Right now, 16.3% of Americans have mobility issues and face challenges on a near-daily basis. Unfortunately, many adults who do need mobility aids won’t use any—and a large part of the reason why comes from their negative beliefs and attitudes towards them.
The truth is that using a walking aid is no different than using other kinds of aids. It’s much like wearing prescription eyeglasses. These devices enhance your life so that there are fewer daily challenges and struggles.
So if you’re still somewhat steady on your feet, then you have two options to choose between: A traditional walker and a rollator.
Although many people confuse the two, traditional walkers and rollators are two different types of mobility aids. Traditional walkers typically have four legs and no wheels, while rollators have anywhere between two and four wheels.
These mobility devices help individuals feel more independent while also improving their life in other ways like:
However, when shopping for a new mobility aid, landing on the right walker or rollator requires some research.
First, let’s break down the core differences between the two and how certain people can enjoy the many benefits of traditional walkers or rolling walkers.
Also known as medical walkers, traditional walkers are ideal because they provide plenty of support. However, these walkers must be lifted to move, which means that the user should have enough upper body strength to lift the device as they take each step.
It might be time to consider a traditional walker if you’re incapable of putting enough weight on both legs, have poor balance, or if your cane is not providing sufficient support anymore.
Walkers are perfect for those with poor balance, who can’t walk long distances, but can still stand on their feet comfortably.
Traditional walkers are typically made of a metal frame on four legs with support bars in the center. However, each walker has height and weight capacity recommendations, which means that you might have to consider a rollator with more adjustable options if you’re exceptionally tall or heavy.
The bottom line: Traditional walkers are mobility devices without all the bells and whistles. This makes them an ideal, simple alternative to rollators, wheelchairs, or hybrid walkers. Although some models do fold up, many may not. However, they’re still considered relatively lightweight, which makes them a simple and inexpensive option.
Think of a rollator as an upgraded, flashier version of a traditional walker. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re any more complicated than their more simple counterparts: Rollators also consist of a frame with four legs — but may have anywhere between two to four wheels.
Because of the wheels, users don’t have to lift the frame with each step. For some, wheels are an easier way to get around. Rollators also have handlebars that are easy to grasp, and some models have a built-in seat.
It might be time to use a rollator if you can still walk comfortably but cannot hold onto balance as easily. If you’ve lost balance or had more than two to four falls in six months, then a rollator might be a good choice. Rollators are designed to enhance walking speed and balance during use.
In most cases, a rollator offers less stability and balance than a traditional walker. Although rollators have four wheels and hand brakes, they’re not designed for people who rely entirely on their walker to support and handle their weight capacity.
If the user is not strong enough to stand on their feet, they could slip or roll when using a rollator, leading to a significant injury.
The bottom line: Rollators allow for an active lifestyle for those who can still walk and stand but need a little bit of extra support. They are also considered a slightly more upgraded version of traditional walkers, since they come with a built-in seat. Some models even feature a convenient shopping basket or bag for storing personal items.
If you choose a mobility aid that isn’t right for you, then you run a risk of exposing yourself to more falls, injuries, and aches and pains in your joints.
Before you begin shopping online or at your local medical supply store, consider the factors that can help you decide between a traditional walker and a rollator.
Almost every traditional walker, rollator, and even most wheelchairs require some level of upper body strength.
Standard walkers weigh around six pounds, and many rollators vary between seven and 12 pounds. If you’re using these mobility devices, you’ll need to have arms strong enough to hold yourself up, keep stable on the handles, and push or lift the walker without issue.
Traditional walkers can be used on almost any terrain, although it may be challenging to transition from carpet to hardwood or grass to rocky gravel.
It’ll be much easier to have a foldable, lightweight walker that can maneuver between different terrains if you often switch between indoor and outdoor settings. Before purchasing a new mobility aid, ask yourself how much time you’ll spend inside and outside.
Another vital thing to consider is whether you plan to use your aid going downhill or uphill — a common example of this is using your household’s driveway. Rollators have rear wheels, which means that even with brakes, caution should be exercised going down a driveway if you’re not steady enough on your feet.
Wheels make moving more manageable. However, they can be dangerous, depending on your stability. You should be steady enough on your feet to avoid willingly rolling with a rollator and strong enough to lift the traditional walker frame with each step.
If a person with a rollator is unstable on their feet, they could fall while attempting to brake, adjust the wheels, or even avoid going downhill. Similarly, those with significant balance or walking issues won’t experience benefits with a traditional walker. If it comes to a point where the walker or rollator isn’t helping, it may be time to consider a wheelchair instead.
Think about how much adjustability you require for your frame, posture, weight, height, and personal needs.
Traditional walkers are straightforward and offer a steady frame for those who require balance assistance.
Rollators, however, are much more adjustable and customizable to different heights and weights. Many also come with a seat for back support, a basket for holding personal items, and rubberized handles that make moving and getting around easier.
Every year, millions of older adults experience a trip or fall accident that sends them to the emergency room or hospital. This is a direct contribution to the rise in death rates due to falls in the United States.
That’s where mobility aids come in: Whether you’re thinking about using a traditional walker with a sturdy frame or a rollator with two to four wheels, using a mobility aid can help prevent falls — which means preventing doctor’s visits, hospital stays, and significant injuries.
When choosing between a traditional walker and rollator, remember to consider these four critical factors: