Welcome to my article about the differences between a walker vs rollator, written in collaboration with our friends at Loving Homecare Inc.
For people who have issues with mobility, balance, and stability, a walker or rollator is essential.
These aids give the user back their independence, and allow them to move around safely and securely.
However, the options of walkers and rollators you’ll find on the market can be overwhelming. What’s the difference between a rollator and a walker, and which one is right for you?
Here’s an in-depth look at walkers vs rollators to help you decide which one to get.
Walker vs Rollator Comparison Table
What is a Walker?
Designed to help you balance when moving around, a walker is a steel frame with four legs.
This type of mobility aid provides users with balance, while partially supporting their body weight.
Walkers are also known as medical walkers, the most common of which is the Zimmer frame (from an American company called Zimmer Holdings, which improved on the design).
Walkers must be lifted up and down in order for the user to move forward.
This means that the user needs to have enough upper body strength to be able to lift it and take a step.
The main difference between a walker and other similar mobility aids is that it doesn’t feature wheels, and the user cannot sit down on it.
A walker is suitable for the following people:
- Users who are mobility-challenged but still can do without a wheelchair
- Users who need help navigating through uneven terrains
- Users who find the cane inadequate
- Users who have enough strength to stand for a while but need help with balance
Features of a Walker
Aside from those mentioned above, a regular walker can have the following features:
Walker grips or handholds are designed to make them easy to hold, reduce discomfort and absorb shock when using them.
These come in a variety of materials such as plastic, foam, or gel.
Most walker models available on the market feature one inch of aluminium tubing.
This is to make it lightweight and easier to manoeuvre.
However, the thickness may vary depending on whether it is for indoor or outdoor use.
What is a Rollator?
Also called rolling walkers, wheeled walkers, or medical wheeled rollers, a rollator is essentially a walker on wheels.
You may think of it as an upgraded version of a standard walker.
The rollator wheels mean users no longer have the need to lift it up to move forward, making it much easier to get around, particularly for those with minimal strength.
However, rollators do not offer as much support as a walker does.
Typically, a rollator has a seat, four wheels, and hand brakes.
They are not designed for users who need full balance and support to get around.
Instead, rollators are made for people who are active and are only in need of a bit of support.
A rollator is ideal for the following users:
- Users who can still walk but tire easily
- Users who have issues with balancing
- Users who have certain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or COPD
- Users who are prone to falling
Features of a Rollator
Rollators come in three different kinds: three-wheel, four-wheels, and heavy-duty.
Below are the most common features you will find in a rollator:
Rollator wheels come in various sizes, the bigger the wheels, the easier it is to push.
Larger wheels offer better manoeuvrability for outdoor use as they can go on rough or uneven terrains.
Rollators usually come with aluminium frames, which makes them lightweight and easy to push around.
But some models use steel frames because they are better for heavy-duty usage.
Rollators come with brake systems that vary.
The most common types are the push-down and cable loop types.
Typically these brakes can be used in two ways:
- Locked into place when the user is sitting on the rollator or otherwise not moving
- Squeezed suddenly if the user feels they are about to fall or needs the rollator to stop suddenly while moving
As earlier mentioned, rollators allow for a more active lifestyle than walkers.
This is the reason rollators have baskets as a common feature.
These baskets are typically situated beneath the seat and are convenient for shopping or storing personal items when moving around.
What is a Hybrid Rolling Walker?
Featuring the best of both walker and rollator worlds, hybrid rolling walkers have two legs at the back that touch the ground, and two front legs that have wheels.
This means that, unlike a walker that you completely lift off the ground to move forward, you only need to lift a hybrid rolling walker partially.
The front wheels are able to carry the weight of the user, making it easier on the arms.
Hybrid rolling walkers can support balance and weight, however users still need to be careful when using these models as these can roll forward if you put too much weight on them.
Hybrid rolling walkers don’t usually come with seats and tend to have smaller frames than the standard rollators.
However, they are very much suitable for navigating through narrow spaces.
Features of a Hybrid Rolling Walker
Since a hybrid rolling walker is a combination of a walker and a rollator, they have similar features. The following are a few:
Unlike a rollator that has four wheels, a hybrid rolling walker only has two on the front.
