How to Choose a Walker for Older Adults

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on February 28, 2024
4 min read

Walkers are a type of mobility device that can help you get around. Whether you want short-term support for a broken bone or long-term support for balance troubles, you can find a variety of options to suit your needs. 

Walkers help you move around your home and get to doctor appointments, the grocery store, and other important places. Choosing the right one can give you greater freedom of movement. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about which kind of walker is right for you.

There are four main types of walkers. Each one suits different needs to help you move around.

Standard walker. A standard walker doesn’t have wheels. Instead, it has four non-skid legs each capped with a flat, rubber tip. This type of walker is best if you need a lot of stability and to place your weight on the walker. If you find that canes don’t offer enough support, you may prefer the stability this walker offers.

While a standard walker helps you move, it isn’t designed for fast movements. Also, be sure to consider whether you have enough upper body strength to lift the entire device as you move. If you’re unsure, you might want to choose a different type.

Two-wheeled walker. While the two wheels in the front offer more natural walking, they are in a fixed position and don’t rotate. This makes turning slower because you need to move the walker little by little until you face the new direction. 

Two wheels also make the walker a bit less stable. This means you shouldn’t use them if you need to put a lot of weight on the device. These walkers are more stable than three-wheeled and four-wheeled walkers. They work best if you need some balance support but don’t rely entirely on the device.

Three-wheeled walker. Three-wheeled walkers are a type of rollator walker. This means that all three legs have wheels, and each wheel rotates fully. These walkers have two wheels in the back and one in the front.

These aren’t as stable as two-wheeled walkers, but they have just enough support to keep you balanced while moving at a steady pace. Sometimes, the design of the three-wheeled walker makes you lean forward a bit. In order to prevent this, try to step into the walker, instead of keeping it too far ahead of you and leaning towards it.

The three-wheeled walker is the fastest moving walker and lets you get around tight corners and into small spaces.

Four-wheeled walker. Like the three-wheeled walker, the four-wheeled walker is a type of rollator walker. It has four fully rotating wheels, and it lets you move at a normal pace. You can put more weight on a four-wheel walker, but you shouldn’t use it if you have unsteady balance

The four wheels make the walker quite mobile and easy to move without much effort. If you’re looking for a bit of balance support – plus a built-in seat for short rests – you may find the four-wheeled model an ideal solution. Compared to the three-wheeled walker though, it has a bulkier design and weighs more.

Many walkers come with plastic grips. While these grips work for a while, they can begin to hurt your hands as you use them. Foam grips are a better option if you use your walker regularly. You can also purchase padded grip covers for more comfort. These grip covers come in various styles and materials, such as:

  • Microfleece
  • Sherpa fleece
  • Memory foam
  • Antimicrobial
  • Washable fabric

Adjustability. You want to buy a walker with adjustable handles. Everyone is a different height, so you need customized support with handles that keep you at your natural height. Adjustable handles have small holes up and down the sides that let you move the handlebars higher or lower to fit your needs. 

Make sure the three-wheeled and four-wheeled walkers have brakes. Since they roll easily, they can get out of control without reliable brakes with the handles.

Stability. Do you need a walker that keeps you balanced, or do you want one with light support but greater mobility? Your preferences here have a big effect on which walker you should choose. 

Weight rating. Many walkers have a specific weight capacity. If you need to place a significant amount of weight on the walker, the stability of a standard walker may be your best bet. Be sure to select a model designed for your weight.

Accessories. Some walkers come with things like a seat, a basket or bag, a tray, or another feature. In most cases, accessory options only come with three-wheeled and four-wheeled walkers. The standard and two-wheeled walkers are designed more simply.

Before you begin to use the walker on your own, for errands, or neighborhood walks, take time to practice. You want the handle bars at a comfortable height, the seat or basket to be accessible, the wheels to fit securely, and the walker frame to keep you upright if you begin to fall. 

Once you have your walker ready to go, you can begin to regain your freedom of movement.