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TL;DR:

I want to aide my mobility-limited father in modifying his walker, so it still provides some stabilty and support even when he momentarily removes his hands from it.

Backstory

My father is 85 years old. He has had three different spinal fusions, a rotator cuff repair, and other surgeries to alleviate arthritis. Each surgery has eased pain at the expense of range of motion.

He can walk short distances un-aided, as long as it is over firm level terrain. For any longer distance, or any variation, he needs a walker. He normally has the walker around, even when moving about his house, just for safety. At the store, he generally uses a scooter, but can get by just using a shopping cart as a substitute walker. His walker looks very similar to this one, but with rubber pads in front of the wheels that engage when any downward pressure is applied.

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His ability to bend over is also reduced. He pre-ties his shoes and uses a long-handled shoe horn to get them on and off. He uses a grabber like this one for other reaching tasks.

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Desired Outcome

The other day in an email, my father asked my help in brainstorming ways to give his walker a bit of a "Tim Taylor Treatment" and make it possible for him to do some activities he enjoys in the outdoors a little more. One example is pruning bushes- to grab a branch with one hand, and lob it with shears with the other hand. Another example is Geocaching, where a small tube might be hanging within a tree and need to be unscrewed or un-buckled, the log within signed, then returned.

Each of these things requires taking both hands off the walker. Even though he won't be moving his feet while doing so, because he has to reach out slightly, he is concerned about maintaining balance, and wants to still have a little support from the walker.

My father has engineering background and we both have done plenty of tinkering with stuff before now. He has notions of ropes and straps tied between his belt or suspenders and the frame of the walker. I'm not sure this will work, and haven't had any ideas of my own so far.

The question(s)

Has anyone successfully modified a walker to do what I am describing and give my father what he desires? What suggestions do others have for doing this? Is walker modification the way to go, or should we go "outside the box" with some other solution?


Edit with some after-thoughts that may or may not be relevant:

The surgeries and consequences mentioned above did not happen all at once, but slowly over the last twenty or so years.

Mom is deceased, Dad lives alone. I am an only child, and live six hours away. I am endeavoring to increase the frequency of my visits (and plan to soon switch jobs and move closer.) There are other relatives, friends, and the county's senior action network that provide ad hoc help.

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    Greetings. First question on this particular SE and having trouble finding tags. Can I humbly suggest a user with sufficient rep create a mobility/ accessibility/ overcoming-handicap or similar tag? – cobaltduck Feb 7 '17 at 15:41
  • Agree. Great category addition. – M.Mat Feb 7 '17 at 20:07
  • @user7783780: Appreciate the suggestion, but "jury" rig is the correct spelling: english.stackexchange.com/questions/132868/… – cobaltduck Feb 9 '17 at 13:17
  • Just saw this product - doesn't quite exist yet but seems like it might be just what you want facebook.com/ABetterWalker/posts/703784073115705 I have no affiliation just thought of this question when I saw it – Kate Gregory Feb 12 '17 at 12:40
  • To me this is more a fabrication question than a life hack. – paparazzo Feb 17 '17 at 15:15
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It's great he wants to be active and you're helping him get there. One thing "outside the box" which is unrelated to the walker but crucial: Part of his instability is certainly a deconditioning issue post-surgically. His body strength is much reduced and he must engage in reconditioning therapies--PT, to increase his strength, flexibility and confidence.

MANY patients don't adequately participate in the other half of a successful surgical outcome--the physical therapy necessary for a good result.

If you father is doing PT-- great. If not, he needs to be. Many options available for seniors; a consult with his physician is in order.

Any kind of exercise in a pool, walking in the shallow end, using a kick board, etc. Light stretching, yoga, strengthening exercises while seated are a few tried and true paths to coming back after surgery.

His walker is designed to assist his stability but does nothing to increase strength. Rather than adapt it, encourage him to get strong. Spend the time you two would be tinkering, exercising instead. Do it with him; you'll both be better in the long run.

The issue is strength adding to one's stability and balance not necessarily eliminating the need for an assistance device. If one is starting off with a weak foundation, however brilliant the assistance device is, instability will still be an issue; with perhaps this exception: exo-suit ala Ripley

  • @Sue: Adding a section to answer. – M.Mat Feb 7 '17 at 20:36
  • The question specifically asks for thoughts "outside the box," as I state my answer to be. The walker design has changed little since its development precisely to encourage body strengthening rather than complete reliance on a device. – M.Mat Feb 7 '17 at 20:45
  • @Sue- FWIW, I as the OP have up-voted this, as it is useful. However, I am unlikely to accept it. It is important to note that Dad's troubles are the result of progressive degeneration. You can't unscramble an egg, but you can make it into an omelet. – cobaltduck Feb 7 '17 at 21:01
  • Ah yes, omelets...thanks for the support cobaltduck! I appreciate what you're asking about the walker and while some helpful suggestions may come through, there is no substitute for the physical therapy. It is absolutely essential from the quality of life perspective. If your dad has the desire to be active, he has to do the groundwork. – M.Mat Feb 7 '17 at 21:08
  • I myself, have prosthetic knees and am absolutely aware of the degenerative bone disease and aging issue from personal and professional experience. His willingness to exercise may be the issue and it is a genuine problem. Motivation to exercise can come in the form of participation with others and you when available. Check the senior center or any other resources in his area.Have him make it a part of his daily routine--set a specific time daily to do this. It doesn't have to be rigorous nor for a long time, 15 minutes a few times a day is adequate. – M.Mat Feb 7 '17 at 21:21
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My grandmother had a similar walker, but with the benefit of a folding bench seat. I would see her in the house use the bench with her knee (which was fine). It gave her a bit more confidence when reaching and using both hands for other activities. Not sure if that is something which could be cobbled together, or if you'd be better off buying a new walker.

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