Best Rollator (Walker) for You
Our Longevity Explorers wanted to understand how to choose the best rollator (rolling walker). More specifically, they asked themselves:
"When acquiring a Rollator or Walker, which features matter for a given individual, and how does one decide exactly which product to get for yourself, or a friend?"
Many older adults, especially those in retirement communities, use a rolling walker (more correctly the wheeled version of a walker is called a Rollator). These products come in many shapes and sizes, with various features. How do you know which features matter? And how do you decide whether to get three wheels or four; large wheels or small; and which types of brakes are most suitable?
Our Explorers have been investigating this topic in a series of discussions and research reports and this Explorer Insight summarizes what we have learned together so far. This is a work in progress and we expect it will be updated as our community learns more.
What matters in choosing a Rollator: explorer presentation
Don S., a member of the Saratoga Retirement Community Explorer Circle, has been researching the best rollator to purchase for a family member. He volunteered to collect the research he had been doing on this topic and share it with the group. Here is his presentation. The discussion that follows the presentation is well worth listening to, as the 14 members of this circle discuss the report, and share their experiences.
View the presentation
View Don S's presentation.
Key topics in this discussion: how to choose the best rollator
In the presentation above, Don S. covers a broad range of features that are important in choosing a rollator. The discussion includes the following:
- What is a Rollator?
- Key attributes, including size, wheel size, weight, brakes, brake handles, seat height, bags, folding size;
- Examples of lots of different rollator styles;
- All about brake type and what matters;
- How to think about making the right selection for you.
Where to learn more about specific products
There are a number of specialty durable medical equipment stores, and they tend to be regional, so there may well be one near you. We don't have specific recommendations.
One place to get started, where you can read reviews and check out quite a selection of rollators and walkers is Amazon.
All-terrain Rollators (Walkers)
Most of the rolling walkers described above in Don's presentation are for use on pavement or roads or indoors. But a recurring theme in our explorer discussions on walkers has been the desire to go off-road. As one of our explorers who uses a walker says: "I want to be empowered, and to go where I want to go". (Elaine L.)
Now Elaine has actually designed a novel new "all terrain walker," and you can read more about that here. But Elaine's walker is only a prototype and not yet available for sale, and we wanted to find some all-terrain walkers / rollators we could actually buy.
After a bit of Googling we did indeed find several of all-terrain designs. You can see them in the display at the very bottom of this page (scroll down).
Full Transcript of Don's Walker / Rollator Presentation
Below is the full transcripts of the video above (Don's presentation). It includes some interesting Q&A at the end about rolaltors and walker preferences from the attending older adult explorers.
Don: It struck me that we'd see dozens and dozens of Rollators or walkers around here, and we personally have been through three of these devices trying to figure out which one may be right for my wife. I think I can say I learned the hard way, and maybe I haven't learned yet either, but whatever... there we go.
Let me give you a little bit of introduction. So, why do we have Rollators and so on, and I appreciate corrections. It's primarily a way for fall prevention. I mean, people they use Rollators, they use them not to fall, they're maybe helping walking as well, but maybe the primary reason according to what I read is to prevent falls. So the question is, how do we minimize falls, and maybe help people to be better walkers.
So, the issue is walking stability. You know, sometimes in our lives, peramulating or walking is a challenge. So we have alternatives that include staying in bed, we can use a cane, we can use a walker, we can use a Rollator - and that's the subject for today. You can use a wheel chair or you can use an electric chair.
Speaker 2: A proper electric chair, right?
Speaker 3: A scooter.
Don: So, now what is a Rollator? A rollator is a device that has either four wheels, has a seat. There are some three wheeled Rollators which are used when smaller sized, lighter weight, easier rolling control is needed or more desirable. Also, they are narrower, so inside a home, going through standard door ways is much easier with a three wheeler than a four wheeler. Walkers are really the device, the aluminum frame devices, not the wheeled devices so Rollators are walkers that have wheels, and are meant to be used both indoors and outdoors, and they can also hold the weight of the person, which is higher than standard walkers.
