Using a walker correctly doesn’t come naturally
Many older adults use a folding walker to help them move around more safely and independently.
But learning how to use a walker correctly takes some practice – the movements aren’t always intuitive.
And more importantly, using a walker incorrectly can actually increase fall risk or body aches.
We explain how to adjust a walker to the correct height, how to walk using the walker, how to sit and stand safely with the walker, and share general safety do’s and don’ts.
Like with anything new, using a walker correctly will take some practice.
Your older adult may need many gentle reminders, but their safety and ability to get around independently is worth the extra effort.
First, adjust the walker to the correct height
First, it’s essential that the walker correctly fits your older adult’s height. This reduces stress on their shoulders and back as they walk with it.
If a physical therapist or healthcare professional is available to adjust the walker to fit your older adult, that’s the best option because they’re experts.
If you need to adjust the walker’s height on your own, you’ll know it’s correct when your older adult steps inside the walker and:
- With shoulders relaxed and hands on the grips, their elbows bend slightly at a comfortable angle (about 15 degrees).
- With arms hanging relaxed at their sides, the top of the walker lines up with the crease on the inside of their wrist.
A correctly fitted folding walker
How to walk safely with support from a walker
Next, it’s critical to learn the correct movements so that using a walker will increase your older adult’s mobility and safety.
(It helps to try it out yourself before demonstrating and explaining to your older adult.)
- Put the walker at arm’s length in front of you. Take the weight off your hands and gently push the walker forward.
- Use the handles of the walker for balance as you step forward with the weaker leg to the middle area of the walker. Don’t step all the way to the front. If both legs are of equal strength, then it doesn’t matter which one goes first.
- Push straight down on the walker handles as you step the other leg forward until it’s even with the first leg. Safety tip: Don’t push forward because that can cause the walker to slide unexpectedly.
How to safely sit or stand when using a walker
Another important skill is to learn to sit and stand correctly when using a walker so there won’t be unexpected slips and falls.
It’s critical that your older adult does NOT use the walker to help them sit or stand.
Instead, use the arms of a stable chair that doesn’t move or slide.
To sit down:
- Back up until legs touch the chair.
- Use hands to feel behind for the seat of the chair or chair arms.
- Slowly lower into the chair, using the chair arms for support if needed.
Sit or stand up safely and correctly
To stand up:
- Hold the chair’s arms and push up using arms.
- After standing up, hold the walker’s handles.
- Don’t ever pull on or tilt the walker to help stand up.
Wrong way to stand when using a walker – dangerous!
General do’s and don’ts for walker safety
- Stay upright to protect the back. Don’t hunch over!
- Look straight ahead when walking.
- Always step into the walker, rather than walking behind it.
- Change directions slowly, taking small steps.
- Push the walker too far in front.
- Put the handles too high.
- Try to climb stairs.
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