How To Choose the Right Type of Walker

07/31/2017 09:26 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2017

Dear Savvy Senior,

How does one go about choosing a walker? I have some balance issues along with arthritis in my knee and could use a little more help than a cane provides.

Unsteady at 70

Dear Unsteady,

When it comes to choosing a walker, there are various styles and options to consider, but selecting the best one for you will depend on your needs, as well as where you’ll be using it. Here are some tips that can help you choose.

Types of Walkers

There are three basic types of walkers on the market today. To help you choose, consider the type of support you’ll need. Then, pay a visit to a medical equipment store or pharmacy that sells walkers so you can test-walk a few. Here are the different types you’ll have to choose from.

Standard walker: This is the most basic style of walker that has four legs with rubber-based feet (no wheels), is very lightweight (around 6 pounds) and costs between $50 and $100. This type of walker must be picked up and moved forward as you walk, so it’s best suited for people who need significant weight bearing support, or who are walking very short distances.

Two-wheeled walker: This has the same four-leg style as the standard walker except it has wheels on the two front legs that allow you to easily push the walker forward without lifting, while the back legs glide across the floor providing support while you step forward. These are best for people with balance issues, and are priced at around $60 to $120.

Rollator: This is a rolling walker that has wheels on all four (or three) legs. These work best for people who need assistance with balance or endurance inside or outside the home, but require some upper body strength to prevent them from rolling out from under you. Rollators typically come with a built-in seat, basket and hand-breaks. Or, for those with hand arthritis or gripping problems, there are rollators with pushdown brakes that engage with downward pressure, and will lock if you sit on the seat. Rollators typically run between $75 and $225.

Other Tips

After deciding on a type of walker, there a few additional things you need to double-check to ensure it meets your needs.

First, if you’re a large person, make sure the walker’s weight capacity will support you. And if you choose a rollator, check to see if your body can fit between the handgrips when sitting.

Also make sure the height of the walker is set appropriately for you. To do this, stand with your arms relaxed at your sides. The handgrips of the walker should line up with the crease on the inside of your wrist.

You also need to check that the walker folds easily for transport and storage, and that it’s light enough to lift into your car. Test the handgrips to make sure they’re comfortable. And, be sure you measure the doorways in your home to ensure your walker will fit through them. If you have narrow doorways consider installing “swing clear” offset door hinges as a simple and affordable way to widen them an extra two inches.

Walkers also have lots of accessories that can be added for your convenience such as food tray attachments, tote bags for carrying personal items, oxygen tank holders, and tennis ball walker glides that go over the feet of a standard walker to help it slide more easily across the floor.

For more tips on how to choose and use a walker, visit Mayoclinic.com. It’s also a smart idea to work with your doctor or a physical therapist, and be sure to get a written prescription, as Medicare will cover 80 percent of the cost.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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