What is a Rollator Walker?
A rollator walker is a mobility device that usually consists of a foldable frame connected to 3 or 4 wheels, with handlebars for holding and typically a seat for temporarily sitting down or resting. Most rollator walkers also provide a large storage baskets or bag for carrying around your personal effects. Many rollator walkers come with optional accessories such as cup holders, cane holders, seat covers etc.
The rollator walker was first designed by Swede Aina Wifalk in 1978, who was herself a polio sufferer. The term “Rollator Walker” is a genericized trademark for wheeled walkers and has become extremely popular as a mobility device over the last few decades.
This article discusses the various uses of a rollator walker, the major differences vis-à-vis a traditional walker, under what conditions does it makes sense to use a rollator walker, when should one not use a rollator, and the various types and uses of rollator walkers available in the market today. In short it is a one stop shop for learning all there is to know about rollator walkers!
How is a rollator walker different from a traditional walker?
Let’s start off with the most basic doubt that users have about rollator walkers – how are they different from normal or traditional walkers? What are the advantages/disadvantages of one over the other? Under what conditions would it suit for me to use a rollator walker?
A walker is a 4-legged device with a frame that can be used as a support for walking. All 4 legs always touch the ground. When the user is moving around, the walker needs to be lifted and then put back down for them to walk.
The major difference between a rollator walker and a traditional walker is, of course, that traditional walkers do not have wheels. Therefore, one needs to have the balance and confidence to be able to lift up a walker and keep it back down. The patient also needs to have the strength in their arms and grip to be able to move the walker around.
That said there are some situations where a traditional walker is the preferred mobility aid, as listed below:
- If you need heavy support to lean on before taking every step, traditional then walkers are definitely preferred. Rollator walkers will not do the job in this scenario, because they can only provide light support
- If you cannot bear weight on either or both of the legs due to an accident or injury (and do not need to use a wheelchair), traditional walkers are a better bet for you.
When should you use a rollator walker?
Below are the main reasons to prefer a rollator walker over a traditional walker
- Rollator walkers are useful for people who can walk but need balance or who require something to lean on for support while walking
- Rollator walkers are very useful for patients who are tired easily and need frequent rest (e.g., patients who have suffered from heart failure or COPD).
- They can also be useful if the patient’s arms are too weak to hold a traditional walker.
- Elderly patients who are too frail or lack the upper body strength to push a traditional walker along can use a rollator walker which moves without having to put in too much effort
Because of their wheels and their ability to move around easily, rollator walkers are useful for patients who need something to balance themselves, but can walk if necessary. But if you need support to walk even a few steps then rollator walkers may not be helpful to you.
A rollator walker does not require too much effort on the part of the user, because its wheels do all the movement. Unlike a normal walker, a rollator walker will not need to be lifted up and then pushed.
Secondly, there are certain conditions which require a patient to take frequent rest and make one easily tired (such as prior heart failures or COPD). For such people, the rollator walker is almost a god-sent device. It allows them to live their life independently while providing comfort as and when needed. They can do their daily chores without having to worry about finding a place to sit when they get tired.
In case the patient’s arms or hand grip are too weak, they will not be able to lift and move a traditional walker. For example, if the patient has had an accident where they have hurt both, their arms as well as legs. In such a case, they can use a rollator walker to support their movement without having to worry about lifting a heavy walker. It will help to move smoothly without straining your arms too much.
If you have back, neck or spine related injuries and you cannot turn easily, many rollator walkers offer 360-degree rotation capabilities (just like strollers and luggage trolleys). You can make turns effortlessly without straining your back or having to lift up the device.
Another nice to have advantage of most rollator walkers is that they offer some or the other kind of pouch or tray for carrying your belongings, thus making your journey more comfortable. There are other accessories such as cup holders, cane holders and seat-covers etc. which make rollator walkers a comfortable mobility device.
When should you not use a rollator?
While there are several positive aspects of using rollator walkers, there are a few scenarios where there are other mobility devices which should be used instead. Some of these are listed below:
- Patients with stability and balance issues
- Patients who have low abdominal strength
- Those whose have a weak leg/foot due to recent surgery/fracture
Having wheels means that the rollator walker does not hold steady and absorb the weight of the patient, instead it starts rolling immediately. Even if you apply brakes, the brakes may not fully stop it, and at times sensitive brakes can also lead to jerks for the user. Therefore, patients who have trouble with stability and balance should discuss with their medical practitioner before starting to use a rollator walker.
Secondly, easy maneuverability also means that the patient needs to have good abdominal strength to manage the rotation of the wheels without falling down. The patient needs to be able to turn quickly when using a rollator walker.
