article on mobility aids, I talked about foot braces and crutches and introduced walkers. Today, I am talking more about walkers. Walkers are like canes in that there is more to them than meets the eye. The objective of a walker is to ease and make safer the task of walking. Some do it better than others, but they all still depend on the user being able to stand and having some control of their legs. Let’s take a closer look at walkers, beginning with a review of the standard walkers. Then we’ll take a look at walkers with wheels.
A walker is a good choice for your walking aid even for long-term use. It may be your answer If you have spasms, stiffness, weak legs, need help with your balance, need support on both sides, or experience fatigue. It encourages better body alignment more than most other aids. A walker can be sized for height and most support 300 or more pounds. There are two types of walkers: the standard with rubber tips on all four legs, and a walker with wheels, also called a rollator.
The basic walker is a metal frame with four legs with rubber tips. This device offers stability, but the price is that it takes away energy. Standard walkers can be easily folded for transporting and storage. You move forward by picking it up and putting it back down a few inches closer to your desired destination. That sounds easy enough, but it needs to be placed down at the right place. Too close could cause tripping; too far could cause loss of balance. The other possible walking problem has to do with pace or speed. A walker is supposed to make walking easier, but it is awkward, especially without training and practice. There are times you might want more help than just with walking, so add accessories. Try a pouch to carry personal items, a reacher to get things that are just too far away, a tray to carry food, and a cup holder for a drink. A seat can be added for resting along the way. If the user has other medical needs, even an IV pole can be attached.
All of this sounds pretty fancy, but add some wheels and you have taken your walker into the second category. Wheels make it a rollator.
Rollators (walker with wheels)
Rollators are rolling walkers with two, three, four or even more wheels. All a walker needs to be a rollator is wheels. Wheeled walkers come in many different sizes, shapes, and configurations. Wheels are in different sizes and materials, some that turn or swivel for maximum maneuverability and some that allow use on various terrains. But rollators do not stop with wheels. My walker was simply an aluminum frame with two wheels on the front legs. This was a rollator, but in the 90’s we had not yet heard that word. To me it was just a walker that happened to have wheels. A device that simple is still available, but these have hand brakes similar to bicycle brakes. There are other, more sturdy two-wheeled walkers as well.
A 3-wheeled walker looks similar to an upright wheelbarrow. It is generally very light and provides more maneuverability with hand brakes. A user can generally take longer strides and must therefore have greater balance to use a 3-wheeler.
A walker with four wheels can be as simple as a tall wagon or even a shopping cart. One of the bigger ones is designed around a U-shape that promises extra stability, especially for neurological conditions. The stabilizer claims it promotes more efficient walking allowing faster speeds. In addition, it claims to adjust when the user has “freezing” instances. These are no longer your grandfather’s walker.
Common features include hand brakes and adjustable seats so the user can stop and take a rest. There are accessories like arm rests, cup holders, and baskets. The rollator itself can be different sizes and shapes, packed with features, accessories, and safety features that can increase the mobility and comfort for anyone, regardless of age.
In a Category of Their Own
Here’s something that is a bit different. If you have only one weak leg, you might want to try the knee walker. This clever gadget allows you to rest one leg while using the other to push.
Here is something else that I’m including. You’ve seen the Segway Personal Transporter, a sensation in 2001. The scooter-like device, designed to move you easily and efficiently, is used by police departments, military bases, warehouses and other niche markets. It is clever and fun. It was suggested to me that if you can stand and use a walker, you can stand and ride a Segway, but I am concerned about balance. The Segway turns by leaning. The device itself uses a gyroscope to remain upright. If you have balance problems, though, you may have a problem staying on it. And here’s an interesting Catch 22 if you have the balance to handle a Segway, you probably do not need a walker. What do you think? If you want to give it a try, be ready to pay about the price of an electric scooter.
It is important to note there are many different choices of walkers, sizes and shapes, features and accessories, but selecting one that is right for your particular needs is not always easy. Enlist the aid of a trusted therapist to guide you through the selection and then teach you to walk with it. That way you will get maximum benefit.
Always remember, getting a walker does not mean you will be using it every day. You may find it helpful to use a foot brace while using your walker, or you may find you need the walker only a few days a week. Your MS changes, your energy level changes, your walking aid can be changed, too, based on how you are feeling and your plans for the day. Next we’ll look at the future of walking aids. This one is exciting.
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