wheelchair with attendant

When a user has limited mobility, choosing the correct walking aid is one of the most important things you as a retailer can help them do. With the right equipment, mobility retailers’ clients can stay on the move safely and open up new horizons with real confidence.

For the most part, there are four categories of walking and movement aids:

  1. Equipment that helps to stabilise the gait by providing additional contact with the floor, i.e. a walking stick
  2. Equipment that allows some weight-bearing i.e. an offset cane
  3. Equipment that allows substantial weight bearing i.e. a Four-leg (quad cane), crutches or Zimmer frame
  4. Equipment that aids movement for people who can’t bear any weight i.e. a wheelchair or scooter

But which equipment is right for your client and how do you decide?

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Start by being honest about their level of mobility

Imagine your client was moving from one side of a room to another, holding hands with a friend or customer service assistant. Or better still, try it for real.

If the user is able to walk with very little support, they would want something from category 1 to stabilise their gait.

If the client needed to apply a bit of pressure to the person’s hand as they moved, they would be better off with an offset cane or another aid from category 2.

If the user needed help to cross the room with another person with two hands or an arm around their waist, you should consider a quad cane, crutches or Zimmer frame.

And if the client is unable to stand safely for ten seconds, a walking aid won’t help and they’ll need something from category 4, along with potential physiotherapy or rehabilitation, instead if deemed appropriate.

Next, consider their environment

Where are they most often? Do they spend most of their time at home? In school? At college? At work? Look at the common environments and consider the tasks, activities and hobbies that your client completes most days. Think about how they travel too.

Write down the answers and then consider how each type of walking aid would fit in with each one. You’ll soon have a good idea of how appropriate each solution would be.

As you’re doing this exercise, focus on the size of the different types of aids. Remember that larger aids might be more stable than the smaller options, but they’re also heavier to use.

Would they still be able to visit the smallest areas in their home with each of the aids you’re considering? For example, if the aid you’ve got in mind could make a closet toilet or a larder too difficult to use, something smaller might be more suitable.

Then decide whether it’ll really be enough

It’s really important that you make sure that the aid(s) you suggest are going to suffice throughout your client’s day, every day. Think about the level of physical endurance that they can manage and consider whether that level changes at any point during their day.

For example, some people’s conditions mean that a walking stick will be enough in the morning, but come the afternoon, they’ll need more support.

Likewise, the individual might not be able to weight-bear prior to taking medication but could be on the move with an offset cane two hours after.

Either way, there’s no harm in using different aids for different situations or times of day. So, make sure you’re taking your client’s entire day into account, focusing on every potential activity.

Finetuning the choice…

By now, you’ve probably got a decent idea of the sort of aids that would suit your client’s needs. Just make sure that the front runners will stand up to the user’s current level of coordination and their upper body and grip strength too.

If you opt for a walking cane, ensure that the length is roughly the distance from the ground to your client’s wrist crease. And if they are getting just one walking aid, remember to use it on the opposite side of the weak or painful leg. Always do a test first and ensure the user’s capability. If they are likely to use the stairs then a stairs practice with assistance is a must.

When helping clients make their decision, it is also worth knowing that VAT relief is available for many disabled people, as well as those with diagnosed long-term conditions.

I really hope you’ve found these pointers useful. As always, if you have any other questions or need a little more guidance, just ask! I’m stuart@promoting-independence.co.uk

Stuart Barrow image

Stuart Barrow of Promoting Independence is a member of the British Association of Occupational Therapists panel and a recognised contributor in the field of home adaptations. His experience is sought by manufacturers and service providers looking for an expert opinion. He also runs the Occupational Therapy Adaptations Conference

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