They come with swivel wheels which allows you to turn in a much easier way, and when you compare a Rollator to a walker, walkers you generally have to life to take a step forward. With a Rollator you just keep rolling it, and as you make a right turn you steer it. Now, the steering is also a problem by itself, I will talk about that later.
So there is many types of Rollators, like I said before, three wheels and four wheels. There's heavy duty and light duty, narrow ones and wide ones, so let's look at some. You can go on Ebay, or Amazon and you have a [inaudible 00:03:10] of walkers that just doesn't quit. And there is even more, there must be, I don't want to say dozens, I imagine there's hundreds. So now, what are the key, in my opinion by the way, I said you guys can correct me or add to it, one of the key attributes of a Rollator that we should be concerned with if we want to purchase one.
First is the size of a Rollator, both in terms of width and height and probably depth as well. Size of wheels are key. The weight of a Rollator is very important, the brakes have to be considered depending on the usage. The brake handles have to be considered, how far are they from the grips themselves? If you have short hands, you may not be able to reach the grip, or the brake handles. The seat height, they come in generally three different heights, some are adjustable, some are not. Then you have bags or baskets, and so on. So you gotta consider what kind of things you want to carry with you when you walk. And then finally the folding size, if you care to have it either stored or transported in a vehicle.
So now, lets look at some very typical Rollators. Here is one that has seven and a half inch wheels, it weighs 20 pounds, so this is a steel one. It has basically, that's the standard type of Rollator that you'll see around and I will show you the varieties. If you notice the other one, and I forgot my pointer, this one here has adjustable handles, very easy up and down, but how many times are you going to adjust the thing up and down? So that's probably not an important feature, but it is a feature.
Another one, wider, has eight inch wheels. Now, let me cover the issue of wheels. The smaller the wheel, the harder it is to push a Rollator outside. Anytime you have a crack in the pavement, or a slight protrusion or anything, a small wheel doesn't like to Rollator over it and bigger wheel will Rollator much easier over it. So, it's something to be really considered when you buy one. Indoor, six inches is enough, outdoor eight to ten inches is much better. Like I said, this is a aluminum one because it's around seventeen pounds, it has a couple baskets, has a seat and it folds.
Here is another one, very similar to it. It is, notice a different bags it has, so you want to cart different things, it has front bag and bottom bag and it has also bigger wheels. Here is a racing type of Rollator, it is a interesting device. It has ten inch wheels. So this is something to really think about if you want to go across heavy terrain or heavier terrain, or even terrain, to consider. It doesn't have baskets to carry, it has a seat though. Lets see a different perspective. You consider it, but this one in particular doesn't have anything to carry with. It folds sideways, most Rollators fold front to back, this one folds sideways, and I didn't bring all the pictures with me but you can see that a little section of the photo down below right in the corner.
Here is another one that's kind of interesting. Bigger wheels in front smaller wheels in the back. It's relatively light, its seventeen pounds, in my opinion, this one has big problems. If you have small wheels that have small contact patch with the pavement, the braking will be mediocre. You know, big wheels will stop better than small wheels. So again, when you're walking down hill, small wheels are not going to brake as well as large wheels.
Here is another interesting Rollator. Ten inch wheels and eight inch wheels. Slightly wider tires, they're not a rounded tire, flatter tires and a flat tire will give you better grip on the terrain. It has a bag, if you notice the right side the bag does fold, unless it's full and has a seat and has a backrest and has interesting grips, great grips, they seem to be much closer to the brake levers, close to the grip so it may work better with people with smaller hands.
Here is another one, this pne has an interesting feature. I call it "integral brakes". The brakes are internal to this frame and they come down the tube onto the tire and they have a larger surface and this allows you to modulate the brakes better. Some brakes are just the sharp surface that comes into the tire, and it generally its either stop or go, it's not break half way, and this may provide a little better control. It's a little more expensive, plenty of turning capacity.
