DO YOU REALLY NEED A WALKER OR CANE?

By Pauline Geraci, Certified Personal Trainer and Owner Fit4Life Studio where every day we ask ourselves how we can add value to our clients’ lives beyond just a good workout.

I live in a predominantley retirement town.  I see many people using walkers that move slowly, are hunched over and don’t look very comfortable.  They also rely on friends and family to get their food for them, to do things for them that they would normally do for themselves limiting their mobility even further. I ususally ask myself “Do they really need a walker?”

Yes, there are many people who have fallen and are afraid of falling again but do they really need a walker prescribed because of their fear?  Yes, some people broke a hip and have limited mobility but do they really need a walker for the rest of their life?  I am not talking about people who have MS or other clearly physical issues who need a walker.

You would think walking devices may be a hard sell to older adults. They’re associated with aging and dependence in an elderly person’s mind. Researchers have determined that mobility is the most important factor in an older person’s perceived health and well-being. So why would you want to lose your independence with a walker or cane when you don’t have to?

Yes, I know there are factors that can lead to problems with balance in older people include leg muscle weakness, illnesses, medication side effects, vision problems and problems with proprioception. Proprioception is the ability to know where your body’s position and movement is in relation to the environment. As we age, this sensory ability weakens, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something that can be do about it.  We do have the power to help ourselves get stronger and more mobile.

Yes, studies have shown that a walking aid will allow someone to do more, maintain their level of activities, if not increase them. People can typically walk further with assistive devices, which is also good for their overall health, but strengthening your muscles rather than relying on a walker goes a long way for your overall health and independence as well.

Did you know studies show that those using walkers perceive themselves to have lower physical functioning, poorer general health, and more role limitations due to physical problems than nonusers? Nurses have described the use of a walker as a stigma associated with old age, affecting an elderly person’s sense of identity and self-worth, and often resulting in a withdrawal from social interactions (Rush and Ouellet 1997).  So when doctors prescribe a walker first before exercise they are causing their patients to focus on their limited mobility, resulting in a perception of decreased health and quality of life.

Exercise and mobility and stability Interventions can delay or even eliminate the need for walkers in certain individuals.  Exercise, mobility and balance training is certainly less restrictive than walkers or canes.  Yes it is more work.  Yes you might have to spend some extra money on a gym membership or personal training sessions.  Isn’t independence worth it?

Why am I against the overuse of walkers or canes?  Using a walker stops people from practicing their normal gait.  Many walkers are not fitted properly to the patient so they patient ends up stooped and shuffling. A walker is a psychological crutch.  A walker should only be prescribed if there is no other option for reasonably safe mobility.

Even if you use a walker, it is important to wean yourself away from it by attending strength training classes or mobility and stability classes.  People too many times become dependent on the walker and not their own bodies.  Strengthening your body will help you become more confident in your capabilities and less fearful of falling and thus lead to a more independent life.

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