How to Choose the Right Mobility Aids for Your Needs

How to choose the right mobility aids guide

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Having limited mobility can seriously restrict your quality of life, but fortunately, there are several different types of mobility aids to help you get around more easily.

Depending on your needs, you might find that a particular type of mobility aid suits you better, and it’s important to familiarise yourself with the pros and cons of each one.


Benefits and drawbacks of a walking cane

For some people, there is no need for a more complex type of mobility aid, but they may need help in balancing. Canes are ideal for this as they give the user something to lean on as they walk. Not only does this improve balance, but it can also take a lot of the physical pressure out of walking and help to relieve pain.

According to statistics, 16.4% of older American adults uses a cane to help them when walking.

Who is a Cane Suitable for?

In terms of mobility, there are some people who are classed as ‘active’. These people are able to do most day-to-day actions and who do not require a lot of support. These people may have minor issues relating to balance and the ability to hold their weight. Such conditions such as muscle weakness, impaired coordination, and fatigue may require the use of a cane.

People with minor disabilities and issues with balance will find that the use of a can enables them to go about their lives more easily and conveniently. They are very good for people who have recently undergone surgery, such as a hip replacement, or for those struggling with pain associated with arthritis. They’re also a good choice for people who suffer from back pain and other minor ailments.

Types of Canes

Each person who uses a cane may have slightly different needs, and as such, manufacturers offer a range of different types of canes to suit these needs. When choosing between canes, it is important to know the benefits of each type.

Single-Point Cane – When you imagine a cane, you might think about the single-point cane as this is one of the most common types. These canes can assist those who need balance support by increasing the support on the ground. However, since they are not designed to stand alone, these canes may not be suitable for people who need more complex support. The handle can either be curved in a C shape design or straight.

Multi-Point Cane – If a single-point cane does not provide you with the correct amount of support, you may benefit from a multi-point cane that could have either three or four points of contact with the ground. This is a better choice for those with increased balance needs. They are a good choice for people with neurological conditions as it has been shown that these users may put more weight on the cane, and the additional ground support will better be able to take this.

Quad Cane – The quad cane is designed with four supports at the base, which forms the shape of a rectangle. Owing to the design of the base, the quad cane offers a reduced chance of slipping and can stand by itself. The base can come in a range of different sizes, and the cane will usually have an offset handle. This type of cane is great for people who need a considerable amount of support or those who need something that can handle more weight pressure. It is excellent in terms of stability but is usually more cumbersome and difficult to store.

Folding Cane – If you are traveling and would usually make use of a single-point cane, you may find that a folding cane is great for when you are on the go. They offer the same kind of support as single point canes but can be folded and carried either in a bag or on a wrist strap. However, while they are very lightweight, these types of canes may not offer the kind of stability needed by some users.

Benefits of Using a Cane

  • Helps to relieve joint pressure
  • Improves balance
  • Provides the user with a better ability to stand
  • Good for recovering from surgery or for minor physical issues and pain

Drawbacks of Using of a Cane

  • Since canes take the weight out of the lower body and place it more in the upper body, this can put a strain on the wrists and hands
  • Your cane will only provide support for one side of the body, so will not be suitable for people who need all over support


Benefits and drawbacks of a crutches

One of the great things about crutches is that they offer excellent versatility. They are used in a similar way to a walking cane but can be used on their own or as a pair.

They increase the base of support for the user and help to transfer weight from the legs and into the upper body. What’s more, crutches can be used either in the short term for injuries or temporary conditions, as well as for users with more long-term problems.

Who are Crutches Suitable for?

Crutches are an excellent choice of walking aid for people who are dealing with temporary conditions, or perhaps those who are recovering from surgery. Their design is ideal for people who need to keep the weight of one side of the body, although it is possible to transfer weight more evenly when needed by using two crutches.

Crutches require the user to have a sufficient level of upper body strength, so this means that they may not be suitable for people with upper muscle weakness or fatigue. While they will help with balance, crutches are known to be a higher risk of injury, and so some degree of balance is required.

Types of Crutches

Much like canes, crutches come in different forms, and the type you will choose will largely depend on your individual needs.