Let's see. This is a desirable one for outdoors. Six inch wheels, but only thirteen pounds. A small person can lift that, and probably put it inside of a car trunk. Here is another interesting version that squeezes our compacts left to right, it's what they call a "Euro Style", I don't like the brakes on this one in particular, but you can see how it folds. It fold's very compactly, not only does it fold side to side, it also squeezes top to bottom, and becomes a relatively small device that fits really well in a back seat or in the car.
Speaker 4: What does the "Euro Style" mean?
Don: This may be made in Sweden. There is one that's made in Sweden, I don't know if this one, I don't really know what "Euro style" means, it's a different type of tubing. Notice, American Rollators have a round tube, this is a X shape type of tube. Made a little stronger, in this direction it's probably a little stronger because it's an ablong cross section.
Speaker 5: Well, sometimes things get stuck. [inaudible 00:10:19]
Don: Okay, this is a Rollator and a transport chair. Notice the foot rest in front, that you can fold up and down, notice the handles are both back and forth so a person can be sitting in there and somebody could be pushing the person, so it is a double use device. It has a capacity of three hundred pounds so it is a little more heavier duty than the others.
There is another one. This one doesn't fold. It's a size, apparently you can lift the sides up and down but apparently doesn't have folding ability because, you notice this section is fixed, therefore I don't think are hinges here, maybe there's a hinge her, I wasn't sure but I'm not sure what the advantage of that one is.
Speaker 5: Very expensive. But it does have an oxygen holder.
Don: It has what, I'm sorry?
Speaker 5: It has an oxygen holder.
Don: Oh yeah that's right, but many of them have all kinds or paraphanalia,
Speaker 5: If you're going to run, the oxygen is important.
Don: Very good, thank you.
This is a super capacity, it is seventy five pounds, it's thirty inches wide,[crosstalk 00:11:57]with this one you would have trouble inside of a standard apartment. I think here our doors are wider than standard [inaudible 00:12:08]. Therefore, we have not as big of a problem, but you could not use this one to go through the rose garden because the rose garden is a little on the narrow side.
Now we come to the three wheelers, and very light, thirteen pounds, for some reason they have seven and a half inch wheels, but note the fat tires. So they are a little more, a little better for braking, probably a little better for going over rougher terrain, and actually my wife has one of these. This is a very similar one, but notice the thin tires on this on. I don't quote understand why they sell both of them but it is what it is. [inaudible 00:13:06] Now let me go back for just one second, I think you can see it. If you notice this brake, this is a wedge, that you can look at all the Rollators you see downstairs, it's just a blade that goes right into the tire. A good brake will be something, that it could be a surface that kind of surrounds the tire, so that you can modulate the amount of braking force.
Speaker 6: A solid tire, or a pneumatic tire?
Don: Hard rubber. Everyone, they're filled. This maybe on the softer side, I don't know, but not pneumatic, no.
Speaker 6: Is there a seat there?
Don: No. There's no seat. So I have not seen a three wheeler with a seat, but you know, there's so many kinds. Now we come to talk about the brakes. Maybe you can see it, maybe you can't, you can see the wedge right here, and you can see the wedge right here, and that just cuts right into the tire. Now, why did I dhow these wheels? Round tires that means very little contact with the surface that you are rolling it over, therefore very poor braking. The one on the right, hard to see, has more flat surface tires, therefore much higher surface. It also has internal brakes. They're in here and they go up and down and it's a round plunger, which is a big plunger, surface wise, as compared to this, therefore you can modulate your brakes much better. The left one is another wide wheel, or wide tire, but not as wide as the one on the right.
So, one of the key attributes you have to consider is the size could be from twenty one inch wide to twenty eight inches wide. You can have three wheels or four wheels, you can have thin tires or fat tires. Six inch wheels, ten inch wheels. By the way there was another Rollator I didn't capture it, that allows you to go up the stairs. It's built with certain tires that you can push the handles down and it will flip backwards and you push it forward and the front wheels go one step up. Now, I don't know if it can do that over twelve inch, I don't know, how big is a step? Twelve inch deep? So, you have Rollators that allow you to walk a Rollator up the steps.
