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Finding the Right Fit: Walker, Scooter, & Wheelchair Options for Older Adults

Limited mobility and social isolation often go hand in hand. Elderly adults are particularly vulnerable to depression following losses in mobility, which can lead to isolation and poor health. Thankfully, there are a number of assistive devices that can help the mobility-impaired restore their independence. In fact, some of these devices may even be covered in-part by Medicare. Whether you want to spend more time with your loved ones, remain engaged with your community, or just go shopping for groceries, there’s an assistive device that can help.

Finding the right mobility aid means selecting a highly personalized solution. From the type of terrain you cover in your daily activities, to postural support or other special needs, it’s crucial to find the perfect fit to maximize your mobility. A comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of the most common mobility solutions can help you take the first step towards finding the assistive devices that are right for you.

Walkers

Providing a wide base of support, older adults may find that a walker is a great way to help provide balance if they are recovering from a recent injury or surgery. Well suited for indoor use, walkers provide far more stability than canes and are highly adjustable in order to perfectly suit an individual’s height and weight. Walkers are also easy to fold down for transport, typically weighing between 6 and 15 lbs.

While standard walkers are useful for restoring mobility inside your home, they’re not as adept at handling the kind of uneven terrain that’s common outdoors. Wheeled walkers, such as four wheeled rollators, have a wider range of movement that’s specially adapted for traveling outside. Compared to wheelchairs and scooters, walkers are one of the lightest mobility aids available and are a good choice for those who only need a little extra help getting around.

Wheelchairs

If walkers aren’t a feasible option, a wheelchair may be the next best thing. Wheelchairs can help accommodate several different types of seating and postural support, making them one of the most comfortable assistive devices. There are also a huge range of wheelchair accessories available, like carrying trays, cup holders, and cushions, that can help maximize the convenience and utility of the chair.

For individuals who lack the upper body strength to manage a normal wheelchair, or elderly persons who suffer from a respiratory or cardiac health issue, more specialized, motorized wheelchairs are available. However, unless you need the extra assistance of a motorized chair, normal wheelchairs are your best choice. This is because using an unnecessary motorized chair can cause you to lose strength and endurance, which may worsen your health.

Compared to scooters, wheelchairs have two large advantages: turning radius and weight. Wheelchairs have a very tight turning radius, making them well suited for maneuvering through small indoor spaces. They’re also substantially lighter than scooters, with normal chairs weighing a tiny fraction of the weight of a scooter. However, because wheelchairs have a narrower base and wheel size, they’re usually less adept at handling outdoor terrain.

Motorized Scooters

Scooters are the champions of extensive outdoor use. They’re ideal for individuals who are already mobile in their homes, with or without the aid of a walker, but could use a little extra help getting around their community. Scooters are also suitable for those who can’t use a wheelchair due to strength, balance, endurance, or coordination issues.

Compared to using a wheelchair or a walker, older adults may find that motorized scooters tend to be far more unwieldy for indoor use. With a much larger turning radius, it’s typically more difficult to use them in cramped spaces. On the other hand, outdoor scooters have a durable four-wheel design that can easily handle battered sidewalks and roads that are more difficult to travel with either a walker or wheelchair. If you have to cross steep driveways, sidewalks, or snow and ice, a motorized scooter may be your best bet.

For all their advantages, geriatric motorized scooters do have one noteworthy limitation. Most mobility scooters weigh between 300 and 500 lbs, making them more difficult to transport than their counterparts. This problem can be remedied with the aid of a vehicle equipped with a mechanical lift.

Finally, if you live in an assisted living community, you should also ask if there are any scooter rules for the community. While scooters are not always a replacement for walkers and wheelchairs, any combination of the three may be used to maximize mobility and help restore the independence that’s so valuable to older adults.

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