Forearm Crutches – The forearm crutch is usually used by people who require the use of their mobility aid over the long term. Perhaps those with lifelong disabilities. This type of crutch features a cuff, through which the user places their arm. Below this is a grip for the hands, and the crutch is usually adjustable so it can be made more comfortable for the user.

Underarm Crutches – The underarm crutch features a support that sits under the arm and close to the ribs. There is a handgrip lower down for the user to hold onto and this type of crutch usually benefits people who have an injury and require short-term use of the aid.

Platform Crutches – Platform crutches are one of the lesser-used types of crutches, they are suitable for people whose grip may not be as strong. This may include but is not limited to those with conditions such as cerebral palsy and arthritis. The handgrip is supported by a forearm platform giving the user more balance without the need to hold quite as firmly.

Benefits of Using Crutches

  • Good for temporary injuries and issues
  • Provide extra support and stability

Drawbacks of Using Crutches

  • Not suitable for people with balance issues
  • Can be painful or physically demanding to use
  • Using crutches limits the use of the arms for other things


Benefits and drawbacks of a walker

A walker is a good choice for people who need a little extra support but who can still get around reasonably well. With a much wider base of support, they are suited to a variety of conditions and aren’t expensive, with most walkers costing somewhere between $30 and $300 for the top of the range ones.

Who is a Walker Suitable for?

As many as 11.6% of seniors in the USA use a walker for mobility support. You might sometimes hear these devices being referred to as zimmer frames, but these are both names for the same things.

A walker is a large frame with four legs and three sides. The back part of the walker is open to allow space for the user. These devices offer much greater weight-bearing capacity and are suitable for those who have more severe impairments. They are ideal for people recovering from surgery and may also benefit those whose lower body strength is lacking.

Types of Walkers

Similarly to canes, there are several different types of walkers and depending on your needs, you may benefit from a certain type.

Standard Walker – Standard walkers feature four feet that make contact with the ground but unlike some other types of walker, they do not feature any wheels. You will need to be able to lift the walker before taking a step, so you should have reasonable upper body strength for this. Being the most common type of walker, these devices allow the user to lean forward and balance with each step.

Two-Wheeled Walker – These walkers have two feet at the rear and two wheels at the front. These are good for people who are lacking in upper body strength and who would struggle to lift a standard walker. However, it is important to keep in mind that, because of the wheels, you may not be able to bear as much weight onto a two-wheeled walker. 

Knee Walker – If you have one leg stronger than the other, then a wheeled knee walker might be right for you. These devices feature a padded cushion on which you can rest your knee while using your stronger leg to propel you along.

Hemi Walker – A hemi walker doesn’t look like a traditional walker and instead more closely resembles a cane. These devices have a cane-like structure but feature four, wide spread feet at the base. They are ideal for those who require support on only one side of the body.

Benefits of Using a Walker

  • Provide support for those with a high fall risk
  • Good for weight bearing depending on the design
  • Help with balance
  • They can help the person to stand
  • Good for surgery recovery or for people who need support on both sides of the body
  • More sturdy and strong than a cane

Drawbacks of Using of a Walker

  • Not as easy to transport as a cane
  • Can be difficult to use
  • Requires good upper body strength


Benefits and drawbacks of a rollator

For some people, a walking frame may be too difficult to use and that’s where rollators become invaluable. These devices still have the frame-like design but are fitted with wheels that help the user get about more freely without having to use any additional strength.

Who is a Rollator Suitable for?

One of the main benefits of the rollator is that some come with a built-in seat. This makes it ideal for people who may need to stop and take frequent rest breaks. Moreover, it is a good temporary choice for people who are recovering from surgery and need support on both sides of their body.

The rollator is essential for people with more severe mobility restrictions but who would find it difficult to use a standard walker owing to a lack of upper body strength. For people who have issues with balance and are at an increased risk of falling, the rollator is a very good choice.

Types of Rollators

When we discussed walkers, you will have noticed that there are those that feature two wheels. The difference where a rollator is concerned is the number of wheels. They come in either three or four-wheeled designs.

