Choosing a walker

It's important to take the user's hand strength and cognitive ability into account when selecting a walker. Rollators with brakes and seats are wonderful, but not if the user lacks the strength or presence of mind to operate them safely.

Here are some additional factors to consider when choosing the best walker:

  • Consult a physical therapist, if possible. A PT can also adjust the walker's size properly and instruct the user in safe use. This is especially valuable if the walker is needed because of an injury.
  • Rollators are best if you're more mobile. Rolling walkers allow users to walk more quickly than nonrolling models. Most are four-wheel rollators; three-wheeled models offer less lateral support. A hemi walker is one-sided -- useful if only one arm has strength. Think about the user's purpose and preferences regarding the seat and storage.
  • Not all fit through bathroom doors. Check the width of bathroom doorways in the user's primary residence; many are only 24 inches wide. The Nova Cruiser measures 23 inches in width and should just fit through, but the 24-inch Nova GetGo isn't easy to get through a door without turning to the side. The basic Hugo folding walker is 20 inches wide.
  • Check the fit. Walkers adjust in height within a certain range, and seat height adjusts on just a few models. The user's feet should be flat on the floor when seated. Be sure the width of both seat and frame are wide enough for the user, and that the walker is rated to bear the user's weight.
  • Look at warranty and parts availability. Warranties vary among brands, and customer service and parts availability differ even more. If a walker is used regularly, some parts like wheels will need replacing from time to time. Disregarding instructions to use parts such as leg extensions by only the same brand can cause an accident, as can using a walker with a worn or damaged part.
  • Consider accessibility factors. Will a frail user need to be able to lift the walker, or will someone else be lifting it into a car trunk or back seat? Will the user be the one folding and unfolding it?
  • Wheels and glides matter. For indoor use, small wheels 3 to 5 inches in diameter are fine. For outdoor use, larger wheels of 6 to 8 inches are better. Tires that are too hard may slip, so softer tires are safer even though they'll wear faster. If a walker uses glides, read reviews or test before purchase to be sure they don't scratch your floors.
  • Consider ease and safety of folding. A seat-lift or single release allows folding of the walker with one hand, but a single-release frame walker might not accommodate a food tray. Dual buttons or paddles require two hands, which can be safer, and a paddle release is usually easier to use than a button. Beware of trigger-style releases on a folding frame; accidentally gripping the release instead of the walker handle will cause the walker to start collapsing. You may also like to have a clip or strap to keep your walker folded.
  • Compare storage and accessories. Some users prefer a removable front basket for shopping ease, while others like a closed pouch under the seat. Hanging bags and cup holders are available to fit just about any walker, but be sure the accessories you want will fit the walker you choose. For example, a paddle release on the top bar of a folding frame walker could prevent the use of a food tray.

Walker safety requires vigilance

Two common misunderstandings interfere with walker satisfaction, and can even make a walker dangerous despite good construction. First, it can be tempting to use a walker equipped with a seat and wheels as a wheelchair, or for the user to roll around the room while seated. Yet these rollators aren't designed to withstand such use, even when the user doesn't weigh much. Such improper use can weaken the frame, wheels or seat and cause the walker to break.

Another misconception concerns walker maintenance. Walker frames often carry lifetime warranties, but most parts built into walkers will wear out with normal use. Many users complain when a walker's wheels, brakes, handles and seat need replacing after about a year. When choosing one, be sure that replacement parts are readily available.

For safety, all parts of a walker should be checked at least weekly for damage or wear. If anything seems to be wrong, fix it before the walker is used again. Examine the frame and joints, check the brakes, and lean on the seat hard to make sure it doesn't crack under stress. If the user can't or won't do this, someone else must. This might seem obvious, but we found reports made to the FDA about walker accidents that could have been prevented by good maintenance or prompt repairs.

Back to top