Walking aids and the ageing process – choice is important

The necessity for walking aids is the result of neuromusculoskeletal disorders and is related to the ageing process (loss of strength, loss of mobility or balance) and is also associated with certain health-related issues which are more prevalent as one gets older – arthritic conditions and arthrosis, or as a consequence of acquired illness, strokes or fractures.
Easy access and technological evolution has increased the use of walking aids, enabling the elderly to maintain autonomy for increasingly longer periods of time. Walking aids have also become generally financially inexpensive. Walking aids are prescribed to help functionality and autonomy in walking, balance, weight distribution or pain relief. However, their prescription and use implies a close relationship between cognitive function and the neuromusculoskeletal system. That is, between concentration, strength and balance. If this ratio is not taken into account, walking aids may be a hazard, causing falls and injury. In fact, the incorrect use of walking aids has been identified as one of the most common extrinsic causes of falls in the elderly.
This situation is frequently observed: the very act of walking with a walking aid causes instability in biomechanical forces, altering the balance and at the same time diverting attention and concentration from the act of walking to this assistive device. In addition to having to concentrate on walking and the walking aid at the same time, the aid also interferes with the strength that is needed to manage the aid.
The automatic movement of the arms is also affected, and also causes an overload on the joints, muscles and tendons. Many elderly people decide to start using walking aids of their own accord. Often wrongly, and sometimes choosing an aid which is inadequate or inappropriate for their particular condition. This then compounds the risk of falls and injuries.
A correct prescription and subsequent use of walking aids should take two key factors into account: the necessity of using one or both arms when walking and the ability of weight bearing. That is, to what extent are these two factors decisive when deciding on the need for a walking aid (minimal, intermittent or almost always or constantly). These two factors also determine the type of walking aid which is better suited to each individual case, in this way reducing the risks involved. The organogram will help to better understand the various types of aids available and will also assist in the choice of a walking aid.
Rui Cintra is a physiotherapist, working exclusively for the Hospital Particular do Algarve Group.
For appointments: Call Center 707 28 28 28 Ana Paula Fontes is a training and professional development consultant for the Group;