Use a Walker or Cane Safely

Many older adults use mobility devices, like walkers and canes, to assist them in walking and to help prevent a fall. However, you may be surprised to learn that from 2001 to 2006 over 47,000 Americans ages 65 and over (129 people each day) were treated in emergency departments for injuries which involved the use of a walker or cane according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

The majority of the injuries involved walkers–over 87%. About 12% were associated with canes and 0.4% using both. Women sustained more injuries than men using both walkers and canes. Furthermore, most impairments were fractures, contusions, or abrasions. Approximately one-third of subjects were hospitalized for their injuries

The study’s lead author, Judy Stevens, Ph.D., said, “Walking aids are very important in helping many older adults maintain their mobility. However, it’s important to make sure people use these devices safety. The study recommends that patients are properly fitted for a walker or cane by a medical professional. In addition, it is important to have at least one appointment with a physical therapist to learn how to safely use a walker or cane.

General Fall Prevention Tips

According to the CDC, each year, more than one in four older adults aged 65 and older will fall. Among older Americans, falls are the number one cause of injuries and death from injury. This represents 29 million falls, 3 million emergency department visits, 800,000 hospitalizations, and 28,000 deaths.

  • Engage in exercise which increases leg strength and balance. Tai Chi is one of the most effective exercises for preventing falls.
  • Clean up all clutter which can pose a trip hazard.
  • Make a clear path in your home for highly used traffic areas.
  • Wear non-slip shoes both inside and outside the home. Do not wear slippers.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing.
  • Be cautious when playing or walking a dog. It is easy to get caught up in a leash, trip over a small dog, or get knocked down by a larger pet.
  • If possible, live in a single story home. If stairs are unavoidable, install handrails on both sides of a staircase which extend beyond the top and bottom of the stairs. Make sure the stairway is well-lit.
  • Never rush to answer the phone or door. Carry a portable phone or cell phone from room to room.
  • Sit down when dressing or undressing clothes. Many people have the mistaken belief that changing clothes while standing up will help them practice their balance. Instead this often causes major falls.
  • Don’t change clothes in the bathroom where there are a lot of corners and hard surfaces such as tile floors, tubs, sinks and toilets. It is safer to change in a carpeted area of your home, sitting down.
  • Eliminate trip hazards in the home including small throw/area rugs; electrical cords or furniture that you constantly bump.
  • Use proper lighting including brighter bulbs during the day and lights at night when waking up to use the bathroom.
  • Install grab bars next to the tub, shower and toilet; use a non-slip mat in tub/shower
  • Talk to you physician and ask for a fall risk assessment
  • Review medications with physician or pharmacist to determine if they may be causing dizziness.
  • Have an annual eye exam.


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