Monday, April 8, 2013

My elder parent needs assistance walking but won’t use a walker!

By Bob Gregory

It’s not uncommon to hear someone frustrated because their parent refuses to use any sort of apparatus to assist them with walking!  The comment is usually something like this: “my parent isn’t dumb, they know they need help they are just stubborn and defiant!”  You’re right, that’s the outward sign of not using a cane, walker or wheelchair but you may find there is a little more to it than that.  If we are lucky to live a long life, we will grow old and experience the changes that come with old age.  Most of us are familiar with some of the signs of aging such as increased wrinkles, grey hair, decreased vision and hearing and sagging skin here or there.  However, most of these signs can be masked with just a little work.  Beauty product companies get rich helping people ward off the signs of aging.  Ever purchased wrinkle cream, hair dye or even a little cosmetic surgery pick-me-up?  Aging gracefully is a term most people do not want to apply to themselves—fight aging as long as you can—or at least the outward signs!  That brings me to the walker issue.  There’s nothing on the selves you can buy to cover up the fact you need help walking and there’s nothing that symbolizes old age more than someone shuffling along behind a walker.  If you detect an underlying theme of vanity then you are still sharp!
Two (Photo credit: AstridWestvang)

In my experience, I’ve noticed two main reasons elderly people do not want to use any apparatus to help them walkFirst, it is vanity!  As I stated above, one of the stereotypes of aging is an elderly person using a walker.  There are younger people who need assistance, but I’m referring strictly to our senior citizens.  Our mobility is very important to us and it starts when we are young.  I remember many times attending play groups and hearing how young one of the children mastered walking over crawling—it was very important to that parent everyone knew!  Vanity is tough to overcome and if your parent is shunning a walker because it makes them look old, you've got a battle on your hands. (Chances are they won’t wear hearing aids either.)  There are some canes that are very chic and can complement an ensemble and make the user look distinguished.  However, I have never seen a walker or wheelchair look chic.

Old man with a cane
 (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)
The second reason elderly people will shy away from a walker is fear.  Looks easy but it can be challenging if you have to depend on it to walk!  Fear of falling should be enough to encourage any senior to use a cane or walker but most are more afraid of falling with the apparatus then they are falling without it!  This is usually a misconception but it is real to them. There is also the fear of storage of the device in a public place such as on a bus, restaurant or at church.  Also, navigating through doors can be a bit of a challenge and escalators can be terrifying.  Practice makes perfect but that doesn’t change the fact they are afraid.  They are also afraid they will become completely dependent on the apparatus and will never walk on their own again. In this case, they are afraid of being without it so why get “hooked” on it to begin 
with—good sound logic, right? (Sarcasm alert)

So what do you do when your elderly parent needs assistance walking but refuses a cane, walker or wheelchair?  The first thing you need to do is figure out why.  You’re not going to hear them admit they are vain or scared so you will have to assume it’s one or the other or most likely a little of both.  Expect to hear that they really don’t need help all the time and it would be a waste of money.  If you follow my blog, you know I’m a proponent of getting assistance from your parent’s physician.  This is the person that is in the best position to explain the dangers of walking unassisted and potentially falling.  In some cases they may be able to prescribe physical therapy that will include training on the apparatus.  If not, you need to invest in some training for them.  Most companies that sell medical equipment will give training, tips and assistance to get your parent going so be sure to ask.  Also, put some time in yourself to help your parent become 
I remember those...
 (Photo credit: Kees van Mansom)
proficient with the apparatus.  If they are in an Assisted Living Facility or Nursing Home, there will be plenty of help by trained staff members.  Further, point out friends, neighbors or others your parent respects that use these devices to walk, this can help with the vanity.  As for the vanity, I told my mother she would look more presentable dressed up and using a walker than lying in bed in a body cast!  Didn’t really help much but eventually the fear of falling overcame her fear of using it!  I wish you luck and wish I had more suggestions.

If would like a list Independent Living Facilities, Assisted Living Facilities, Nursing Homes or any other type of Senior Facility, I hope you will consider
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Bob Gregory is an advocate for Seniors and is one of the founders of At, we are dedicated to helping families get the Elder Care help they need without having to provide their personal information! If find you need an assisted living facility or other type of senior facility, please consider

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1 comment:

  1. Always a tough situation. As a caregiver myself, I can understand where your parent is coming from. It's difficult to accept the fact that your body won't allow you to do what it used to do, even if you feel young and your mind is still sharp.

    Have you considered a company like Home Instead Senior Care? They have locations throughout the US, but I happen to work for them providing Assisted Living in Franklin, New Hampshire. What makes Home Instead different is that they allow seniors to remain as independent as possible, in their own homes where they can receive daily or around-the-clock care from experience caregivers. Worth taking a look if you think it could help! :)