Rollators (or walkers with wheels) – Things to consider.

As my Mother got older, she began to tire easily when shopping and then a stroke meant that stability also became an issue. We decided that some form of walker/rollator might help her to feel more confident when out and about. We found a height adjustable one with brakes, a back rest and a shopping/storage basket sited underneath a padded seat. It cost about $300 AUD at the time and over the next six years, proved to be a wonderful investment. Folding up easily, it would fit in the boot of most cars and it greatly improved Mum's ability to get about, both inside and outside her home. When she first took hers out to the shops, she was something of a novelty to other shoppers, who would sometimes stop and ask her where she had obtained hers. Nowadays walker/rollat are extremely popular and it is common to see older people and those needing extra stability, using them to great advantage. It is also possible to obtain delightful child-size rollators, with and without seats, available in lovely bright colours for children for require them.

Below are some of the things you should consider if you are trying to decide on which walker or rollator to buy.

Portability

Does it fold easily and will it fit, for storage or transport in a vehicle? Even if you have a very spacious vehicle, there may be times when it needs to go in smaller vehicles with limited space.

Rollator Weight

Can it be lifted easily for putting into and out of a vehicle? Bear in mind that a trip out will require this process to be done at least a minimum of four times. However, an ultralight one might be a disadvantage if the person using it is unstable and has a tendency to tip sideways.  Something with a bit of integral weight might assist with stability for those who have a tendancy to tip sideways or lean on their supportive devices.

Weight Capacity

Weight capacity varies from about 115 kg to heavy duty ones which cater for up to 225 kg.

Storage of the walker.

How will it be stored when not in use? Does it stand by itself when in the folded up position? It is possible to buy specialised covers for some of the three wheeled walkers.

Storage for shopping.

Shopping storage is very important. At the very least, there should be room for a handbag and ideally some allowance for putting some of the purchases bought on that shopping spree! If the basket is low down, check that the user is able to reach the items inside without tipping over. Some baskets are removable, with handles of their own which is a handy feature. Many walkers have the basket placed under a hinged seat. This keeps the weight of items in the basket central to the walker and gives the user a sense of security, especially if their handbag is in the basket! On the down side, it means that answering the mobile phone (probably in a handbag) becomes a problem if the user is sitting on the seat when it rings! Speaking from personal experience, our solution was to attach a velcro phone holder (phone shops, Harvey Norman and Dick Smiths have them) to the handlebars so that those important calls could easily be answered when they came through.

Brakes

Some sort of brakes is important for a walker for the safety of the user. Brakes will be used to help slow the user down when walking down a slope and to help them feel more secure. They will also be particularly important if the owner is sitting on the walker seat, as the walker will need to be braked firmly, so that it doesn't run away with them in it! Some walkers have plastic coated brake cables in evidence, a bit like a bicycle. The other two types of brakes for walkers are pressure and locking brakes. It is possible to find walkers where the brakes are hidden with no cables to catch on things. My Mother has the cable type and has not experienced any difficulties with them. Get the person who will be using the walker to check that they can easily operate the brakes themselves. Many have brake handles on either side that one squeezes like on a bicycle and these can be pushed downwards when wishing to lock the brakes. These brake handles are excellent for people with weaker hand strength.

Seat

A seat on a walker is incredibly useful. Look for one with padding and make sure that it is a suitable size for the person who will be sitting in it. The seat gives the owner the ability to take a rest if they need to sit down and also comes in useful as an option at cafes and restaurants if the chairs provided are unsuitable (no arm rests for instance). There is at least one walker on the market which has a height adjustable seat, which would be a useful feature for coping with sitting at tables of different heights.

Seat back

If the walker you are considering does not have a seat back, ensure that this is not important for you or the person who will be using it. If balance is a problem, a seat back can help the user get a sense of how far back they can safely go when seated. Seat backs are usually just a curve of metal in the same material as the rest of the frame, which is horizontally behind where the person sits and above the seat. Sometimes it will be padded with foam for extra comfort. It is also possible to get seat backs with a soft, curved material shaped rather like those on director style camping chairs.

