How to choose a walker

Published 2:50 pm Friday, April 30, 2010

Dear Savvy Senior,

A few months ago you wrote a column on how to choose a cane. Can you now write one on how to choose a walker? My mom has some balance problems along with arthritis in her hip and could use a little more help than a cane provides to get around. What can you tell us?

Wobbly Walker

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Dear Wobbly,

When it comes to choosing a walker there are lots styles and options to consider, but selecting the best one for your mom will depend on her needs and abilities. Heres what you should know.

Choosing a walker

There are three basic types of walkers on the market today. To help your mom choose the right kind, consider the type and amount of support she needs, and take her to a home medical equipment store or pharmacy that sells walkers so she can test-walk a few. Its also a smart idea to work with your moms doctor or physical therapist, and be sure to get a written prescription as Medicare can help cover the cost. Here are the different types shell have to choose from:

Standard walker: This is the most basic style of walker that has four legs with rubber feet. Its also very lightweight (around 6 pounds) and the least expensive option starting at around $50. This type of walker must be picked up and moved forward as you walk, and is best suited for people who need significant weight bearing and support.

Two-wheeled walker: This is the same style as the standard walker except it has two wheels on the front legs. The wheels allow you to easily push the walker forward (without lifting), while the back legs without wheels scoot on the ground providing support while you step forward. These are priced at around $60 to $75.

Rollator walker: This is a rolling walker that has wheels on all four legs (there are also three-wheeled rollators). This type works best for people who need some assistance with balance or endurance. If your mom needs to lean heavily on her walker for support, this may not be her best option because it can roll out from under her and cause her to fall. Rollators also come with hand-breaks for easy control, and most have built-in seats for taking periodic rests, baskets for carrying personal items, and typically run between $75 and $200. &bsp;

Features to check

Before deciding on a walker here are a few extra things youll want to double check:

Weight capacity: Make sure the walker has a weight capacity that will support your mom.

Height: Be sure the height is adequately adjusted. With your mom standing and her arms relaxed at her sides, the hand grips of the walker should line up with the crease on the inside of her wrist.

Width: Will the walker fit through the doorways in her home. If your mom has narrow doorways consider offset door hinges as a simple and affordable way to widen them an extra two inches. &bsp;

Seat: If your mom chooses a rollator, make sure she can comfortably fit between the handgrips when sitting.

Grips: Most walkers come with plastic or rubber grips but you have other choices. You might consider foam grips or soft grip covers if your moms hands tend to get sweaty, or if she has arthritis in her hands or fingers she might prefer a larger grip.

Accessories: Walkers have lots of accessories that can be added for convenience such as food tray attachments, tote bags for carrying personal items, and tennis ball walker glides that go over the feet of a standard walker to help it slide more easily across the floor.

Savvy Tip: The Mayo Clinic provides an informative slide show on their Web site on how to choose and use a walker see

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.