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Benefits of a rollator vs a standard walker

A photo of a person on a footpath using a walking device

A rollator is a mobility aid that can be used for walking, sitting or standing. A standard walker is also suitable for mobility but is not as versatile and does not offer the same amount of support. The benefits of a rollator are that it’s more stable, has a lower risk of falls and injuries, is easier to maneuver in tight spaces and offers an anti-tip design.

A rollator typically offers more comfortable seating options, better balance and stability than standard walkers, excellent maneuverability in tight spaces such as doorways and on stairs than standard walkers. It also allows the user to sit down without removing their feet from the footrests or worrying about the mobility aid tipping over. This makes getting around easier when needing to take breaks from walking.

If you or a family member is reaching the point where using a walker might be a consideration, there are several things to consider before investing in one. It can be hard to narrow down exactly which style is best for the situation with several different models available.

There are several advantages to choosing a rollator rather than a standard walker, but you should always discuss this with your health practitioner if you are unsure which one would be best.

When do I need a walker?

There are a few signs that you might be ready to discuss using a walker, though it’s understandable if you’re shying away from the conversation. Whilst you should consult the options with your doctor, a few signs that it might be time to bring it up include:

  • Feeling short of breath when walking, whether it’s over short distances or longer ones
  • Finding yourself needing to sit to catch your breath
  • Arthritic pain that prevents you from walking
  • Struggling to walk and carry something at the same time
  • A fear of falling
  • You find your legs to be unreliable. This can result from an injury like a broken bone or a hip replacement, arthritis pain or any sores on your legs.
  • You struggle to maintain balance
  • You want to maintain independence and mobility
A woman walking into a furniture store leaning on a shopping trolley next to a man
A woman walking into a furniture store leaning on a shopping trolley next to a man

Differences between a Rollator and a Standard Walker

Simply speaking, the most significant difference between a standard walker and a rollator is that a typical walker has four legs and it needs to be lifted with each step, while a rollator has 3 or 4 wheels, can be pushed along in front of the user and has a seat and storage.

Advantages to using a Rollator

There are many advantages to using a rollator over a standard walker, with most of those advantages circling back to the rollator walker’s portability and ease of use. 

While a rollator might not be well suited for everyone that needs a walker, it is undoubtedly a great choice if your situation allows for it.

1. Wheels rather than legs

If you need something that comes with you to help alleviate tiredness, a rollator is perfect. The wheels on this walker allow it to move quickly in front of you without forcing you to lift it with every step. This means that the need to steady yourself before lifting the walker is eliminated, letting you focus on the world around you rather than every single step.

2. Easy to apply hand brakes

Having wheels on each leg might make you nervous that the rollator could roll itself away from you, but this worry is gone with an easy to apply hand brake on every model. Lightly squeezing the handle applies the brakes as needed. Most models also have a parking brake that keeps the brake applied indefinitely.

3. Clean and compact, portable design

Rollators are designed to move around with you, so the cords and wires that connect the brake to the wheels are often hidden inside the frame to avoid getting caught on anything.

Standard walkers are all the same shape and design, whereas a lightweight and compact unit like the rollator can fit into tighter spaces. In addition, the easily maneuverable design offers increased portability over the standard walker.

4. Tall frame with height adjustments

Walking upright has been shown to increase energy levels and promote easier breathing, so a rollator with a tall frame will help you move around better and feel better doing it. In addition, the adjustable height settings on a rollator mean that the unit can be used by a wide demographic.

5. A cushioned seat

Since you likely get fatigued quickly, having a seat available to take a rest whenever you need it will help you recover more quickly and maintain mobility longer. The ability to apply the brakes and sit at any moment is an advantage that most who use a walker can appreciate.

6. All-terrain wheels

Many models come with all-terrain wheels, which allow for an easy transition between moving outdoors and taking the rollator indoors. In addition, rollator tyres are generally made of a non-marking material, so you can rest assured that the wheels won’t scuff floors when you bring them inside. This versatility helps ensure you are comfortable and can enjoy a nomadic life both outdoors and in.

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Selecting The Right Rollator

Rollators can provide necessary balance and stability for those at risk of falling and more evenly support body weight than other devices, like canes. Using a rollator may be helpful for you if you:

  • Have mild to moderate stability & balance issues
  • Are recovering from surgery and need support on both sides of the body
  • Tire quickly while walking and regularly need a place to rest
  • Do not need to lean (weight-bearing) on the walker for balance
  • Have a disability which makes walking without support difficult

So, what is the best rollator? Unfortunately, there’s no single “best rollator” in particular; it mostly depends on your personal needs and preferences. To know which type of rollator to get and how to find the best of its kind for you, you’ll want to consider the following:

Rollator Specifications

Three Vs Four Wheels

One of the first things you’ll consider is whether to buy a three-wheel or four-wheel rollator. Both options have their strengths and weaknesses.

Three-wheel rollators are narrower, giving them a tighter turning radius and making it easier to fit through smaller passageways. Because of this, many people prefer them for indoor use. They’re also more lightweight and portable. However, these rollators are less stable with only three wheels and don’t come equipped with a seat.

Four-wheel rollators are more commonly preferred. Despite being more comprehensive and heavier than three-wheel rollators, they are more stable and accommodate a broader range of weights and heights. They also often come equipped with a convenient seat to rest on if you tire from walking. 

Wheel Size

In addition to the number of wheels on your rollator, you’ll want to consider the size of the wheels’ diameter. Most rollator wheels are between 6 and 10 inches, where wheels 8 inches or above are considered “large.”

Many people find that a rollator with large wheels is the best rollator for them. Larger wheels allow you to better maneuver the rollator outdoors and over uneven terrain. Consider where you will be using your rollator: will you often need it outside or over different terrains? If that’s a possibility, it’s best to purchase a rollator with larger wheels.

If you think you’ll mainly be using your rollator indoors, 6 to 7 inch wheels could be a better option. This is because you’ll most often be moving over even ground, and smaller wheels have a tighter turning radius that is better for maneuvering your rollator inside.   

Seat

If you prefer a rollator with a seat to rest on, you’ll want to ensure it’s comfortable. For optimum comfort, look for a rollator with a padded or sling seat. Unpadded plastic chairs, while easier to clean, can quickly become painful to sit on.

You will also want to pay attention to the seat dimensions. Most standard rollator seat widths run small, between 13″ and 18″, but the inside width of the rollator will be several inches wider. 

Seat To Floor Height

The seat-to-floor height, or seat height, should allow you to sit comfortably without your feet dangling. To determine the height required, measure the length from the floor to the crease in the back of your knee while standing in everyday shoes. This measurement will indicate the seat-to-floor height you should look for in a rollator.

It can be helpful to purchase a rollator with an adjustable seat-to-floor height to make adjustments as needed.  

Handle Height

To find the appropriate handle height, the user should stand in their regular shoes with their arms at their side and elbows bent slightly. Measure the distance between the floor and the centre of their wrist while in this position. This measurement will be the appropriate handle height for them. You may find that you need to purchase a rollator made specifically for taller or shorter people.

Most rollators will be height adjustable, but many users find that the best rollators have a wide adjustment range. That way, it can be adjusted to accommodate the user as required.  

Overall Width

Your rollator should easily fit through frequently used doors and passageways. To ensure this, measure what you believe to be the narrowest space in your most frequented locations, such as your home, school, or workplace. Look for a rollator with an overall width of at least an inch or two less than this measurement. Most rollators will be between 56cm and 79cm wide.

Overall Weight

The overall weight of the rollator can be substantial, especially if you’ll need one that can be transported anywhere. A lightweight rollator is ideal for travelling and easily portable. Lightweight rollator frames are typically made with aluminium, allowing them to be as light as 5kg.

Other rollators can weigh up to 12kg, but if you aren’t travelling with yours often, this may be suitable for you. Be sure to pay attention to the overall weight of potential rollators to find one that is best for your situation.  

Weight Capacity

The rollator’s weight capacity should also be considered to ensure that it can safely support the user. Standard rollators can typically support between 113 and 159kg. However, you may find that you need a heavy-duty rollator, which usually has a weight capacity between 181 and 227 kg.

Rollator Accessories

You should also consider any accessories you may need or want for your rollator to make your mobility and access a little easier.

Most rollators come with a storage basket or pouch, so consider which would be best for you. Many people prefer a bag because it can collapse with the rollator and store items privately. While baskets store items visibly and have to be removed before collapsing the rollator, some prefer them for their ability to store more oversized items.

Other accessories may be available to purchase separately. For example, you may want a basket organiser or an organiser pouch to easily store smaller items such as your wallet or purse, mobile or food.  

Does It Fold?

Most people find that the best rollators fold easily to be placed in a vehicle and be conveniently transported if necessary. Therefore, you’ll likely want a folding rollator, especially if you plan on travelling with it. 

