Tips and Advice on How to Shop for A Rollator Walker
Physiological changes that come with aging are often accompanied by mobility problems, the most common being unsteadiness when walking or even falls. Continuous innovations by assistive device manufacturers have been trying to solve these problems, and the results are remarkable. One such innovation is the rollator walker, which offers a wide area of support and stability when walking.
Rollator walkers, also known as wheeled walkers, were designed to meet the specific needs that the traditional walkers could not. Both of them may be made to help with mobility and balance issues, but the rollator walker has some advantages that make it superior. Take, for example, the conventional walkers require a person to lift the walker each time they need to take a step. On the other hand, rollators have a wheel at the bottom of each leg, which allow it to be pushed forward.
There are different hybrid styles of rollators on the market, which can bring a bit of confusion to any shopper. In this article, we will be guiding on the very critical factors that you should consider when purchasing a rollator walker.
History of Rollator Walkers
Rollators were invented in 1978 by a Swedish known as Aina Wifalk, a social scientist who suffered physical disability secondary to poliomyelitis. In the 1970s, Wifalk noted that the four-legged walkers at the time were not comfortable walking aids. She then began making modifications to the original frame to make it more stable, added larger wheels, storage, and seating surfaces. Wifalk also customized the walker for use both in and outside buildings.
In the year 1978, she presented the first draft of the walker. In the same year, she found a Swedish company that produced the first prototype. Shortly after, mass production began after which the walker was established globally. Presently, the rollator walker is the most common style walker sold due to its ease of use, stability, and safety.
Who Could Benefit from a Rollator Walker?
A rollator walker is best suited for you if you require assistance maintaining balance when moving. That means if you are unsteady when walking independently, you will find a degree of stability and a steady solution in a rollator. Do not wait until you get a fall so that you can start using an assistive device. Once you notice that you need to hold onto the wall, chairs or tables when walking, get one right away to prevent injury.
The fundamental reasons as to why you should go for a rollator walker include:
- You have decreased endurance or easily get fatigued when walking, secondary to extended illnesses, arthritis fractions, the physiology of normal aging, respiratory conditions, etc.
- You have poor balance such as in stroke, diabetic neuropathy, dizziness, and slow reflexes
- You cannot reliably be on your both legs like when one has a fracture, after hip surgery or large wounds that are affecting mobility
Common Features of Rollator Walkers
The basic design of a rollator walker includes a frame, wheels, handlebars, a built-in seat, shopping basket, and other accessories.
Wheels- mostly, rollators have three or four wheels. Most standard ones have two wheels on the front that can rotate easily and two non-swiveling ones at the back.
Handlebar– The handlebars are equipped with handbrakes that can be used to stop the rollator instantly. The braking system is similar to the conventional handbrakes of a bicycle. The locking is very important to prevent the user from rolling away when trying to sit or get up from the rollator seat.
Seat– The seat, which can be a simple flat surface or padded, allows the user to stop and rest when needed. It can be flipped up to let the user walk within the walker, and not behind it. Note that the seat is not meant for sitting on and pushing around. In fact, when seated, one should lock the brakes to avoid an accident.
Backrest– if the rollator has a seat, then most likely it will have a form of backrest to give extra back support when seated.
Shopping basket- the shopping basket is usually mounted either at the front side of the walker or under the seat. The loading capacity depends on the model, with most of them ranging from 5 to 15kgs.
Rollators walkers are also:
- Adjustable in height. They can be set to be at the same height as the user’s wrist when standing upright, for posture alignment when walking.
- The frames are foldable to make them easy to load onto vehicles if you travel a lot or drive often.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Rollator Walker
- Three or Four Wheels
Rollator walkers have either three or four wheels. 3-wheel rollators are commonly used in tight spaces as they are easier to maneuver. Their drawback is that they are less stable and do not come with a seat or tray for the user to rest. If they hit an obstacle, the chances of flipping forward, to the right or left are high. Therefore, 3-wheeled rollators should be purchased only when one is confident with their mobility and need some bit of extra support.
4-wheeled rollators are often preferred not only because of the space for a seat and backrest but also for their extra safety and comfort features. They are more stable, mimic the traditional walker, can take more weight and have a broader range of height adjustments. They, therefore, help you to keep balance without strenuous effort.
Even though a four-wheel rollator has its advantages, it may not be the best choice for everyone. For instance, if you cannot support much weight on your own, you are overweight or obese, it may be difficult to control the walker. Moreover, it does not have an extensive range of motion like the three-wheel and is thus not suitable if you want to make quick turns especially in small spaces.
- Size of the Wheels
Different models have different size of wheels. The larger (8 to 10 inches) wheels are easy to roll over rough terrain, making them the best for outdoor use. The smaller 6-inch rollator walkers are lighter and better for indoor use. That is not to say that that they cannot be used outdoors.
- Seat or No Seat
The seat feature allows you to lock brakes of the rollator walker and rest at any time that you choose. This feature is particularly helpful if you have moderate to severe joint pain, have hip problems, or you frequently find yourself feeling fatigued or excessively strained when walking. In addition, some rollator seats have interchangeable seats that allow you to attach the toilet seat to the frame. That means that the rollator can easily be centered securely over the toilet bowl.
When it comes to the size of the seat, they range from 13 to 18 inches for adult standard sizes and up to 22 inches or wider for bariatric rollators. The seat height may also vary from model to model. Generally, opt for one with a seat that allows your feet to rest on the ground and does not require much bending. Some seats are usually nicely padded and have a removable back support that you may want to consider for added comfort.
