Many elderly suffer from lower limb weakness, injury, as well as difficulty in balancing, and these may affect their mobility. For such patients, walking aids can make an important difference in enhancing mobility and helping them retain their independence.

At Sengkang Community Hospital (SKCH), which is managed under SingHealth Community Hospitals (SCH), approximately 70 per cent of the patients who are aged 60 and above use some form of walking aid, said Ms Chitra Chandran, Senior Physiotherapist, SKCH. Hip fractures and elective knee replacements are two of the common reasons why.

Seniors, however, are not the only ones who require walking aids. Children and young adults with ankle sprains and lower limb fractures may need them, too.

“Walking aids provide additional support through the hands and help with balance,” said Ms Chandran. When used properly, walking aids can reduce the risk of falls.

Professional help

The lack of balance while walking and completing daily tasks may be a telltale sign that patients require walking aids. In such cases, they should consult medical professionals for advice rather than simply buying one off the shelf.

“Elderly persons in fairly good health should have sufficient strength to move around unaided, even if they require more rest. But if they find themselves getting weaker, there could be an underlying medical condition,” said Ms Chandran.

“For example, a stroke may result in sudden single-sided weakness, and a decrease in blood pressure may cause dizziness. A medical professional will do a thorough assessment to find out the root cause before recommending a suitable walking aid based on the patient’s requirements,” she added.

With the wide variety of walking aids available, physiotherapists will recommend the most suitable option to meet each patient’s needs. For instance, rollators (rolling walkers) and walking frames may be chunkier, but they provide more support than quad sticks, walking sticks, and crutches.

The physiotherapist will also adjust the walking aid to suit the patient’s height. “If the walking aid is too high, the user may hike his shoulder, which can cause shoulder strain. If it is too low, the need to bend his body forward may result in back pain,” Ms Chandran explained.

Safety techniques

Physiotherapists also provide guidance on safe use. For instance, on level ground, patients should first move the walking aid forward, and step ahead with their weaker leg, followed by the stronger leg to ensure there is sufficient support.

The same applies when going down the stairs. The weaker leg should be lowered first so that the stronger leg can support the weight of the body going down. However, the sequence changes for climbing stairs — users must put their stronger leg forward first so that they have enough strength to propel themselves upward.

When climbing stairs with a broad-based quad stick, the entire base of the quad stick must fit onto the step to ensure there is adequate support when users lean forward. For adults with a smaller build, when they cross a kerb with a walking frame, they should put the frame halfway across, move closer, then put the frame over the entire kerb before crossing over. If they try to put the entire frame across immediately, they may end up losing their balance.

Training sessions are useful for physiotherapists to assess patients’ ability to coordinate movement with a walking aid. “For patients with cognitive impairment or learning disabilities, walking aids may increase their risk of falling and are not recommended,” Ms Chandran said.