People who have recently hurt their foot due to a surgery or a fracture should look at a folding walker as the right mobility device, since they will not be able to maintain balance with a wheeled device like a rollator walker.
Patients with severe disabilities who require constant help should consider buying a wheelchair instead. While rollator walkers do offer a seat, it is meant more from a temporary relief perspective and not as a full-time sitting option. Also, rollator walkers are not built for being pushed by someone else. In such cases, it is best to look at a wheelchair as the right mobility option.
If you are looking for advice on which wheelchairs to consider, we have you covered. You can read more about lightweight transport wheelchairs or midwheel drive wheelchairs or reclining wheelchairs with headrest.
What are the different types of rollator walkers?
Depending on the patient’s physical conditions (height, weight, build, strength), there may be special needs for each patient. In order to cater to such special needs, manufacturers have introduced several types of rollator walkers in the market.
In this section, we will address the various types of rollators and what things needs to be kept in mind before buying them
Height adjusted rollator walkers
Most regular rollator walkers are height adjustable. They can vary for people ranging from to a height of 5 feet up to 6 feet 4 inches. For people who are either too tall or too short for this range, there are “tall” and “mini” models available. Such models have special features such as a bigger range of handlebar height adjustability and lower or higher seat height depending upon the type. If you fall under either of these categories, do make sure to check out these special models. We have a separate article on the best rollator walkers for tall people.
It is exceedingly important to have a rollator walker which is at the right height. If the height is too low, you will have to hunch down while holding it, thus hurting your neck and posture. On the other hand, if the rollator walker is too high, you might not be able to hold it properly, causing a lack of balance and discomfort for you.
Lightweight rollator walkers
Typical rollator walkers are in the range of 17 pounds to anywhere up to even 30 pounds. If the user of the rollator walker or the caregiver who handles it is too frail or lacks the strength to fold and lift up the walker (to be stowed in a car or to be stored in a cupboard), then it would make sense to go for a lightweight model.
There are several models which fall under the range of 10 pounds up to 15 pounds which one can purchase after all other considerations. Do be aware however that lighter models are typically less stable and may carry a risk of tipping over, so make a judicious choice after considering reviews.
Bariatric rollator walkers
Bariatric rollator walkers were meant for users who have undergone bariatric surgery and need a walker which can support more weight than normal (a typical rollator walkers support anywhere between 250 pounds to 350 pounds of weight). These rollator walkers also have other special features such as lower seats (making it easier to get in and get out of) and extra strong frames.
Do however be aware that such rollator walkers are typically heavy, and therefore more difficult to fold and store. Secondly, be sure to read the actual weight bearing capacity of the walker as per the manufacturer’s specs. The capacity can be anywhere between 350 pounds and 500 pounds, and therefore you need to be sure whether the device you are purchasing satisfies your requirement or not.
Three-wheel rollator walkers
Three wheeled rollator walkers are light and easy to maneuver (they look like small tricycles), they can take better turns and are easier to get through narrow spaces.
These are also typically easy to fold and can come handy for those who need minimal support. However, three wheeled rollator walkers are certainly less stable than their 4 wheeled cousins. So patients who need greater balance should typically prefer 4 wheeled ones. Three wheeled rollator walkers usually do not have in-built seats, therefore they are not advised for users who need a frequent resting place while walking.
Other factors to consider while selecting a rollator walker
Apart from the factors mentioned above, these considerations might be important for some people.
Width of the rollator walker
Ideally the rollator should not be more than 25 inches in width so that it can pass through narrow doorways and pavements.
Indoor or outdoor usage
Some rollators have large casters (wheels) which are designed for outdoor usage. They are also designed to ensure that they do not damage the floor even when inside the house. Ideally at least 6-inch casters made of soft, floor gripping material are good for outdoor usage.
Larger sized casters such as 8 inch and 10 inch provide extra stability and make the rollator walker less prone to tipping over. Many rollators have larger wheels on the front as compared to the back so as to move the center of gravity towards the back, giving the device more stability and reducing the possibility of the rollator tipping over at the front.
Some rollator walkers fold onto their wheels, stand upon folding and can be pressed up against a wall. These are better for storage purposes as they take up lesser space. They are also a lot more comfortable when visiting places like coffee houses or restaurant, where you have to sit for a while. Be sure to check whether the rollator has a clip to hold it shut when folded.
