Some 4.8 million Americans rely on them. Walkers provide the greatest support and are the aid of choice for 1.8 million citizens. Some 566,000 people use crutches, which fall in the middle of the support range.
The incidence of walkers and other assistive devices like canes has increased 50% in the last ten years since a survey was completed. With the aging of our population and the increasing incidence of orthopedic surgeries requiring aids, the numbers will only increase in the future.
But as the numbers increase, what’s happening with the design of these walkers? We don’t live in elevator buildings, nor do we all have ramped sidewalks or never have to ascend a flight of stairs or go down one.
What happens when someone dependent on a walker is in a situation like that? You know what it is; they need a helper. Independence is terminated either permanently or for a time.
A study indicated that 25% of the older American public now use assistive devices such as walkers. It is expected to double to 50% in the next decade or two.
What happens when you take a gut punch at someone’s self-esteem by removing their independence? The stress leads to immune system problems in persons already at risk. They are also at risk for mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, which furthers their feelings of inability to care for themselves. Their main concern for using walkers is what? They fear they’ll fall without one and won’t be able to get up. If they do fall, that compounds the worry they experience.
Design and Walkers
I quickly searched on Youtube to see what was being done with walker design. The only walker that allows someone to go up and down stairs by themselves utilizes a motorized tread and complicated electronics, plus it weighs over 65 lbs.
The walker was the brainchild of a group of engineering students where one member, who had taken a trip to Europe, noticed how difficult it was for persons with walkers to board buses or freely move about cities. Isn’t it difficult in the US for persons with walkers? And did they ever get a patent for the design? I don’t know, but I think expense would be a formidable barrier to overcome. And Medicare will only allow for ONE assistive device such as a basic walker or a cane; you can have either, but not both.
What is desirable in a walker? A few things are essential: a seat, a storage compartment, brakes, medium-sized wheels, and the ability to fold up and be reasonably priced. A lighter walker that accommodates gait differences didn’t have the seat and braking system other units feature. Not all walkers consider a person’s walking stride, and the seat on the unit may not slide, therefore, hitting their knees as they walk.
Here’s another with a bag to carry items and a small seat for fatigued individuals. But what about handles that can be extended upward for taller individuals? Most have a maximum height that may not suit everyone — unless you want to pay more for one that is heavier. The person is constantly slouching forward if it doesn’t have adjustable handles.
Another can be adjusted for going up stairs but has no brakes and isn’t height-adjustable, so it is for a limited number of people. With no brakes comes increased anxiety.
Who cares about colors? Persons who use walkers want stability, durability, and lightweight units that are not abhorrently expensive and have to fold into the trunk of something less than an SUV.
We have excellent, creative minds in our rehabilitation/bioengineering programs in the US, so why aren’t we seeing more attention being paid to the type of walker people need and can afford? A walker isn’t a luxury item; it is an essential life aid for anyone with a disability.