Three and Four Wheeled Rollator – If a walker only has wheels and no feet then it is known as a rollator. They typically come with either three or four wheels but there are some models that can have up to seven! You’ll notice that they usually come with safety features such as a brake and these devices offer increased support and stability for those with severe balance issues.

The three-wheeled rollator might feel easier to maneuver, especially when turning, but you’ll get greater stability from a four-wheeled design. Typically, they are meant for outdoor use, but it is possible to come across smaller models that can be used around the home.

Benefits of Using a Rollator

  • Rollators can help to lower the risk of falls
  • They give support on both sides of the body
  • They provide a place to rest
  • They are easy to use
  • Ideal for people without good upper body strength

Drawbacks of Using of a Rollator

  • Not as stable as a walker in terms of weight bearing
  • More suited to outdoor use
  • Overuse may affect your posture as you will need to lean forward to use the device
  • Use of your arms will be limited in other ways as you must hold onto the rollator to control it

Mobility Scooter

Benefits and drawbacks of a mobility scooter

A mobility scooter is a powered device that the user sits on to get around. These are suitable for people who may not need to use a powered wheelchair, but for whom a cane or walker would not provide enough support. They’re great for going over longer distances where some of the manual walking aids we have discussed might not be suitable.

Who is a Mobility Scooter Suitable for?

If you need help getting around, especially over longer distances but do not have the upper body strength to use a manual wheelchair, then a mobility scooter may be the most realistic solution. These battery-powered devices feature either three, four, or five wheels and may improve the quality of life of those who may not otherwise be able to get out and about.

Mobility scooters are suitable for people with disabilities and who have the correct strength and coordination to steer the scooter. These devices are also more suited to people who have reasonable balance as this will ensure that they can mount and dismount the scooter with ease.

Types of Mobility Scooters

All-Terrain Mobility Scooter – An all-terrain mobility scooter comes with wheels that are designed to work on a variety of surfaces. They’ll give you much greater stability over surfaces like grass and sand, depending on the model. However, they do tend to be larger and so may be difficult to use in confined spaces.

Folding Mobility Scooter – If you travel a lot, then a folding mobility scooter will give you far much more freedom. These are usually a lot more compact and easy to store. This means that they may not be useful for uneven terrain and will need to remain on smooth, even surfaces. However, as well as being easy to transport, they are also a good option for people with limited storage space.

Heavy-Duty Mobility Scooter – For larger individuals, a heavy-duty mobility scooter provides a safe way to get around. These scooters usually have a higher weight capacity that may go up to 550lbs.

Benefits of Using a Mobility Scooter

  • Great for traveling over longer distances
  • They will increase independence
  • Many scooters collapse for travel
  • Battery powered

Drawbacks of Using of a Mobility Scooter

  • Some larger scooters may be difficult to use in tight spaces or hard to turn around
  • Seating options are limited
  • Mobility scooters are not suitable for those with balance or coordination issues
  • Mobility scooters can be very expensive, although there are mobility benefits and organizations that may help towards the cost

Manual Wheelchair

Benefits and drawback of a manual wheelchair

A manual wheelchair is the most affordable option when choosing between it and a powered wheelchair. They do require the user to have adequate upper body strength to propel that chair, but a clear advantage is that many of these chairs fold down, making them ideal for transporting and storage.

Manual wheelchairs are a good option for people who might be able to use a walker over short distances but who may need more assistance when traveling over longer distances. They are lightweight, and while they don’t have as many features as their powered counterparts, they are easy to use.

Who is a Manual Wheelchair Suitable for?

The manual wheelchair would be suitable for anyone who cannot use their lower limbs, whether this is due to disability, weakness, or recovering from a serious injury. These devices are only suitable for those who have the strength and coordination to propel the wheelchair using their arms. For people with certain neurological conditions that affect strength and coordination, a powered wheelchair would be a better option.

These wheelchairs are also suitable for people who require full-body support but that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to use the chair all the time. Some users may find that they are able to walk with a walker or a cane while opting for their wheelchair when physical needs demand it. Furthermore, for users who may be susceptible to injuries from falls or bumps, a manual wheelchair offers suitable protection.

Types of Manual Wheelchairs

Standard Wheelchair – The standard wheelchair is the most affordable and simple design when it comes to manual wheelchairs. They are good for light use and meet the most basic needs of most wheelchair users. They can be pushed or self-propelled.

