According to an article published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, approximately 1 in 4 older adults 65 and over use a cane or a walker, and 1 in 9 reports using multiple devices.
It is a fact that the use of canes and walkers increases with advancing age.
Walking aids such as canes or walkers have revolutionized the lives of many, making it possible for individuals to maintain their independence even when faced with physical challenges.
When used properly, these devices can prevent falls, fractures, injuries, hospitalizations, and even death.
However, choosing the right cane vs walker isn’t always straightforward.
Choosing the wrong walking cane or walker can cause harm, leading to the very falls and injuries we try to avoid in our older loved ones.
In fact, 70 percent of people using canes are doing so incorrectly, increasing their risk of falls!
As a geriatric specialist, I see the devastating effects of falls on my patients all the time, and it is one of the first things we assess in our geriatric assessment clinic.
To understand the causes of falls, we must understand the various factors contributing to an older adult’s functional decline.
The links above lead you to my detailed articles on these factors, and I highly encourage you to read them.
Also, medical alert systems are vital to keeping your loved ones safe and detecting falls as soon as they happen.
To read my detailed review of 5 monitoring services I have vetted and recommend, click here.
Back to the focus of this article…
In this post, we’ll discuss the differences, advantages, and considerations for each type of mobility device to help you make an informed decision.
The Basics: Cane vs Walker
- Canes: A cane is a single-point or quad stick to help maintain balance, distribute weight, and offer support. Canes come in various shapes, sizes, and designs.
- Walkers: Walkers provide a wider support base and typically have four contact points with the ground. They can be a standard walker, front-wheeled, or even come with four wheels (rollator), hand brakes, and a seat.
Advantages of Canes
- Portability: Canes are lightweight and easily folded or stored away when not used.
- Versatility: They come in various styles, from the traditional single-tip to quad-tip, for added stability.
- Cost: Generally, canes are more affordable than walkers.
Advantages of Walkers
- Stability: Walkers offer more stability than canes, especially for individuals with significant balance issues.
- Support: They can bear more weight than canes, making them suitable for individuals recovering from surgeries or severe injuries.
- Features: Modern walkers often have additional features such as seats, storage pouches, and brakes.
The table below highlights the points you can raise with your healthcare provider to help you decide which is the best assistive device for you:
Guide for Choosing Between Canes and Walkers
|Question to Ask||Canes||Walkers|
|Why do you need an assistive device?||Injury, pain, or arthritis |
on one side; minor balance issues.
|Injury, pain, or arthritis on both sides. Moderate to severe balance issues; weakness in both legs|
|How much of your weight needs to be supported?||A cane can support 25% of your weight||Typically, walkers can handle up to half of your weight|
|Types?||Single point, Quad point, Seat canes with small attached seats||Standard, front-wheeled, rolling 4-wheeled|
|Other considerations?||Do canes have non-skid rubber tips?|
Types of handles (see below)
Less stable than walkers
|Rubber grips for hands to prevent slippage
Non-skid rubber tips on back legs of front-wheeled walkers
Nearly impossible to use walkers on stairs
Types of Walkers
- Also called a “pickup” walker because you have to lift it to move it
- Typically has four rubber-tipped legs and has no wheels
- Provides the most stability
- Has wheels on the two front legs
- Used if a standard walker is hard for you
- Easier to stand fully upright compared to a standard walker
- Helpful if you have unsteady feet
- However, offers less stability compared to a standard walker
- Can “run away” from you if you are not careful and increase the risk of falls
- Comes with an optional seat if you need to take breaks
- Typically used for ankle and foot injuries
- Has four wheels, a handle, and a padded knee platform
- You rest the knee of your injured leg on the platform and push with your other leg
Here is an example of a quad cane:
Features to consider in a cane: The handle
The top of the cane should come to your wrist, with your elbow bent at a 10 to 30-degree angle
Rounded handle: Best if you’re not putting a lot of weight on it; otherwise, it will hurt your hand if you lean into it too much.
T-shaped handle: The horizontal grip distributes weight evenly across the palm, helpful for arthritis.
Offset handle: The unique shape puts your weight directly over the cane shaft for more comfort while walking.
Questions to ask yourself when deciding between cane vs walker
- How much support do I need? A cane might suffice if you only need a bit of help with balance. But a walker could be more appropriate if you need substantial support or have a high risk of falling.
- Where will I be using it? If you’re frequently on the move, traveling, or navigating tighter spaces, a cane’s portability might be beneficial. A walker might offer the support you need for more extended periods of walking or standing.
- What’s my budget? While both canes and walkers are available in various price ranges, canes generally tend to be less expensive. However, investing in a high-quality mobility aid can pay dividends in safety and durability.
- Do aesthetics matter? If you’re concerned about how your mobility aid looks, there are stylish options available for both canes and walkers. You don’t have to sacrifice form for function! See my suggestions below!
Getting properly fitted for your cane vs walker
To ensure that your new cane or walker fits you perfectly, do the following:
- Wear your usual shoes
- Hang your arms naturally by your side
- Ask a friend, loved one, or partner to measure the distance from your wrist to the floor
- Adjust your cane or walker so that it is the same distance you just measured
- Place your hand on the handle of your walker or cane. When adjusted correctly, your elbow should have a 10-degree to 30-degree bend to it.
The video below from the well-respected YouTube physical therapists “Bob & Brad” describes how to adjust the height of your cane and how to walk up and down stairs using the assistive device safely:
In this next short but informative video, a registered nurse shows shows you how to walk with a cane:
Seeking Expert Advice
Remember, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist or occupational therapist, when deciding on a cane vs walker.
They can evaluate your specific needs and guide you in the right direction.
My recommendations for high-quality canes and walkers
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Choosing between a cane vs walker boils down to personal needs, preferences, and lifestyle.
Both offer unique advantages; the main goal is to ensure safety, mobility, and independence.
Whatever choice you make, know it’s a step toward a more mobile and independent life!