Adjustable Handles

An important feature. Obviously a tall person will need the handles higher than adjustable someone who is shorter. Also, people sometimes lose some height as they age, due to changes in stature and height adjustable handles means that adjustments can be made for this as needed. Warning!! Do ensure that the handles are correctly adjusted before someone uses the walker. I gave my father one and he enthusiastically rushed off to try it out without adjusting the handles first. The consequence being that the first time the front wheels hit a slight impediment in the path outside, he went right over the handlebars! However, once he got used to the idea of using one and brought the handles higher to cope with his 6ft 1in frame, he became a total fan.

Wheels

Walkers usually have hard plastic wheels, (some with a hard, smooth rubber over this), which don't deflate and don't need to be pumped up. There is a three wheeler version on the market with larger tread tyres (which do need to be pumped up on occasion) which is intended for off-road conditions. Many walkers come with either three or four small wheels. Some are fixed and others operate on a swivel. A few have larger wheels at the front with the intention of making it easier to cope with walking over rough or uneven surfaces. Walkers with small wheels will come to a grinding halt when encountering most gravel or small loose stone paths and even small sticks on a path can sometimes be a problem. It is worth considering the sorts of surfaces the user is likely to encounter when choosing a walker.

Turning circle

Check out the turning circle of the walker you are considering. Being able to manoeuvre the walker easily in confined spaces will be important, not just in narrow aisles at the shops, but also inside the home. If it is possible, ask if you can borrow the walker for a trial to check out that it can cope with the home situation. This is particularly important if the person intending to use the walker is in a nursing home or hostel accommodation. The large adjustable hospital beds often used in these situations don't leave a lot of room between the end of the bed and the wall if the room is small. If you can't borrow the walker on trial, take a tape measure and work out the minimum width needed to get past the bed.

Step leverage (also known as curb climbing)

One doesn't realise until given the opportunity to push something like a walker, wheelchair or pram around, just how many obstacles are in the way of going just about anywhere. Simple things like door hobs, steps onto verandahs and getting up or down from the road to the footpath/curb will mean stopping and figuring out the safest way to navigate the obstacle. Some walkers have a point of leverage incorporated into their design to make this process easier. There is also a rollator curb climber accessory which can be bought separately and claims to fit on most types of rollators.

Accessories

Ask what accessories come with the walker. Sometimes it is possible to buy accessories for the walker which may not actually be on display. If you are still in some doubt after talking to the salesperson, do a quick search on the internet and check for yourself. The words 'This is all there is,' may just mean, 'This is all we have.' Also, there are many generic rollator accessories designed to fit on most rollators. It is even possible to buy fittings for pushing a walker in snowy conditions!Accessories may include the following:

 

  • back rests larger shopping bags serving/meal tray cane and umbrella holders
  • cup holder oxygen bottle holder curb climber gutter shape arm rest & pads
  • travel strap (for securing the rollator in its folded position)

 

Replacement Parts

Most parts of rollators can be purchased separately these days for repair or upgrade purposes. This includes the following:

 

  • padded seats shopping bags/baskets brakes including a slow down brake style
  • back rests wheels handles

 

Reflectors

The 'Active Walker' includes reflectors in its design. This is a great safety feature for helping to make someone more visible if they are walking in the evening, especially if they are about to cross a road! However, if your walker doesn't have this feature, simply buy adhesive reflector patches and attach them yourself!

Colour

There is a fantastic range of colours out there these days for walkers, so your choice can be a reflection of who you are.

Cost

Costs seem to range from less than $100 to about $350 per rollator. There is also a rollator which is able to double as a wheelchair when needed which is less than $500.

Where to buy

Many chemists stock walkers and other items designed to assist people with disabilities. Even if they don't have any on display, ask, as they may have catalogues for you to look at and be prepared to get one in for you, if you already know what you want. Some chemists will also hire out a range of assistive devices if you need something for a short span of time. Hospitals also often have a range of assistive devices for hire.

There are also a number of businesses which specialise in assistive devices like walkers. The staff in these places are usually friendly and knowledgeable and you might be able to work out a good deal.

Another option is to check out e-bay on the internet. There are walkers for sale here, both brand new and also second hand. If nothing else it will give you a good idea of what is on the market and current costs.