The size of the wheels varies depending on the model.
Hybrid rolling walkers usually have smaller and lighter frames than rollators.
This is what makes them easier to manoeuvre and fit easily in tight spaces.
This is also what makes them easier to transport and store.
Just like a walker, a hybrid rolling walker has handles or grips that allow for comfortable use.
It can come with padded handles or gel grips that aim to absorb shock and make it easier on the users’ hands.
Depending on the model or brand, most hybrid rolling walkers are equipped with brakes.
These will help users get around in different situations and terrains safely.
Hybrid rolling walkers generally come without seats.
If you need a mobility aid with a seat, you should be looking at rollators that have this feature.
Choosing Between Walkers, Rollators, or Hybrid Rolling Walkers
Now that we discussed what these three mobility aids are, let’s take a look at how they compare in difference situations.
Below are some scenarios that can influence your decision-making:
Walkers offer the best stability as they have no wheels that can make them hard to control if you have weak arms.
While it’s true that wheels provide more accessibility and mobility, they also require constant vigilance and a quick response on the brakes if you feel you’re about to fall.
If stability isn’t much of a concern, then a rollator is a good choice.
Also, if you need to sit down constantly while moving around, a rollator is an excellent option as walkers and hybrid rolling walkers do not have this feature.
Ease of Use and Manoeuvrability
If the user’s arm strength is not an issue, then a rollator is the best option.
It has four wheels that can help users be more mobile as they do not have to lift the device off the ground.
A hybrid rolling walker is another option that is suitable for users with moderate to strong arms.
The mobility aids that feature wheels can offer more manoeuvrability than standard walkers.
Also, they can help users get into tighter spaces than with a walker.
Walkers, rollators, and hybrid rolling walkers all have models that are designed specifically for outdoor use.
However, if you want to purchase a mobility aid that’s both for indoor and outdoor use, a walker with no wheels will be the best choice.
You can use it to go through carpet, grass, or rocky surfaces more safely than a rollator or a hybrid rolling walker.
In addition, if you have terrains to go through that are uphill or downhill, a walker is a better option.
While rollators and hybrid rolling walkers have brakes, you still need to use them with extra care as they can easily roll on the inclined surface.
Transport and Storage
Most models of walkers, rollators, and hybrid rolling walkers feature foldability for easy storage.
Most of them can also collapse enough to fit inside the boot of a small car.
But walkers are generally more lightweight than the two others, so they will probably be a better option if you think you’ll be lifting your mobility aid in and out of the car or cupboard often.
With no wheels to add to its weight, a standard walker is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a mobility aid that’s lightweight.
If you’re leaning towards a rollator for ease of use, look for one that is made with lightweight materials such as aluminium.
Walker vs Rollator: My Personal Thoughts
At first glance it would seem that the best option is a walker, since it is more lightweight and stable than it’s rollator cousin.
However, unless you’ve got specific circumstances that mean a walker is right for you, I would generally recommend opting for a rollator.
This is because they are so convenient and easy to move around!
I’ve worked with countless people that require mobility aids, and 99% of them enjoy using a rollator.
They are easy to manoeuvre, you can put your things in the basket, you can sit down anywhere if you have to, and you can activate the brakes almost instantly if you feel that you’re about to fall over.
Yes, a walker does offer a bit more stability, but they’re also cumbersome to move around.
The main benefit of a walker over a rollator is how light and compact it is.
You will need to consider how much you’re likely to be lifting your walking aid in and out of the car or up and down stairs, and whether the lightweight properties of a walker make it better than the ease of use of a rollator.
Or, get the best of both worlds and opt for a hybrid!
Walker vs Rollator: Conclusion
Choosing a mobility aid can be confusing especially when faced with a number of options.
I hope this article has helped you decide whether a rollator, walker or a hybrid walker is the right mobility aid for you.
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As mentioned above, this article was written in collaboration with our friends at Loving Homecare Inc. They offer a range of homecare services including lifestyle care, recovery care and end of life care. You can learn more about them on their website here.