Are Replacement Parts Easily Accessible?

You will want your rollator to last as long as you need it. The best way to ensure this is to purchase a rollator with readily available replacement parts. This way, if it becomes damaged in any way, you will only have to replace the damaged component rather than the entire rollator.

Sometimes, there will be a link to buying replacement parts right on the rollator’s product page. If not, you may have to search the company’s website for “replacement parts” or contact the company directly to determine if replacement parts are available for the rollator you’re interested in.  

Types Of Rollators

Once you’ve decided that a rollator is the best mobility device for you, sorting through all of your options can get overwhelming. There are four main types of rollators: four-wheel, three-wheel, heavy-duty, and rollator/transport hybrid.

Four-wheel Rollator

The four-wheel rollator is the most common type of rollator. As its name suggests it has four wheels: two that swivel in the front and two fixed wheels in the back. These rollators also feature padded seats to rest on, usually equipped with a storage pouch beneath the seat. 

Three Wheel Rollator

Three-wheel rollators have one wheel in the front and two wheels in the back, making them slimmer and more maneuverable and the most compact option. However, because they are narrow, these rollators cannot be equipped with seats, usually only come with a storage bag and are more prone to tipping. 

Bariatric Rollator

Bariatric or heavy-duty rollators are made with more durable materials and bigger wheels. This makes them heavier but also more durable and better able to support higher weights safely. These rollators usually have weight capacities of up to 227kg.

Rollator Transport Chair Hybrid

These devices allow for the rollator to be transformed into a transport chair when needed easily. As a result, users can walk independently or be pushed by someone else with one cost-effective device rather than purchasing a rollator and a transport chair. These can be especially beneficial for those recovering from surgery or injury, who only need to be pushed by someone else in the early stages of recovery before transitioning to a rollator.

How To Properly Use A Rollator

In addition to materials, some wheelchairs may offer part variations and different accessories that you can choose. Each choice will depend on your needs and preferences.

Height Adjustments

When you get your rollator, the first thing you should do is ensure that the seat and handle height settings are adjusted to your needs. While you’ve likely purchased the proper rollator for your height and weight, it may need to be adjusted slightly to better suit you. You may also find that the right height for you differs from what you measured.

If your rollator’s seat height is adjustable, make that adjustment first. Then, adjust the handles to a comfortable size that allows you to push the rollator without bending forward or bending your elbows too much.  

While Walking

To properly walk with a rollator, follow these steps:

  1. With the rollator in front of you, stand close and grip the handles. Ensure that you are balanced and centred between the rear wheels. 
  2. Walk as you normally would. It is safest to put most of your weight on your legs, but keep your hands on the handles and use the rollator for support when needed.  
  3. Use the brakes to keep the rollator close to you and moving at a steady pace.
  4. To turn, take small steps to pivot your body, keeping the walker in front of you. The walker will ride with you. For tighter turns, engage the brakes on only one side. For example, when making a right turn, hire the right brake with the left break off.  

Do NOT use a rollator to go up or down stairs.

While Sitting

To properly sit on your rollator, follow these steps:

  1. First, push down the brake levers to lock the breaks. This will ensure your safety, so the rollator does not roll out from under you.
  2. With your back to the chair and legs close to the seat, balance yourself with your hands on both handles or both sides of the seat (?????) . 
  3. Gently and slowly sit down. To maintain control, avoid sitting with too much force or too quickly.

To properly stand after sitting on your rollator, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure the brakes are still locked.
  2. Move to the edge of the seat and plant your feet directly and firmly under you. 
  3. Lean forward, grabbing the handles or seat to keep balanced and help yourself transfer the weight from seated to standing. 
  4. Slowly turn around and centre yourself between the rollator’s rear wheels. When you feel balanced, you can unlock the brakes and start walking. 

Common Questions

Can You Push Someone In A Rollator?

No, it is not safe to push users in most rollators. However, if you need a rollator and need to be pushed by someone else on occasion, we recommend purchasing a rollator/transport hybrid. These rollators transform into transport chairs, allowing you to push someone in them. 

Can I Take My Rollator On A Plane?

Yes, rollators are considered “Assistive Devices” by the Australian government and are allowed on aeroplanes. Because your rollator is an assistive device, it will not be counted toward your carry-on or baggage limit. Therefore, you will not have to pay an extra fee if you check it with your luggage.

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