Walkers are one of the most common walking aids, second only to canes. Seems like you see them everywhere. Although, it could just be me since I work in the durable medical equipment field as a custom wheelchair specialist! It is important for seniors to know about these important mobility aids because, statistically speaking, the chances are high they will need one someday. But, did you know there are (at least) 10 different types of walkers for seniors? Would you know which type of walker is best if you or a loved one needed one?
The 10 Common Types of Walkers
In general, a walker is a walking aid with 4 legs with a cross brace or two and handles. A walker is used by grasping the handles and supporting the weight of the user while they walk. They are also used to keep the user balanced as they walk. Essentially, the main purpose of a walker is to support the elderly person and reduce the chance of a fall.
It is important to know that sizing a walker properly is essential to senior safety. Extremely tall or extremely short people need walkers that fit properly. Choose a walker that accommodates these height differences.
Here are the 10 types of walkers for seniors:
#1 – Anterior Safety Walkers
This is the original style of walker. These are usually all steel with a wide base that has 4 caster wheels on it. They can be adjusted up and down for the height of the user but that is about it. They do not fold up and are difficult to get out of the way when not in use. The invention of the lightweight folding walker brought about the decline of this type of safety walker. Although, this type of walker is still used today with bariatric patients because it is heavier, sturdier, and can bear more weight than many of the newer styles.
Folding Walkers for Seniors
To solve the problems with anterior safety walkers, medical equipment manufacturers designed folding walkers. These walkers fold up into a small, thin package that is easy to store and transport. This also keeps them from being in the way when they are not used. Most walkers used today are lightweight folding walkers.
#2 – Lightweight 1 Button Folding Walkers
These walkers are made of aluminum and are lighter in weight than the older safety walker style. They fold up easily with only one hand using latch or button in the middle. The best use for this type of walker is an elderly person who has had a stroke or weakness in one hand and only has one usable hand to fold it up. The drawback to this style is that it must be either completely opened or completely closed. Sometimes, there is a need to only partially fold a walker as you will see below.
#3 – Lightweight 2 Button Folding Walkers
This is the most popular type of walker used today. Like the 1 button folding walkers above, these are made of aluminum and are lightweight. However, these walkers use two buttons or latches to fold up – one button for each side. That way, the user can fold up one side at a time. This is useful to get through small doorways or around obstacles such as a toilet. The user can fold one side of the walker in and then use the other side to stabilize themselves. This is also helpful with transferring to a bed or wheelchair too.
Wheeled Walkers for Seniors
Even though walkers became available in lighter weight materials, some elderly people are not strong enough to lift them up while walking. To help these people, walkers with wheels became available. These walkers stay in contact with the floor at all times and glide along with the user as they walk. This also benefits the user by supporting them during the entire step. This type of walker comes in 3 different configurations: 2 wheeled walkers, 3 wheeled walkers, and 4 wheeled walkers.
#4 – 2 Wheeled Walkers
A 2 wheeled walker is usually set up with the two wheels on the front two legs. The back legs may be left alone or have other attachments on them. It is not uncommon to see tennis balls on the back legs of a walker! Tennis balls are used to make the back legs glide along with the front. There are actual glides that attach to the back of a walker that look like little skis. Sometimes, pressure activated brakes are even put on the back legs. These brakes are mainly used for someone who is frail and may not be able to keep the walker from rolling. They can put pressure on the back of the walker and keep it from rolling.
#5 – 3 Wheeled Walkers
A 3 wheeled walker is a really a completely different style of walker altogether. This walker only has 3 legs and looks like a triangle from above. The top point of the triangle points forward away from the user. The user then uses the back two legs of the walker to support and balance themselves. Because of the shape of this type of walker, it is smaller and easy to move around than a 4 legged walker. They tend to be lighter in weight too. Another name for this type of walker is a 3 wheel rollator.
#6 – 4 Wheeled Walkers
This type of walker has 4 wheels – one on each leg. This keeps the user from having to pick it up every time they take a step. Instead, the walker glides along with them as they take each step. This saves energy along with arm and shoulder muscles. Users of 4 wheeled walkers need to control each part of their steps to keep the walker from rolling too fast. They must keep the walker from getting away from them too. Rollators discussed below are also called 4 wheel walkers sometimes. You can read more about 4 wheeled walkers with seats in this article.
Seat Walkers for Seniors
One of the next types of walkers for the elderly that developed were seat walkers for the elderly. Initially, these were just standard folding walkers with seats that snapped onto the sidebars. They eventually developed into the rollators that seniors use today.
#7 – Rolling Walker with Seat, aka Rollators
Rollators are really just 4 wheeled walkers with a seat. The seat is handy for someone who can walk some but needs to stop and rest every now and then because they tire easily or lose their breath. With a rollator, they can lock it so it doesn’t roll and then turn around and sit down on the seat. Once they have rested, the user stands back up, unlocks the rollator, and they are ready to go again. They also have larger wheels and are better for use outside. These rolling walkers with seats are larger than a typical walker though. Sometimes, they may not fit in areas that a regular walker will. The best rollator walkers are a huge help to regaining mobility for an elderly person who just needs a little help.
Specialty Types of Walkers for Seniors
There are other kinds of walkers that have been designed for very specific uses or to solve very specific problems. Some of these specialty walkers for the elderly are:
#8 – Side Walkers, aka Hemi-walkers
Like the 3 wheeled walkers above, this type of walker is also unique in its style and how it is used. This walker has four small legs that taper to a single handle. They are used to the side of the person instead of in front of the user. This style of walker is generally used with someone who has had a stroke and needs support on one side. Because hemi-walkers have a wider base and more points of contact, they offer more support than canes. Sometimes, people who have had a stroke also cannot grip a walker with both hands so they will use a side walker.
#9 – Bariatric Walkers
For the larger sized people, there are bariatric walkers. This type of walker is designed for people over 300 lbs and can support up to 1000 lbs in some cases. Like the other kinds of walkers above, these come with and without wheels and also with and without seats. These walkers are heavier than others – but that is by design. They use heavier materials and have more support for higher weight capacities.
#10 – Knee Walkers
Knee walkers look and work differently than the other types of walkers for the elderly. Another name for these is knee scooters because the user supports their weight on one knee. The main purpose of this type of walker is to temporarily support an injured lower leg while the user walks with the other leg. It is common for knee walkers to be used on a temporary basis for someone with a broken leg or foot ulcers. These walkers have handlebars and are sometimes even steerable. Often, knee scooters are used in place of crutches for longer periods of outdoor use like walks, shopping, etc. Read more about knee walkers in this helpful guide.
Walkers: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best way to use a walker?
It is always a good idea to check with a physical or occupational therapist in your area when beginning to use a walker. Online resources like Cleveland Clinic and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offer tips on using a walker correctly.
What percentage of Americans use walkers?
Consumer Affairs reports that 11.6% of seniors use a walker, second only to canes at 16%.
Are walkers only used by elderly people?
No! Walkers are also used as a temporary mobility aid during recovery from hip surgery. As the hip heals, most people then use a cane.
How Many Types of Walkers Did You Know?
So, how did you do? Did you know all 10 types of walkers for the elderly? Let me know in the comments below! If you see something I missed or have an experience shopping for a walker you would like to share, let me know about that too!