“I’ve got my walker…now what?”

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A number of articles have been written on how to choose a device such as a cane, walker or wheelchair, but less attention has been paid to how to integrate the chosen device into daily life. With the thought and effort that goes into selecting a piece of equipment, it is shocking to learn that approximately 30 per cent of prescribed devices are abandoned by users.

The reasons for rejecting equipment vary, but include the following:

  • The device does not provide the type or extent of assistance required.
  • The device draws unwanted attention to the user.
  • The person does not perceive a need for the device.
  • The fit between the user’s environment and the device isn’t correct.
  • The user does not feel his or her opinions were considered.
  • The training provided was inadequate.

This article focuses on practical tips to help ensure that you or those you care for are using equipment correctly in order to stay as safe as possible.

Remember the reason you have the device

A mobility device is often purchased because walking has become a problem. This could be related to decreased strength or coordination, a change in medical condition or an injury. For some, an ambulation aid (e.g., cane, walker or rollator) is used to help prevent falls. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t want to use my cane, it’s just one more thing to keep track of” or “I don’t want to use my walker—it makes me look old.”

What do you say to yourself when you use your device?

Changing what you say about a device can help change the way you view it. What about saying, “I am thankful for my walker; it helps keep me safe” or “Thank goodness I have my rollator. Look how handy it is to be able to sit down when I get tired.”

Practise, practise, practise

Using a mobility device often feels awkward at first and perhaps frustrating. The adage “practise makes perfect” is true—the more the device is used, the more natural it becomes. Often when a mobility aid is being prescribed, it is tried in the store or a hallway, not in your home. Typically the therapist ensures you are safe using the device, but may not show you how to integrate it into your routine.

Spending some time thinking about how you are going to use the piece of equipment during your normal day will help ensure it becomes a useful aid. Questions to consider include:

  • Where will I put my equipment so it is handy when I need to get up in the night, but where no one will trip over it?
  • How can I use it when I am preparing food in the kitchen?
  • Where do I put my device when I am using the washroom so that it is handy, but won’t fall (if it is a cane) and won’t be in the way?
  • What’s the best way to use my device when I am going out the front door, so that I can still lock the door behind me if I need to?
  • Where will I store it when I get into a car or other vehicle? Who will put the equipment away and get it out when I need it?

Make it your own

Mobility aids (especially canes) often come in different colours and patterns, and you may find varieties with distinct features. Choosing a device you like, even if it is just the colour, will help make it more attractive and increase the likelihood of you using it.

Some people decorate walkers and canes to show their personality. You can even add colourful lights during the holiday season! (Just make sure any decorations do not interfere with function.)

In addition, make sure the equipment is labelled with your name. Address labels or luggage tags can work well.

Be realistic

Sometimes in their eagerness to help you see the need for support, friends and family may over-emphasize how better your life will be when you have your new piece of equipment. Their enthusiasm hides a genuine concern for your health and well-being, but might not always present a realistic picture. Remember, the equipment will not make your life perfect—but it will help to keep you safe as you participate in life.

Keep everything in good working order

Just like everything else, mobility aids need maintenance. It is important to regularly inspect the rubber tips on canes and walkers to ensure they are not worn. Tighten any loose screws. Ensure the brakes (if there are any) are working well and the wheels do not slip when the brakes are applied. If you have any concerns about your device or if it needs repair, take it to your local home health store.

Make sure the equipment is adjusted for you and fits you

It can be tempting to try someone else’s mobility device or borrow equipment a friend is no longer using. However, mobility devices can be dangerous if they are not properly adjusted for you. A qualified therapist or the representative in the store where you purchase or rent your equipment should be able to adjust it for you and teach you how to use it correctly. If the device feels uncomfortable, tell the person doing the fitting.

Specific advice

Canes

Consider adding a wrist strap or a “cane butler.” Canes have a tendency to fall to the ground when not in use and can create a tripping hazard. It may also be difficult for you to retrieve your cane from the ground. A wrist strap keeps the cane with you. The cane butler is a device that attaches to your cane and will balance the cane against a counter or table so that it doesn’t fall over.

Folding walkers

Think about adding a small pouch to the front of your walker to carry essentials. Remember not to carry too much or anything too heavy, as this will impact the function and stability of the walker.

Rollators

Make sure you can comfortably reach items in your basket. Become comfortable putting on the brakes, turning around and taking a seat. Do not allow someone else to push the rollator (or push it yourself) when you are sitting on the seat, unless your device has been specifically designed for this. It is not safe to do this and it can cause injury.

Final thoughts

Take a mental inventory of the mobility devices in your home. Are there any you are not currently using? Do you think you need this equipment? Is someone close to you encouraging you to use it?

Make this article your stimulus to take action. Perhaps you should reconsider your needs? Check with your doctor or healthcare professional before suddenly deciding to use the device again, and then try the strategies in this article. You may find the equipment currently in your closet has a lot to offer.

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About Linda Norton, OT Reg. (ONT)

Linda Norton, BSc OT, OT Reg (Ont), is the Rehabilitation Education Co-ordinator with Shoppers Home Health Care.

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