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My wife was particularly concerned about dad having a fall when we first got his rollator. She had read some horror stories about elderly people falling when using a walker. So I wanted to do some research to find out what we could do to make sure dad was safe.
Luckily, most rollator accidents are preventable, especially if you put walker safety as your top priority. This starts by choosing the right walker, maintaining it properly, and ensuring it is used correctly. We will go in-depth into each of these in this article.
Continue reading to learn everything I discovered about walker safety for seniors.
Walker Safety For Elderly People
Choosing The Right Walker
If the walker you’re using is too large, too small, cannot support your weight, or was simply not intended for the type of use you intend, then you can very quickly find yourself in a situation where a fall becomes likely. Therefore, walker safety starts with choosing the right walker.
We’ve written an in-depth buyers guide on walkers for seniors, but here are some things you should definitely pay attention to:
The weight capacity of your walker is probably the single most important factor when it comes to walker safety. If the walker cannot support your weight then it might suffer a complete collapse which will almost certainly lead to a fall and potential serious injury. Most walkers and rollators have a weight capacity around 300lbs but this is definitely something you should double check, especially if you’re anywhere close to that weight range. There are specialised heavy duty walkers for seniors that are designed to handle up to 600lbs.
Handle Height Adjustment
Your walker’s handles should come up to your wrist with your arms hanging naturally at your sides. If the handles are too low it will cause you to lean far forward and hunch over, initially causing back and neck pain, and eventually leading to a fall as you are putting too much weight on the walker. (Taller seniors should invest in a tall walker.) If the handles are too high you will have to “reach up” which causes short term arm and shoulder pain, and can result in a fall because you don’t have enough support.
Some rollators are designed to go just about anywhere you want to take them (within reason… they’re not particularly helpful under water). These are purpose-built all-terrain walkers which feature larger than normal wheels and increased ground clearance. Other walkers area really only intended for short-term indoor use and will struggle on any kind of uneven surface. Attempting to use a walker outside of it’s comfort zone is another common cause of falls.
Rollator Safe Use Guidelines
Using a rollator on a daily basis can (and should) be a safe and enjoyable adventure, as long as you follow these basic safety tips.
1. Read the instructions
Your walker most likely came with instructions, these often contain critical safety information and product-specific use and care instructions. Read them. Yes, they are boring. But knowing things such as how your brakes work and where you should and shouldn’t use the walker are rather important.
2. Don’t put all your weight on the rollator
Rollators are not designed to support all of your weight being put directly on the handlebars and can tip over with too much weight on them. Use the walker for support but always keep your weight over your feet and maintain good balance.
3. Stay “inside” the walker
When walking with your new rollator your chest should always be facing the walker, with the handles outside your shoulders, and your body within the width of the handles. This ensures you will have good balance and the full support of the walker should you need it.
4. Keep the wheels on the ground
As tempting as it can be to pop a wheelie or try to jump your walker over a creek, it’s best to keep the wheels on the ground at all times. More wheels in contact with the ground means more balance and more stability.
5. Keep the rollator close to your body
The further your walker is from your body the less support it can give and the less useful it becomes. If it’s too far out in front of you and you try to lean on it for support it can shoot out in front of you and cause a fall.
6. Lock the brakes when sitting
You should always lock the brakes before you sit down, and keep them locked while seated. Attempting to sit on an un-braked rollator is one of the leading causes of rearward falls as the walker will simply slide backwards out from under you.
7. Use your brakes when walking
Your rollator’s brakes can be used to control both the speed of the walker, and it’s distance out in front of you. If you feel the rollator moving too far forward simply pull up on the brake levers to slow it down so you can catch up and remain at a close distance to it.
8. Turn using small steps
Some people have a tendency to twist their upper body or try to lift the walker in order to turn. Instead, use small steps to turn so you can keep the walker in front of you and maintain good balance.
9. Watch for obstacles
Keep an eye out in front of you for obstacles the walker might catch on or trip over. Make sure your storage basket and any items you are carrying are not in your line of sight to the ground.
10. Attach a flashlight
Attaching a flashlight to your rollator is one of those rarely needed safety precautions that you will thank god you had if you ever do need it. We attached one to dad’s rollator using a simple cable tie so it’s always within arms reach should the power go out or if he just can’t reach the light switch.
So now you’ve selected the perfect walker and have it all setup just right for you, and you’re using it exactly as the manufacturer intended, great! But if you fail to take proper care of your walker then over time there are a number of issues that can start to creep up which can decrease the lifespan of your walker and/or potentially lead to a fall.
Here are some of the things you should check on a regular basis:
Brakes and brake cables
Check both the left and right brake levers work and are applying pressure evenly to each side. Check the park brake secures the rollator in place. Check the brake cables for signs of wear and replace at the first sign of fraying.
Handle height adjustment
Check the handles have not slipped down and are still at a comfortable height.
Nuts and bolts
Check all the nuts and bolts of the walker and tighten any that have become loose.
Clean with an antibacterial cloth
Finally, one maintenance step that is often forgotten is to wipe down your rollator with an antibacterial cloth. Hand grips, brake levers, and seats are areas that are in constant contact with your body and will be crawling with nasty bacteria in a very short period of time if not cleaned regularly. We use the Amazon Brand Disinfecting Wipes which apparently kill 99.9% of bacteria in 15 seconds… but we like them because they smell nice.