Heavy-Duty Wheelchair – For larger users, the heavy-duty manual wheelchair provides greater stability and weight capacity. The weight capacity of the chair will vary between manufacturers, but on average, you can expect a heavy-duty, also called a bariatric wheelchair, to manage between 500-600 lbs. The seats on these chairs are also wider to comfortably accommodate the user.

Transport Wheelchair – A transport wheelchair is much more lightweight and must be propelled by a caregiver. They are, as their name suggests, used for transporting the user from place to place.

Reclining & Tilt-in Space Wheelchair – Some manual wheelchairs have the ability to be adjusted. Reclining wheelchairs feature a backrest that tilts back whereas tilt in space wheelchairs tilt the user between 30 and 60º while maintaining the angle of the hips and legs.

Benefits of Using a Manual Wheelchair

  • Assists with independence
  • Suitable for users with weak lower limbs
  • Can be used with other types of walking aids
  • Comfortable
  • Offers full body support
  • Protects from injury

Drawbacks of Using of a Manual Wheelchair

  • Users must have good upper body strength in order to propel
  • Not good for inclines or very long distances
  • Some users may experience repetitive strain injuries from propelling

Power Wheelchair

Benefits and drawbacks of a power wheelchair

The power wheelchair features a lot of options that make it more suitable for people with very severe mobility issues. These electronic devices are designed to boost your independence and allow you to get about without as much, if any assistance, depending on your needs.

When purchasing a power wheelchair, users must keep in mind that it does come with a much higher cost. That said, there may be financial assistance available depending on your location. Moreover, you will need to familiarize yourself with the terminology and technology associated with these wheelchairs in order to choose the right one for your needs.

Who is a Power Wheelchair Suitable for?

A powered wheelchair is suitable for users who require more permanent mobility assistance. For disabled users who rely on day-to-day support, a powered wheelchair may provide them with greater independence. They’re also an excellent option for people who are lacking the strength and/or coordination to operate a manual wheelchair. There are now even power wheelchairs that can be neurologically operated, although these are new and not widely available.

Power wheelchairs are also great for people who require more full-body support, perhaps those that are unable to balance or support themselves adequately. There are many customization options that allow you to tailor the wheelchair to your specific needs. You’ll also find that owing to the smaller footprint, these wheelchairs are better for indoor use where a manual wheelchair may struggle.

There are various conditions that may warrant the use of a power wheelchair including MS, cerebral palsy, diabetes, amputees, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.

Types of Power Wheelchairs

Portable Electric Power Wheelchair – If you need to use a car or other type of transport and require a power wheelchair that can be taken with you, then a portable electric power chair might be right for you. These wheelchairs can be folded for space-saving purposes and are much more lightweight.

All-Terrain Power Wheelchair – For users who rely on the use of their power wheelchair for everyday needs, an all-terrain model will better be able to navigate various types of terrain. The wheels are more robust, and the tires will have better grip. These features promote greater stability when moving over uneven ground, making the chair much safer.

Heavy-Duty Power Wheelchair – If the user is heavier, then a standard wheelchair will not offer the safety and support required. That’s where heavy-duty power wheelchairs are essential. Much like other types of bariatric mobility aids, they are designed to cope with more weight and are therefore safer and more comfortable for larger users.

Elevating Seat Power Wheelchair – If you are using your wheelchair every day, then you will need to access surfaces that are higher up, such as countertops and tables. A powered wheelchair with an elevating seat allows the user to move up and down using a gas or pneumatic lift, making it easier to reach surfaces or simply be at eye level with other people.

Benefits of Using a Power Wheelchair

  • Powered wheelchair does all of the work for you
  • They are great for long term use
  • Good for users without upper body strength
  • The wheelchair can be more easily tailored to your needs
  • Very comfortable

Drawbacks of Using of a Power Wheelchair

  • Expensive
  • More difficult to transport
  • Some models are very heavy
  • It can take some time to get used to operating the wheelchair
  • These wheelchairs needs more maintenance and you must be prepared to stay on top of charging the battery to avoid running out of power

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