At times the elderly may have to face the reality that certain mobility aids are necessary not just to assist with movement but also as a preventative measure to avoid falls. A walking stick, also referred to as a walking cane, is probably the most basic yet highly versatile mobility aid. It is primarily used to assist with balancing, improve stability and at times even reduce pressure that may be causing pain. Most walking sticks are thought of to be a straight, long stick either with a straight or curved handle but there are actually various different types depending on the individual need of the user. It is not the only type of mobility aid or ambulatory device but is among the most flexible, least cumbersome and easy to use.
A walking stick should be considered when a person is unable to maintain their balance on their own. Holding onto objects or depending on other people, even for certain activities, is an indication that a walking stick is necessary. A person who experiences repeated falls also needs to consider using a walking stick. It is important to realize that mobility aids are not just for the elderly and any person may need to use it irrespective of age. Therefore it should not be deemed as a necessity for an older person without balancing problems to use a walking stick and neither should it be seen as an aid only for the elderly.
The decision to acquire and use a walking stick should be based on facts – it is a practical solution to an existing problem. Avoiding the use of a walking stick may :
There are several different types of walking sticks depending on the need and affordability factor. Walking sticks should not be confused with the canes used by the blind, also known as a white cane, as this is a mobility tool but not specifically designed for assisting with balance and stability. A walking stick is strong and sturdy, able to bear a person’s entire body weight many times over and may be specifically designed for individual needs.
Most walking canes are made of wood or aluminum these days although the latter is preferred for being lightweight yet very strong. The term single-point cane indicates a single stem, much like a traditional walking stick. Tripod or quad canes have three to four stems or feet respectively. It is available in a narrow or wide base. This offers a greater degree of balance and stability but can be restrictive for faster movement.
Other ambulatory devices such as walkers offer the greatest degree of stability but are somewhat cumbersome for the moderately impaired. Walkers do not fall under the category of walking sticks of walking canes except for the hemi-walker.
The single stem, more correctly referred to as the single point cane, is indicated for mild instability. It can also be used for one-sided (unilateral) pain or muscle weakness. The quad cane can be used for moderate balance and stability problems. A wider base may be needed for a greater degree of instability.
Four criteria have been identified in the selection of an appropriate walking cane (1). These criteria are not limited to just walking canes but all types of ambulatory devices.