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Ins and outs of mobility aids – could you benefit from one?

Mobility aids can be extremely helpful when you’re using the proper device for you and your body. You need to think about when you will want to use one, which type to use, how to fit it to your body, and the proper way to walk with an aid. Let’s dive into each category so you can make an informed decision when choosing a mobility aid. And, if you’re currently a mobility aid user, you may even learn something new.

When’s the right time

Let’s face it – it can be hard to wrap your mind around using a mobility aid for the first time. For a lot of us, our minds jump to stigmatised thoughts based on who we think is an appropriate candidate for a mobility aid. We also think about how we will look to others.

Often, we don’t identify as someone who needs a walking device. But there are some real benefits to having something that can help you maintain your independence and do more of the things you want to.

It also comes down to safety. Anyone can use a mobility aid. In fact, there are a few tell-tale signs that you should consider using one.

If you find yourself reaching for surfaces as you walk by them, this indicates you are feeling off-balance when not holding on to something. Often, reaching for surfaces or a wall can actually cause more instability and result in a fall.

A second sign you may want to consider using a mobility aid is if you’re noticing increased foot drop. Perhaps you’re catching your toes on the floor more often or hearing your foot slap the ground more often. Lastly, if you’ve had a fall or an ‘almost-fall’, it’s a sign you’d be more stable with a mobility aid. If any of these are true for you, keep reading.

Types of mobility aids

OK, so you’ve decided it’s time to use a mobility aid, but which one? There are many types of walking aids that provide varying levels of support. Most people who are just beginning to use one will use a single point cane because it allows increased balance, but isn’t cumbersome. There are even collapsible canes, so you can fold it up and carry it with you if you find you don’t need to use it 24/7.

When using a cane, you should be able to maintain a balanced gait while putting less than 50 per cent of your body weight through the cane. Any more weight than that could cause the cane to move out from under your arm, causing a fall.

Additionally, using a cane requires coordination and balance, so if that’s challenging, you may want to consider a walker or rollator.

If you’ve delayed using a mobility aid, then a walker or rollator may provide more support than what a cane can offer. The difference between a walker and a rollator is that a walker has four legs with either two front wheels (two wheels total) or two front and two back wheels (four wheels total). The four legs make a walker a more balanced aid while allowing you to put more body weight through it. A rollator often has three or four wheels and a seat you can sit on. A walker provides more support than a cane and is sturdier than a rollator. A rollator, on the other hand, provides more support than a cane. It moves easier as you’re ambulating, while also providing a seat if you need to rest.

Other mobility aid options that can be more stable than a cane, but less cumbersome than a walker or rollator, are forearm crutches or trekking poles.

Fitting to your body

Once you pick the option that is best for you, you’ll need to know how to fit the mobility aid to you. As a general rule of thumb when using a cane, walker, or rollator, make sure the handle(s) of the mobility aid is the same height as your wrist bones while you’re standing up tall with your arms down by your side.

Adjust the height of the handle(s) accordingly and see how it feels. Ultimately, you should feel comfortable and safe while walking.

Proper usage

If you’re using a single point mobility aid, such as a cane or a single trekking pole, use this aid on the opposite side of your weakest leg. For example, if your right leg is weaker than the left, place the cane on your left side. This allows you to distribute your body weight away from the weak side of your body. This will also ensure that you are placing weight through the stronger side of your body when your weaker leg is bearing most of the weight. Without this strategy, you’d have even more body weight through your weak side, which can risk a fall.

If you’re using a non-single point mobility aid, such as a walker or a rollator, then make sure you’re staying a proper distance from the aid. Your arms should not be extended straight out in front of you with the aid far away from your body. Your body should also not be located directly in the centre of the device between the legs of the walker. The safest way to use a walker or rollator is to stand a few inches away from the back wheels with your hands holding on to the handles and elbows slightly bent.

Lastly, the rule for all assistive devices is the same. Only put as much body weight through the device as needed. You should never place more than 50 per cent weight through the aid, so if that’s too challenging, move to a more secure device. This ensures balance and safety while you’re walking.