Weight. From twelve pounds to twenty four, we talked about the brakes, brake handles, they should fit the hand otherwise you won't be able to use it. The seats can go anywhere from eighteen inches to twenty four so be sure that you buy on that is for your size, or that it's adjustable. You can have a cushion, or you can have a hard surface. Bags, different varieties, different sizes. The folding of a Rollator is important if you want to transport it to fit in you car or to fit on the airplane that you're going to fly, and the capacity, from three hundred pounds to six hundred pounds, so be sure to step on a scale if you're going to order a Rollator, and the prices go from $70 to $700.
Speaker 7: Excellent!
Speaker 8: Questions for Don, go ahead.
Speaker 9: Actually, there's another purpose of using the Rollator, is to correct posture and that's why Tim was using it and then the doctor really said that, his back is aching so much, he bends over if he has some support from the front, and therefore I was looking for all kinds of Rollators, and the highest one that the handle can come up from the floor is thirty nine inches. And that's the one [inaudible 00:17:22] back.
Don: Something to remember on the Rollator, if you lean to hard on it, and if you're going downhill that thing's going to scoot away from you. So, there is a learning curve, and I don't know if anybody else that teaches people how to use them.
Speaker 7: They do if you order it through them.
Don: Oh okay.
Speaker 7: If you're a patient there when you order one then they're pretty good.
Don: So, keep in mind that if you lean to hard on the Rollator, you may fall face first, because the brakes may not work. A four wheel Rollator, is relatively hard to steer when going downhill. It will do this on you.
Speaker 7: And we have steep hills here.
Don: And we have steep hills, thank you.
Speaker 9: Yeah.
Don: So, and the brakes really lock up the wheel and the wheel just keeps on sliding on the surface, so another thing to consider. That's why I like fatter tires, there a solution, but they're not a perfect solution. Well, they must be a good solution because lots of them around here. But, outdoors, it's a little different issue and
Speaker 8: Can you speculate a little more about the one that allegedly can get you up and down the stairs? I mean, I can see someone who really has a need for a Rollator, or something similar and lives on the third floor. Once they get to the steps, they do have to get down the steps, but I would myself think that holding onto a banister is less dangerous than trying to manipulate this thing, even though in principal it works. So, I personally would be very cautious about using a complicated gadget like that, if you have to maneuver it up and down stairs. What if you lose your balance and you have to figure [crosstalk 00:19:37] out, oh my god the Rollator is going to topple on me, but then if you don't get it, then of course you can get to the stairs, you cannot necessarily get down. I mean I know we heard in the [crosstalk 00:19:56] classes, that one easy way, or easier way to get down the stairs is just to sit on them, and essentially go down one at a time.
Don: Oh sit on the step?
Speaker 8: Sit on the step.
Don: I though you meant Rollator
Speaker 8: No.
Speaker 7: Well that looked like, excuse me, all the handlebars were the same on the, sort of all parallel to the direction you're going. Now, why don't they make one with the handle bar or one handle bar, a long bar or two bars that are at right angles to the direction you're going. Like a supermarket, you know how you push, it's easy to push, you're just pushing something like that, and also I just was pushing a luggage trolley at the airport, and it has this horizontal bar and you have to push it to release the brake.[crosstalk 00:21:08] Pushing it forward in order for it not to brake, some principal like that might be more advantageous than these handle bars that run parallel to your direction of motion. Did you not see anything like that at all?
Don: I can't tell you why not, but it's a...
Speaker 7: It just seems like pushing something with your arms like this is better than like this.
Don: Well, I did mention that all these Rollators do have locking brakes. You know, if you push the brake levers down, it locks the wheels. So you have lockable wheels when you park the Rollator somewhere, but they're only meant to prevent the Rollator from rolling downhill by itself if you're not using it always.
