A public service announcement concerning walkers

No, not the walkers babies use, but the ones the elderly or disabled use.

1. Do not pull or jerk on the walker, even if trying to help the person over a bump. There are several reasons for this:

  • It throws them off balance.
  • The walker is an extension of themselves and it is an invasion of their personal space as much as if you pulled on their arm.
  • It can make them feel helpless and embarrassed.

Sometimes, however, the person may appreciate a little assistance if they are having trouble maneuvering. If you see someone trying to get their walker up a step or over a hump, be patient and observe for a moment and see if they are doing all right or seem frustrated. If you think they might like help, offer first. “Mrs. Jones, can I help you get your walker over this step here?” Don’t just jump in and jerk it. Gently lift it, especially being careful if they are leaning on it for balance: you may need to let them take your arm as well, depending on whether they can balance on their own for a moment or need help with a step.

2. The person with a walker usually understands that he or she is a little slow and you may want to get around them, and that’s fine, but please don’t cut in too closely — the sudden movement and closeness can also cause balance to waver.

3. Some people can’t stand long even with a walker. They would love to talk with you, but may need to sit down first.

4. If you see someone coming with a walker, please move out of their way. Often they feel conspicuous and cumbersome and are embarrassed to ask. Some are not, though, and will just call out a cheery, “Beep, beep!” or something similar — please don’t be offended.

5. Similarly, please don’t be offended if they accidentally bump into you. Sometimes, especially with older people, their depth perception is affected as well. Some might not even be aware that they bumped you, but most would be horrified.

I am writing both from the perspective of having used a walker for several months after TM, but also from my elderly mother-in-law’s perspective now. I think most people mean well, but have just never thought about or experienced some of these things from the point of view of one using a walker. A little patience and thoughtfulness are much appreciated.

Please feel free to share anything I may have forgotten or not thought about, but please keep it positive. I don’t want people to think we’re ranting or griping at them, but rather just informing and educating.

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14 thoughts on “A public service announcement concerning walkers

  1. Parents need to keep their children in tow. I don’t know how many times kids have ran in front just when I’ve been about to take a step which has startled me and left me off balance.
    People need to be aware of their surroundings. Please don’t stop suddenly if they are in front of a person with a can, walker or scooter.
    From an early age, people need to instruct their children about the ediquite of handicapped people – children can hurt and be hurt by running, walking, playing, and stopping in front of a handicapped walking aid.

  2. I think if we were all a bit more concerned about others and a bit less self-centered, there wouldn’t be a need for lessons in preserving human dignity. I never see an elderly or handicapped person without appreciating my health, and acknowledging that it is a gift, not a right. I could end up handicapped at any moment. That keeps me patient and respectful.

  3. Thanks for addressing this topic. I have used a walker since diagnosed with TM 7 years ago. I work fulltime at a private college and appreciate the folks, especially students, who *offer* assistance, even though I usually decline their offers. But it’s the absolute worst when someone swoops up from behind and grabs the walker, or even a door I’m trying to get through. You know they mean well, but it has been close to a catastrophe several times.

  4. Barbara driving the city bus we get these all the time. It has amazed me how rude some people can be to them when getting on the bus, but the good news is they are few and far between. Most people are very respectful and understand and when, I, as the driver, am courteous and helpful to them the thanks I get is worth millions!!! Excellent post πŸ™‚

    • That’s wonderful, Thom. We haven’t encountered any overt rudeness, but sometimes people just don’t realize what they’re actions can do. The people who pull on the walker think they are helping but don’t realize it can throw the person off-balance, especially if they’re not expecting it.

  5. A friend in a wheelchair named Cindy sent me the following:

    Hi Barbara, I like everything you said. The jerking by my aunt (79 y/o) on my Mom’s (86 y/o) walker caused a real tiff between the two. It wasn’t, but was funny to see two ladies of their age pouting and angry. Of course they got over it, but at the time my aunt couldn’t see the point of what she did to my Mom.

    I have one more suggestion. You might want to mention about helping someone putting their walkers in their car. If the person using the walker drives, sometime it is difficult to get the walker into the car. Ask the person if they would like help and if they do, then help.

    This was a problem I had when I was driving a car and had to tear my wheelchair apart to put it in the car. So many kind people wanted to help, but I had a routine and needed to stick to it. I had men in particular insist I needed help and it would throw off my whole routine. They didn’t know how to pop the wheels off, that the seat and backpack needed to be removed and that I had a special way to put the frame into the back seat. Wheelchair etiquette is the same in a lot of ways as a walker etiquette, but I find I have more trouble with people trying to be kind or pretend I’m not rolling towards them. Or they are on the cell phone and don’t pay a lick of attention to what is around them.

    sorry, I didn’t mean to go on so.

    No problem, Cindy! Good points. I hope these help people help a little more helpfully. πŸ™‚

  6. That’s good to know. I’m not sure that I’ve seen anyone use a walker in a very long, long time. I know my usual habit is to offer to catch a door for them. I’ll remember to walk slow and steady around them though and offer first!

    • Catching a door for them is probably almost always welcome. It’s hard to get to the door and hold it open while maneuvering a walker. What my mother-in-law has problems with is when she’s trying to get over the threshold of the door, and the person who is holding the door “helps” by lifting the walker up over the bump of the threshold for her. When she’s trying to lift it up while still holding onto it for balance, that can make her even for unsteady for a moment, especially if she didn’t know it was coming.

  7. Indeed, these are all very good points, Barbara, and I know as I was on a walker and rollating walker for a few years.
    I have to say that I never had any difficulty when I was out in public with my walkers. Everyone was so courteous and helpful. Actually, I was often taken aback by the kindness of people because you hear so much about how people just don’t want to help those in need and so on. Thankfully, I encountered many, many good samaritans.
    On the flip side of that, I have to agree with what Cindy said above: When getting in and out of my car and handling my walker, especially the rollating walker, I had my own system worked out and didn’t need help, as it so often would just mess me up and then I would have a time getting all readjusted.
    I know I must have looked like I needed help but I actually just needed to go slowly and be careful. πŸ™‚
    Thanks for this thoughtful post!

  8. Pingback: Adventures in Elder Care: Helping Parents As They Age | Stray Thoughts

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