How to choose a walker or rollator
If you could use a little extra support when you’re walking but want to retain your independence, a walker or a rollator might be what you need.
Use this guide to learn about the different types of walkers and rollators, the unique features of each, and which type might be right for you.
What is a walker?
A walker is a four-legged metal frame used to support you while you walk. They’re ideal for people who can still walk and don’t need a wheelchair but could use a little extra help. It allows the user to lean on the frame for balance and rest.
Walkers are usually made from aluminium because it’s a strong metal but also relatively light. It can support a significant amount of weight but it also easy to move around. Walkers also have rubber or foam grips to make them easy to lean on.
Types of walkers
While walkers all essentially do the same thing, some are designed for specific needs. It’s important to be aware of these differences to help you choose the right walker for you.
These are the most common types of walkers and their features.
A folding walking frame is a walker that can fold up to a compact size. In fact, most modern walkers are foldable, so you’ll find this feature on almost any walking frame you’re looking at. This allows the walker to be stored or transported easily.
Walkers that have stoppers instead of wheels, such as the one pictured above, can make it slower to walk with because you have to lift the frame as you go.
However, they also provide good support because the frame wont roll away from you like one with wheels might.
Walker with front wheels
Some walkers have two front wheels. This is to make it easier to move the walker over difficult terrain. Most of them have a five-inch wheel, which is a good size to ensure they glide smoothly over the ground.
A bariatric walker is designed to support larger people. Standard walking frames are designed to support people with weight of around 100kg, but if you’re heavier you need a stronger frame to support you. Bariatric walkers can support a person who weighs up to 225kg.
What is a rollator?
A rollator is essentially a walker with wheels but with more features. The frame on a rollator, like walkers, is usually aluminium. Rollators are more popular than walkers because their wheels make them so easy to push around. They’re also more versatile, allowing you to use it as a seat if you get tired. However, they can’t support as much weight as a walking frame because the wheels make them less stable.
These are the standard features on most rollators.
Rollators have either three or four wheels. The wheels are usually five to eight inches in diameter. Essentially, the larger the wheel, the easier it is to push around. This is especially true if the ground is rough, so if you think you’ll be pushing it over uneven terrain, get one with larger wheels.
Most rollators have a seat. Often the seat is padded, offering a comfortable place to sit if you need a rest. However, you can get unpadded ones if you prefer. Padded seats offer more comfort, but unpadded ones are easy to clean.
There are two main type of brakes on rollators – loop brakes and push-down brakes.
Loop brakes are the most common type of brake. They’re like bicycle brakes, where you squeeze a lever at the handle which activates the brakes via cable.
Push-down brakes are weight activated, so the user can just lean on the rollator to engage the brakes. This is designed for people with impaired memory or little hand strength.
Most rollators come with a storage compartment. Usually this is a basket or bag under the seat. Sometimes the basket is attached to the front of the rollator.
Types of rollators
While almost all rollators have the main features mentioned above, there are different types of rollators designed for specific needs. These are the main types of rollators and their features.
Three-wheeled rollators have two wheels at the back and one at the front. They’re highly manoeuvrable and are very useful for indoor use where there can be a lot of tight corners. However, they’re less stable than four wheels rollators.
Four-wheeled rollators are the most common type of rollator. They’re easy to push and have plenty of stability. Also, because the weight is distributed over a larger surface area they’re smoother to push.
Just like the bariatric walking frame, a bariatric rollator is designed for larger people. They’re built stronger and can support a heavier weight. They usually have larger wheels to provide more stability while riding over soft ground.
These rollators are very light and are designed to be used indoors. Because of their small wheels they aren’t suited to riding over rough or uneven terrain. They also usually don’t have a seat.
Rollator and wheelchair combo
Some rollators can also be used as a wheelchair. The wheels have a much longer base, and foot rests so someone can sit on it and be pushed. This is a highly versatile and practical option for people who need the option of using it as a walker, but also as a wheelchair when needed.
These devices are only intended to be used as a wheelchair for short periods, and are not suitable as a full-time wheelchair.
A gutter walker is a rollator with arm rests, so it can take more of the user’s weight. You can put your forearm in the rests provided and grip on to the handle. They’re designed for people who can't put much weight on their hands, e.g. people with arthritis.
A knee walker is a rollator designed for someone who needs to rest one leg only. The leg is propped up on the walker while the other leg propels it, like a scooter. Knee walkers can come in three or four-wheeled versions.
How to set your walker at the right height
It's important that your walking frame or rollator is set to the correct height for you. Most frames can be adjusted by pressing the button and moving the handle to a level that suits you.
Ensure the button is properly clicked into the hole before using the frame.
You can find the best height position by standing as straight and as close to the frame (between the handles) as you can.
Your elbows should be slightly bent.
If the handles are set too high you may experience neck or shoulder pain, and if it's too low you'll be stooping, which may cause back pain.
The height may need to be adjusted as you practice walking, depending on your posture. Ideally you should be standing straight but this is not always possible.
Using a walker or rollator safely
Like any mobility aid, they can cause pain or injury if they're not used correctly or haven't been maintained.
If your walking frame has rubber stops (also known as ferrules) on the ends of some or all of the legs, make sure these are not worn.
If there is metal showing through any part of the ferrule, these need to be replaced. At the EASIE Living Centre we will supply these free.
If your walker or rollator has a seat, make sure the brakes are applied before you sit down. If the brakes are not on, you could easily fall off the device.
Which one is right for me?
If you have limited balance and need something to support a lot of your weight, a walking frame might be best for you. If you can bear more of your weight but need a little extra support, and you want features like a seat and storage compartments, you might prefer a rollator.
This guide gives you an overview of the different types of walkers and rollators, but seek professional advice before you buy anything. The best way to decide whether you need a walking frame or a rollator is to visit us at the EASIE Living Centre and try some out. Talk to our friendly, knowedgable staff and experiment using some of the different options. This will give you a good idea of what works for you.