Speaker 9: That happened to me one time when I was going up the hill from the pavilion, up to that street where the cottages are, visiting friend. And, fortunately she was with me because I was coming down the hill, you know outside the pavilion and hanging onto the railing with one hand and to my walker with the other, well the walker swung around and so it would either, I either had the choice of letting the walker go and letting it Roll downhill, fortunately she was there, and able to [inaudible 00:22:45] but that's a problem of our terrain, our campus, it's really not designed for walkers and that's why I can't take the fitness classes at the fitness center, because I can't get up and down that hill. But that's just a problem, in our design.
Speaker 4: What I would like to reiterate, since we do live in this particular situation, that Don's emphasis on braking and what are the best wheels, I think is just right on, because I also had an experience where I was taking somebody over to assisted living and they wanted me to go and take them to the bottom floor, so I went downhill and I'm still reasonably fit, but I really had a hard time holding onto that roller and the person in it, and I thought if for any reason I lost control, it'd be off, bye bye Susie. So I think the wheel and brake discussion, is I think key around here.
Don: And also, the leaning on it, you know, if you push down on it, then the brakes will work well, but if you let the thing go out a foot away from you, and you push down, it's going to do that on it.
John, you're the expert on that, what do you think?
Speaker 11: It's difficult. Getting out is difficult. This is a place, the gradient is just about possible with a Rollator, if it was any steeper, it wouldn't be possible.
Don: That's right.
Speaker 5: Those are like Cadillac's, to me. I use two crutches. I've been using them since I was twelve years old, I had a little bit of time when I didn't have to but, and I want to say that I can manage, I can manage stairs, I don't do a lot of stairs, because my legs are weak, but I can manage stairs. I can go up and down the hill. I can do everything. I can go in and out narrow places. Most people probably would prefer to have a fancy nice Rollator, than two crutches cause crutches are like, crippled. But, I can tell you that I have mobility that I would not have if I was using one of those because I don't have any good upper body strength.
One time, someone let me try it and it did just get away from me. That's exactly what happened. And, on a trip that we took when we went to Norway, on the way home there was a gentleman who had a walker, and he observed me, I didn't realize this, but he was observing me and he said " I really think when I go home, I'm going to talk to my doctor about getting crutches". These are called Canadian crutches, they're not the kind that go under your arm. They're for support, not for support here, but for support there. Because he found that I had more mobility and I'm not stronger, he was much stronger personally than I was...
Don: Crutches are usable by people that have good balance.
Speaker 5: I have lousy balance. I have terrible balance. I don't drink for that very reason. Now, I got up and down in the bus and by doing that, all I did was hand one crutch to my husband, or the bus driver. Somebody I could rely on. They took one crutch, I took hold of that little metal banister that runs up, and then supporting myself, I could go up and down. If I have no one around, you can put both crutches on one hand, that's awkward, but I am use to it, so I could maneuver myself.
Actually I have terrible balance, and the only time I had a really bad fall was when it rained and I was crossing, well you know because you went down the street. I was waiting for the car, and I evidently, what happened, the only thing I could think of that happened is, I hit a slick spot in the road without realizing it because I was over by that stop sign. Now I will not go by that stop sign. And as I went to start, my crutch went out from me and then I fell. But, for the most part, I find walking with crutches, which is not glamorous, is a very easy mobility and a quick way to get up and down and around.
Speaker 6: I still remember that.
Speaker 4: Any questions for Don? Thank you again, Don. That was really interesting.
Speaker 3: I've got a question, we see so many walkers here or Rollators, just interested if people here would be willing to share their experience, did people get one of these because they were pressured by an ad on television, or their doctor, what is the motivating thing, who tells them to get one of these?
Speaker 12: Well, when we got one for Elise, we just looked at all the ones people were using around here, and considering her size and strength, we got the one that we, and we went to an agency that had six or eight different kinds and we tried it in there, which seemed to be the best for her.
Speaker 3: The doctor didn't tell you to go in?
Speaker 12: No.
Speaker 13: Actually, his doctor prescribed that, and again he gave him the choice of using Rollator or crutches, but Keith doesn't know, when Keith walks he doesn't swing his arms. So you give him thing she just doesn't know what to do. Very [inaudible 00:29:08]
Speaker 12: John, do you happen to know whether people amount out staff in your view, are knowledgeable to the degree that Don was. In other words, for future reference, would going to the staff, be the place to sort of have you help evaluate.
