As mobility aids, walkers can make walking safe and enjoyable for people who might otherwise fall. Ironically, walkers are also dangerous. About every 13 minutes, one older person (over 65) visits an emergency room here in the United States because of a fall while using a walker. According to the Centers for Communicable Diseases (CDC), there are 41,000 falls among older Americans every year; 112 a day, 43 of which result in bone fractures. Alarmingly, these numbers only include incidents that are reported to an emergency room.
To put this in perspective, the Consumer Product Safety Commission's latest statistics on emergency room visits due to lawn mower accidents show about the same number for lawn mower accidents: an average of 40,000 a year -- for all ages. Yet walker safety gets far less attention despite the higher risk of death from falls than from mower accidents. (The CDC reports that for older Americans, falls cause nearly 20,000 deaths a year.)
Tips for walker safety
Luckily, there are some major ways we can improve walker safety. The following basics and more are covered in our report on Walkers.
Who's watching out for walker safety?
Unfortunately, buying a safe walker now is a matter of making an educated guess and hoping for the best. Walkers are manufactured overseas -- mainly in China -- often passing through several companies before reaching a store. The Federal Drug Administration doesn't require testing before a walker gets on the market, and walkers are rarely recalled despite reports to the FDA of serious accidents. We were unable to document how Medicare-approved walkers are tested. After analyzing reviews and accident reports, we found no brand or price range we could say for sure is safe.
According to FDA reports, walker users have died from falls caused by walker frames and seats breaking, wheels or legs falling off, walkers collapsing and brakes malfunctioning. One person suffocated when a walker collapsed on his neck. The FDA documents many reports of welded walker frames breaking despite lifetime warranties. Rolling walkers (rollators) priced under $100 tend to break more than other walkers, but paying more doesn't guarantee safety; nor does buying a simple frame walker without wheels. When the FDA announces a walker recall, it's too late for the users whose accidents triggered the action.