The first question dad asked when his rollator arrived from Amazon was, “how on Earth do you use this thing properly?”. At first I thought it was a silly question, but then I realised rolling walkers are a little tricker to use than you might think. Here’s what we learned.
Ensure the walker is set at the correct height. Stand close to the walker with your hands on the handles and your feet between the rear wheels. Once you feel steady and strong, disengage the brakes. Walk normally and use the walker for balance and support as needed. Use the brakes to keep the walker close to you at all times, especially on uneven surfaces.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re feeling unsure or unsteady. We all need a little assistance from time to time and most people are more than willing to lend a steadying hand or help you get out of a tricky situation.
How Do You Properly Use A Rollator?[toc]
There are four main actions you will perform when using your walker:
- Sitting Down
- Standing Up
In a moment we will go into each of these in detail with tips and tricks for getting the most out of your walker.
If your walker came with instructions from the manufacturer, take some time to read through them thoroughly. (It’s boring I know but it’s important you understand exactly how your new machine functions!) We found each model is a little different to the next, with unique features, warnings, and safety functions.
And be sure to seek advice from your doctor or primary caregiver for specific advice for your unique situation.
How to walk with a walker
For some people, walking with a walker will be the most natural thing in the world. For others it will take some getting used to. Don’t give up if you feel awkward at first, this is totally normal! With a few short practice sessions you’ll be whizzing around in no time and wonder how you ever did without it.
Here is the basic process:
- Place the walker in front of you.
- Grip the handles loosely with your fingers near the brake levers.
- Make sure you are balanced, stable, and centred within the walker before you walk anywhere.
- Walk normally, keeping most of your weight on your legs, using your hands on the walker for support and balance.
- Use the brakes to control the speed of the walker and to keep it close to you.
- If one step is longer than the other, you’ll find it smoother to shorten your longer step so both left and right steps are the same distance.
Turning with a walker
If you’re already moving forward then turning is as simple as walking in the direction you would like to go. With your hands holding the handlebars and keeping your arms steady, the walker will automatically go in the direction you walk.
If you are standing still and would like to turn to move in another direction, what you want to do is keep the walker in front of your chest and take small steps to turn your body, again the walker will naturally move with you.
Avoid twisting your back or jerking the walker around as this can easily put you off balance or lead to other back issues.
Hot Tip: By braking on one side only you can achieve a much tighter turning radius. For example, to make a pinpoint left-hand turn, engage the left brake while keeping the right brake off. The rollator will now pivot off the left wheels and turn on a dime!
How to sit on a rolling walker
One of dad’s favourite features of his walker is the “anywhere, anytime” seat. (He says standing in line is a chumps game LOL.) But some walkers can be a little tricky to sit on, especially if you’re not as mobile as you used to be.
Here’s what we found works best:
- Lock the brakes by pushing down on the brake levers. This will help avoid a “Funniest Home Video” moment by keeping the walker from rolling out from under you when you go to sit down.
- If possible, push the walker up against a wall or other heavy object for added stability.
- Turn around so your back is facing the chair with your legs close to the seat.
- Make sure you are steady and balanced before sitting.
- Use your hands on the walkers seat or handles for balance. Make sure you distribute your weight evening to avoid tipping it over.
- Gently sit down, bending at the knees and using your legs to lower yourself in a slow and controlled manner. Avoid “plopping” or dropping heavily into the chair.
- Remember to keep your arms inside the handles so they don’t get snagged.
How to get back up
Standing up from a seated position on the walker is basically the reverse of the sitting process.
- Check the brakes are still locked.
- Shuffle forward and sit close to the edge of the seat.
- Place your feet directly under you so you have a stable base to stand from.
- Lean forward to move your weight from your bottom to your feet.
- Use your legs to stand with your arms offering balance and support
- Use your arms for balance assistance, either on the seat or the handles of the walker. Make sure to distribute your weight evenly so your don’t tip the walker over.
- Slowly turn around and centre yourself between the handles of the walker. Ensure you have good balance and feel strong before walking forward.
- Finally, when you’re ready, disengage the brake by lifting up on the brake handles, and start walking.
Using a wheeled walker on stairs
Do not use a rollator to go up or down stairs.
Remember rule #1: keep all four wheels on the ground!
If you need to use stairs and there is no alternative route via a ramp or elevator, then you should either switch to a cane or have someone assist you (without the rollator) up or down the stairs.