Don: But I do [inaudible 00:29:33] the staff recommend you go to the distributor or the salesman, and have them fit you.
Speaker 12: But they'll sell you what ever they have.
Don: They've gotta [inaudible 00:29:43] but staff doesn't admit that the salesman probably fit you better than they can. But, and I don't know what they do, cause they criticize whatever I do. It's sp easy John.
Speaker 12: We went to the store, that sells Rollators and all kinds of things.
Speaker 6: Are you talking about Bishops?
Speaker 12: Bishops, thank you. And I asked the lady, what are the attributes for these 20 different things? She said one is red, one is blue, one is silver. So I said, what else? Well, maybe the size, you know, the baskets. But when it came to brakes, and not even weight, she didn't know anything about aluminum vs. steel. So I don't think the sales people, A: their not knowledgeable because they probably can't be because they have ten thousand items in a store and there's nobody to train them. That's an opinion.
Don: It all depends which sales person you get. There are obviously good ones and bad ones.
Speaker 12: Yeah, knowledgeable and not knowledgeable. I mean I just walk in one afternoon on a Saturday I think it was, maybe and we got what we got.
Don: Actually, we had excellent advice from Bishops. She spent a good half an hour and explained to us even the handle of the brake makes a difference. When you have arthritis, you don't want to squeeze, you want to push it down, the brake, so that's different.
Speaker 12: [crosstalk 00:31:29]To answer your question, we should really ask the head of our physical therapy. They recommend Bishops, and they recommend it because they will fit you to the right size is what they say. I don't think thy go into any other detail, but they fit you to the right size, but we should ask them whether this is the right way to go[inaudible 00:31:48], whether they have a better way of doing it.
Don: I understood that Eric, the fitness center did not, recommended against three wheelers because it's less stable if you were turning rapidly or something.
Speaker 12: Which we do all the time. We have races all the time.
Speaker 6: That second floor, you have to watch out for them.
Speaker 11: I wonder if your fitness director watches those people that are walking on walkers like [inaudible 00:32:32] says, if you're hunched over, that might hurt your back, but is there anybody that could tell you if you're posture is right when you're using a walker? I know I use to hunch over when I was using my cane and my orthopedic- nephew said right, when you're walking swing your arms, but I just wonder if, I see other people and I'm all hunched over pushing this walker. I wonder if there's any exercise that could get us to stand up straight?
Speaker 7: The physical therapy department at the [inaudible 00:33:13], they will tell you wether you're using it correctly or not.
Speaker 12: Oh, the fitness director will tell you?[crosstalk 00:33:19]
Speaker 7: Go down to to physical therapy in the health center, they won't train you, cause they haven't got time, but they will critique what you're doing.
Speaker 12: So, if I went over to the health center, I could see if I was standing up straight?
Speaker 9: I know that my husband Charlie was counseled by our doctor, not to get a Rollator, but rather to get wheels on the front, and skids on the back.
Speaker 12: I think that's because of his strength problem.
Speaker 9: Could be, I don't know.
Speaker 12: He couldn't manage a Rollator.
Speaker 8: It might get away from him, because if you lean on it, it will scoot away.
Speaker 9: That's what he is afraid.
Speaker 8: I don't blame him.
Speaker 9: Since we live in manor, it's pretty flat.
Speaker 10: I don't understand why they don't automatically brake if you lose control. Like this, luggage dolly, [crosstalk 00:34:27] you have to be pushing on it to release a brake.
Speaker 8: Build a better Rollator[crosstalk 00:34:37]
Speaker 10: I know when [inaudible 00:34:36] needed a walker, he went online and picked one out for himself and we all were shocked, it looked so big and wide and cumbersome, and he was bent all over and we just ask him if he had any help, and he said no, he just picked it out himself.
Speaker 8: Elise liked the color of the one we got.
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