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falls & mobility
canes and walkers

Many individuals can learn to use a cane or walker after several short training sessions and ongoing reminders from you. Please note that some people will resist using a mobility aid (getting an attractive colorful cane or walker can sometimes help) and others may be  unable to learn.

Since a person's gait, balance skills, and grip strength must be assessed before the right type of cane or walker can be recommended, physical therapists often assist in selecting of mobility aids. To make sure the mobility aid is safe to use, watch the person use it on an ongoing basis.

TIP: Place the cane or walker directly next to the person's bed on the side that he or she exits.


Many people with dementia will be able to continue using a cane and some can learn. At times, you'll have to remind the person or put the cane in the person's hand. If the person often misplaces the cane, buy one in a bright color so it's more easily found.

What you need to know:

1. A cane is useful when one side of the body is weak or in pain. It allows the person to support up to 25% of his/her weight.

2. If the person has one-sided weakness or impairment, the canes should be used on the opposite side.

3. The cane's height should be even with the top of the person's hip. If his/her shoulder is raised, the cane is too high and needs to be lowered.

4. A foam handle is more comfortable for someone with a weakened grip. For an existing wood or metal handle, try wrapping cushioned tennis tape around the handle (available in sports stores).

5. An adjustable height feature increases flexibility.

6. A rubber tip provides traction. For icy weather, however, use a special "ice tip grip" attachment that screws into the cane. Both are available at medical supply stores.

7. Individuals can trip over canes, so, for example, consider mounting colorful easy-to-see hooks around the home on which the person can hang the cane.


Many different types of walkers are available today. Check with a physical therapist before purchasing one, for what's safe for one person with dementia may not be safe for another.

What you need to know:

1. A walker supports up to 50% of a person's weight and offers support through both arms.

2. Walkers may be appropriate for someone with arthritis, especially of the knees and hips; someone with generalized weakness of the hips and legs, and someone with moderately severe balance and gait disorders.

3. Walkers with seats may be appropriate if your care receiver tires easily. Brake systems, however, wear out and need to be checked regularly to ensure safety. People with dementia, however may try to sit down without braking first. For safety reasons, the person should only sit when the walker is against a wall or the walker can roll out from under the person if the brakes are not fastened securely. For sitting comfort, be sure to choose a padded seat and padded bar in the back.

Safety Caution: Never try to push a person when seated in a walker Caregivers have told us stories of pushing a loved one (who was sitting due to fatigue) when the walker broke, with ensuing falls.


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