Material of the rollator walker frame
It can be either aluminium or carbon fibre or steel. Usually aluminium and carbon fiber are lighter than steel giving the rollator a lower weight, and they can be quite sturdy too. Usually carbon fiber models are even lighter than aluminium ones, but they can be expensive as well.
The rollator’s seat should be wide and deep enough to support a comfortable seating, even if for a small duration. Some rollator options have plush and extra deep seats for comfort.
Brake Wires (Internal or external)
Some rollators have brake wires embedded in the body, so that they are not visible. This is advantageous because if the brake wires are open, they can get entangled in nearby objects causing the rollator to lose balance
Rollator walker accessories
Some rollators come with great accessories such as cane holders, cup holders, plush seats and other utilities such as large rollator walker storage bags or pouches for carrying your personal items. Be sure to check out what accessories are available off the shelf for your rollator. The storage space is especially important for people who use rollator walkers on a regular basis, or who need to be able to carry equipment such as oxygen tanks along with them. The storage bags can also be helpful for carrying groceries or personal belongings when going out for a walk to the nearby store.
The rollator walker becomes a large part of your life, especially if you lead an active life. You end up taking it practically everywhere you go. Ideally, the aesthetically minded would prefer to have stylish and colorful options to suit their personality, and there are several brands that provide beautiful options to please the eye.
- User reviews: Reviews from people who have used the equipment recently are extremely important when making a choice about a mobility device. You can come to know both the good and bad aspects about the device, and there could be some invaluable advice about aspects such as durability and product strength which cannot be learned anywhere looking at the product specifications.
- Price: While this item comes in last on our list of factors, it is definitely a very important aspect. Rollators are typically much costlier than walkers, and the high-end ones can really create a hole in your pocket. It is important to achieve a balance between functionality, aesthetics and price for the user to be able to use the device in its best manner.
Using a Rollator Walker
Many users may find it unsettling and daunting to use a rollator walker for the first time. Having a walker with wheels adds a complexity to which a first time user is not accustomed. We are attuned to being always connected to the ground when walking, and the feeling of our support slipping away when walking can lead to a fear of using rollators.
There are 4 positions or scenarios which a user will confront when using a rollator walker. They are – sitting down, standing up, walking and turning the device. Below we give a step by step method to negotiate each of these scenarios so that the user can take full advantage of their rollator walker.
- Stand facing away from the chair, in front of it. Let the back of the legs be close to the seat.
- Bend forward (a bit) to sit down, and move the walker away from yourself
- Apply brakes on the rollator so that the device is stationary
- Slowly lower yourself on to the seats, using your legs as much as possible.
- First of all, apply brakes so that the device is stationary
- Move as far forward as possible on the rollator
- Try to keep you toes just below the edge of the rollators seat
- Place your hands on the arm rests
- Lean forward
- Try to put your maximum weight on your legs, and minimum weight on the upper body to stand up
- Test your balance to see if you are able to stand up without falling
- Release the brakes slowly
Walking with a rollator walker
- Place the walker ahead of you
- Gently move the walker ahead. Keep it close enough to be supportive, as much as needed so that you are comfortable walking
- If your steps are of different lengths, try to reduce the length of the longer step so that both steps are of equal length
- Stay inside the walker as much as possible when turning
- Slowly turn, keeping your front facing the rollator at all times
Please note, the above guidelines are meant for general guidance, and is not to be construed as medical advice. The reader is highly encouraged to visit their physician or therapist for the proper medical advice on which mobility devices are best for their particular case and the right usage and maintenance techniques that are needed for that device.
Rollator walkers are wonderful devices – they give back independence to those who have lost the ability to do simple, basic daily tasks on their own. But in order to do so, it is important to get to know which of these devices are perfectly suited to our specific needs, basis the physical conditions that we are in and the special needs that we may have.
While rollators are great for people who need light support when walking, traditional walkers are meant for people who cannot take even a few steps without having to lean on a something for support. Traditional walkers also require upper body strength in order to be able to lift and hold the walker above the ground.
Rollator walkers come in various shapes and sizes to suit the needs of every person, with several options for height, weight and strength adjustability. It is important to first match your physique and then the frequency (regular vs occasional) and place of usage (indoor vs outdoor) for your to get the best rollator walker out there for you.
It is also important to compare product features and understand user reviews and pricing before coming to a conclusion on which device to purchase. Using a rollator walker can be a daunting task for a first-time user, we have provided a step by step manual to help the reader negotiate the usage of their rollator device.
As a final word – we would like to highlight that this article is meant to point you in the right direction and share with you the options that are available in the market. We hope that you will use this article to make an informed choice to buy a device which gives you many years of pleasure and is a true companion to you.