A wise lady in her late 80s once said with a laugh that getting older is “better than the alternative.” Still, there is no denying that with advancing years come new challenges, and some of these can have life-altering consequences. Reduced mobility and some deterioration of motor skills are inevitable as we get older. We all know that someone in their 80s is at greater risk of falling than someone in their 60s. In fact, my dear mum (now 81) fell and broke her hip over a year ago and is still struggling with her mobility. Indeed, it appears she had a narrow escape as the NHS has cited falling as the most common cause of injury-related death in over-75.
Yet sometimes it is these statistics in themselves that present the biggest problem. For those who are feeling less steady on their feet than they used to be, the fear of becoming another NHS statistic can be more debilitating than any physical condition. That is particularly the case under current circumstances when we are all conscious of the existing pressure on NHS workers and emergency responders.
It stands to reason that if an older adult is worried he or she might fall, they will be likely to go out less, and ultimately might be reluctant to leave the house at all. According to researchers from Bringham Young University, loneliness is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Clearly, maintaining mobility is as much a part of mental wellbeing as it is related to physical health. Fortunately, there are more resources available today to help maintain mobility than ever before.
Most seniors who feel the need for a little extra stability and confidence start out with a cane or stick. There’s a huge choice of walking sticks on the market, in different styles and sizes. As a guideline, a stick can support around 25 per cent of a person’s weight. It is appropriate when balance impairment is minimal, or when there is a specific weakness in one leg. Using a stick requires moderate hand grip and strength.
A walker is the perfect option if a stick does not provide sufficient support and, just as importantly, confidence. Again, walking frames require moderate grip and arm strength, but they can support up to 50 per cent of the user’s weight. The traditional walker is often known as a Zimmer frame after manufacturer Zimmer Holdings, in much the same way as we call a vacuum cleaner a Hoover. These feature four solid legs and are best suited for indoor surfaces such as carpets.
A wheeled walker is a better option for getting out and about. These have small wheels on the front legs, making them more convenient to move along as there is no need to lift the entire unit with each step, only its rear half. They are designed to aid balance as opposed to bearing a significant proportion of the user’s weight.
These walking aids have three and four wheels respectively and provide stability and balance aid, but with more manoeuvrability than a walking frame. Each has its pros and cons – the tri walker is the more manoeuvrable, while the four wheels of the rollator provide better stability.
With these, and indeed with all walking aids, deciding which is right very much depends on personal circumstances. It is therefore vital to try out all the options to make the best possible choice.