- Weight Capacity
Most rollator walkers have a weight capacity of 250 to 300lbs. Bariatric or heavy-duty rollators are constructed with a sturdy, steel reinforced frame that can support up to 500lbs. Be sure to check the maximum weight capacity of the rollator, to ensure that it can accommodate your bodyweight. For instance, if you are 250lbs, you will not want to settle for a rollator with a weight capacity of 200lbs.
- Height and Width Measurements
The general rule for a comfortable and safe height position is that the rollator handle grips should be at wrist height with a slight bend at the elbow (about 20 to 30-degree angle). Consider taking measurements before making a purchase, to ensure that you get the right measurements that will be most comfortable for you. Even after taking the measurements, it is also critical to consider getting a rollator with adjustment options as these measurements may change depending on the level of the ground and the shoes that you are wearing. Most rollators allow a 4 to 6-inch adjustment.
The width of the walker should provide ample space for clearance of your steps. To ensure that this is the case, check that the rollator is wider that than your hip width such that when you are seated, there is an inch space between the hips and the edge of the walker.
- Construction Material
Rollators can be designed with metal, carbon fiber, heavy plastic or blended materials. Steel and aluminum frames are the commonest types that you will find in the market. A steel frame is heavier and stronger while aluminum is known to be lightweight yet sturdy. One thing to note is that steel-made rollators are cheaper as compared to the lighter aluminum models. Although more expensive, lightweight rollators tend to be easier to lift and maneuver.
A good braking system is necessary for stability and safety. Keep an eye on brakes that are easy to operate and quick to work. A majority of rollator walkers have driving brakes that are activated by squeezing the brake handles. If you need better control of the system, you may opt for the reverse brake system which is locked by default and unlocked only when the handles are squeezed. Also, if pressing the handbrake is too difficult, then you may opt for the push-down weight activated brakes.
A rollator with the right accessories will make movements even more convenient and comfortable. Just think about it- a rollator will help you move around more easily but what do you do in case you want to get your favorite beverage from the kitchen? You may put the drink on the serving tray, but a simple obstruction on the way can make it spill. That is why you also need to consider getting a rollator with the right accessories, to make your adaptation a little easier. Some of the most important accessories to consider include:
- A cup holder to allow the user to carry a drink without spilling it, and at the same time have both hands on the rollator for stability.
- A cane holder is necessary if one needs an additional mobility aid. People who use rollators need a lot of support, but that does not mean that something like a cane is impractical. For instance, a walking cane may be necessary when getting into a small bathroom, places that do not have handicap accessible doors or those that may be impossible for the rollator walker to pass through.
- Trays for transporting meals or other items
Some of the walkers may come with these accessories when installed, but for others, one may need to purchase the accessories separately. To cut costs, it is wiser to look out for products that come with these accessories. However, if it is necessary to purchase them separately, ensure that you buy parts that are either universal or designed specifically for the rollator design that you have.
- Warranty and Maintenance
Warranties vary among brands- you will find that some walker frames carry a lifetime warranty while the parts that are built into the walker have a limited warranty. If you will be using your rollator walker regularly, some parts like the wheels will need servicing or replacement regularly. Using damaged or worn out parts puts you at high risk of injuries. Therefore, when choosing your rollator, look out for products with commendable warranty, customer service and that the parts are readily available.
Summary of Rollator Shopping in Three Easy Steps:
- Focus on Functionality: A Rollator’s level of functionality is correlated to your height and weight and its handle mechanism.
Types of Rollator according to:
- Height: Petite – 5’2 and below
- Medium- 5’3 to 5’11”
- Tall- 5’11 to 6’4
Weight Capacities: Rollator’s weight capacities vary between 275 and 400lbs.
Frame Material – Aluminum up to 200lbs / Steel heavy duty.
Handle Mechanism: The best ones are easily adjustable and should complement your height: Your elbows should bend between 20 to 30 degrees when you stand behind the rollator and grip handles.
- Aim for Adaptability
Things to consider when you look for a rollator with utmost adaptability in relation to your condition:
- Frame Construction
- Forearm Support
- Hand Brakes
- Rely on Reliability
Stability is crucial for individuals in need of rollators. It is imperative that while using this device, you feel ample relief and security. A reliable rollator should be sturdy enough to support your weight while facilitating utmost and trouble-free mobility.
There are three main types of wheel-brakes:
- Cable Brakes – Similar to the bicycles brake mechanism, and can be one or two-handed.
- Reverse brakes: has a default locked-brake system which users can unlock by squeezing a handle.
- Pressure brakes- the least common-require users to exert enough weight onto the frame to respond.
Some rollators come with a padded or unpadded seat which varies in size. Standard adult users can opt for a 13” to 18’ side seat. There are heavy duty variants and specialized Bariatric seats which are at least 22” in width.
Rollator wheels come in either a 6 or 8-inch design. Six-inch wheels are best for petite users or those who normally use the equipment indoors and on a flat surface. Eight-inch wheels are suited to those who spend a lot of time outdoors.
Rollators have either a three or four-wheel mechanism. Three-wheel designs score high in maneuverability, especially in cramped spaces and corners. Four-wheel variants are known for their sturdiness and ease of mobility. Most 3 wheel rollators do not have a seat while all 4 wheel rollators do.
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The rule of the thumb is that you should go for a rollator walker that promotes good posture and natural stance, is lightweight for travel, and provides comfort as part of improving your mobility and has accessories for convenience. Make sure to consult with your physician or physical therapist prior to getting a rolling walker to see if it is the right ambulation device for you or your elderly parent.
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