How to use a walker to get up from a chair
Your walker can provide assistance in getting up from a chair, bed, or other low-lying surface, but it’s important you push up from the surface you are sitting on and do not pull down on the walker. Pulling on the walker can cause it to tip over and put you off-balance potentially causing a fall.
- Move your walker close to you, but off to one side so you have room to stand.
- Make sure the park brakes are on and the walker is secure.
- Shuffle forward to the edge of the chair.
- Place your feet directly under you and lean forward to move your weight from your bottom to your feet.
- Use your legs to push up and use the walker only for balance assistance.
How to close a walker
Most modern quality walkers can be closed with one hand simply by pulling up on the seat or strap. If you are unsure, check the manual that came with your walker or the manufacturers website for specific instructions.
The most important thing is to keep your fingers out of the way of any moving parts.
You might have to remove the basket or storage compartment or at least the contents of them.
Finally, make sure you are not leaning on the walker when you close it.
How to lock a walker
To lock your walker in the upright/expanded position you can apply the park brakes which are usually activated by pushing down on the brake levers.
Some models can be locked closed in the folded position as well, either with a strap or simply by clicking into place.
How to park your walker
If there are dedicated parking spots for walkers make sure you park in those. Don’t double park or take up two spaces. The same basic rules as a car carpark apply.
Be mindful of where you’re at and the people around you. Make sure the walker is clear of paths and does not become an obstacle others could trip over.
If you’re in a restaurant or other public area ask the waiters or other staff member to park the walker somewhere safe and secure out of the way.
If your walker stays standing when in the collapsed position and it is convenient to do so this can be a good way to take up less space while keeping your walker close by.
Rolling Walker Safety
If you’ve purchased a modern rolling walker, and provided you follow some basic precautions, rollators are quite safe for everyday use.
Here are some of the best safety practices I’ve picked up that have helped dad tremendously:
- Keep all four wheels on the ground at all times. Lifting or tipping the walker can very quickly put you off balance.
- Stay “inside” the walker. Your chest should be facing the walker with the handles on either side of your shoulders.
- Keep the walker close to your body. If it goes too far out in front of you the risk of falling increases.
- Use your brakes to control the speed of the walker and its distance from you. Pull up on the brake levers to engage the brakes.
- Turn using small steps to keep the walker in front of you. Don’t twist your upper body or lift the walker to turn.
- Keep an eye out in front of you for obstacles. Watch out for things the walker might get caught on or you could trip over.
- Don’t put all of your weight on the walker. They are generally not designed to have your full weight on the handlebars. And they can easily tip over or shoot out from under you if you overbalance one side.
And finally, make sure you read any instructions that came with your walker. These will contain any specific instructions or warnings you should be aware of for your particular product.
Check out our complete Rollator Walker Safety Handout article here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a rolling walker do?
Rolling walkers — also called “rollators” or “wheeled walkers” — are mobility aids designed to provide assistance with balance and support while walking. They are commonly used by the elderly, injured, or disabled, but are also becoming more popular with people in their 30’s who have suffered injury or disease.
What is the proper height for a walker?
Making sure you get the right size walker for you, and then adjusting it to the correct height, is one of the most important first steps in ensuring safe use.
When shopping for a walker pay attention to the “handle bar height” which, for adjustable walkers, will be listed in a range of inches. For example, “Handle Bar Height: 29-32in”. This tells you how high the handle bars are off the ground.
If you’re over 6 feet tall you will most likely want to look at a walker designed specifically for larger people. And if you’re particularly small, say under 5 feet, you’ll want to look at a petite rollator.
Here’s how to measure yourself for a walker:
- Put your regular walking shoes on.
- Stand with your arms handing naturally at your sides.
- Measure from the crease of your wrist straight down to the ground.
- This measurement (in inches) is the right size walker for you.
Can you push someone in a rollator?
Unless you have a rollator that doubles as a transport chair, like the ProBasics Transport Rollator, you should never push someone in a rollator. Rolling walkers are not designed to be used like a wheelchair and should always be locked when you are seated.
While it might be convenient to push your loved one while sitting on their rollator, it’s actually quite dangerous.
Why? Because rollators are not manufactured to support the full weight of a person while moving. They are not engineered for this purpose and the risk of tipping over is high. And without proper foot supports, the feet of the person being pushed can easily drag or get caught under the chair causing scrapes or broken bones.
Rolling walkers are a safe and effective mobility aid that can greatly enhance your independence. However, they can take a little practice to get comfortable with. So be prepared to have a few sessions under your belt before you really start to feel like you’re a natural with them. It can be a little frustrating at first but the effort is well worth it!