Recognising the opportunity to design for our future selves is what inspired us to start Seniors Helping Seniors here in UK.  We knew there was a better way to look after people as they age. We talk about avoiding crises all the time and falling over is often the start of a crisis.  Fall risk is such an important area.

A visit to the ‘New Old’ pop up show at the Design Museum, and a chat with Lady Helen Hamlyn, inspired this blog.  

Coming away from the show, we thought about asking our friends @Designed2Enable (https://www.designed2enable.co.uk) who keep people active with style, “What can people do immediately to help themselves” 

We know that walking aides can be dangerous if not used properly and not using a walking stick when you really should, can also be dangerous.  We know people shy away from anything that says “I need help”. Hopefully  providing this information and showing some attractive and appealing examples helps people say “I’m caring for myself properly”.

When you want to move away from the idea of a standard issue walking stick,  here’s how to  ensure you are buying correctly.  

Designed2Enable think of everything, the appropriate walking stick, stopping the stick falling over, slips, causing secondary injury to joints and even lighting the way.   For further reading,  https://www.caroncares.co.uk/services-and-products/flexyfoot-walking-stick/ has written about walking sticks many times. 

If you are becoming unsteady on your feet, or are recovering from an illness, operation or injury, you may be thinking about buying a walking stick or cane to provide extra stability and reassurance to reduce your fall risk. Particularly for when you are walking on uneven ground, negotiating steps and pavements, or even just moving around your home.

In this article, we look at how to choose a walking stick, and which type of cane or stick will suit you best.

If you are in any doubt about whether you need a walking aid or have undiagnosed symptoms that are causing you to become unsteady on your feet, we would recommend talking to your healthcare provider to get professional medical advice.  Whenever you change medication, always ask your pharmacist about the fall risk.

There are many factors to consider when buying a walking stick.  You need to ensure that the stick / cane works for you and your needs and is comfortable to use. A correctly measured walking stick will allow the user to stand upright, with the elbow slightly bent. The stick will take the user’s weight as they push down on it as they walk, and so an incorrectly measured walking stick may cause injury to the shoulder or elbow joints.

When using a stick, it should be held in the opposite hand to the affected leg so that a natural gait and upright posture can be maintained. When you are walking, the affected leg and the stick should move forward together.

Walking sticks tend to have the frustrating habit of falling over when you rest them up against something. Retrieving a stick from the floor can be very difficult and dangerous for the user – often resulting in a fall.

Manufacturers do seem to be waking up to the idea of adding a grip element to the cane, as with the Sabi ROAM canes whereby the handles have a rubber grip element that helps to prevent them from slipping over, when propped against a wall or surface.

Alternatively, the DropMeNot walking stick holder is a relatively new device, which can be secured to any wall around the home, to hold a walking stick or crutch when it is not needed. The holder can be positioned next to a favourite chair or by the bed, where it will be regularly needed.

DropMeNot Cane holder grey

Walking in the dark can also be challenging if you need the support of a walking cane. A torch light that can be attached to your cane can be a great asset, particularly in the middle of the night when you need to get to the toilet and you don’t want to wake the whole house.

LED walking stick torch lamp

How to measure your cane

It would be helpful to have someone to measure this for you and make sure that you are wearing a pair of shoes that you would normally wear when you are using the walking stick, as heel heights can vary.

Stand with an upright posture, with your shoes on and your arms hanging loosely by your side. Your helper then needs to measure the distance from your wrist joint to the floor. This measurement will be the correct total length of the walking stick, including the rubber tip / ferrule.

If you are buying a non-adjustable, fixed shaft walking stick with set height options, and your height falls between the sizes that are available, we recommend going for the size above (longer rather than shorter) your ideal cane length.

If you are a regular walking stick user, you may find that over the years your ideal walking stick height may change, as we tend to shrink as we age.

Choosing the type of walking stick and handle.

 

There are a variety of canes and handle shapes to choose from:

Derby Handle

The Derby handle or T-shaped handle tends to be comfortable to use and a wrist strap can be added for convenience if required. Canes with a soft grip gel or silicon handle, like the Top & Derby Canes provide extra user comfort.

Shepherd’s Crook Handle

The shepherd crook handle can generally be slightly less comfortable to use than the derby handle, but are convenient as you can hook them over your arm when not in use, which can be handy when you are shopping or when you need the use of both hands. Some crook handle canes can be ergonomically designed with a wider flatter upper surface on the top of the handle which is then more comfortable to grip.

Shepherd’s crook walking canes tend to be made from wood, which can then be cut to size. If you wish to cut a wooden shaft cane to size, turn the cane upside down and mark the shaft at the point where it needs to be cut, (taking into account the measurement of the ferrule) and the shaft can then be cut with a small hacksaw and then reattach the ferrule.

Fischer Handle

Fischer handles are anatomically designed and tend to be used by people with painful hands, possibly due to arthritis or those requiring constant/permanent use of their walking stick. The design of the Fischer handle enables the pressure on the handle to be spread wide across the palm for comfort. The Fischer handles are contoured to left or right hand users, so it is important to check that you are buying the correct cane.

Swan Neck

Swan Neck shafts have the handle offset above the shaft, allowing the user’s weight to be evenly spread over the base of the stick. The handle tends to be rubber, gel or foam grip. As well as the standard single shaft, Swan Neck walking sticks are also available with either tripod (three) or tetrapod (four) pronged/legged base which offer greater stability for the user. These tend to be used individually, rather than as a pair and can be more difficult to use when negotiating the stairs than a regular walking stick. Swan Neck Shaft walking sticks are made from metal, typically steel or aluminium, and have a height adjustable mechanism.  We would strongly recommend talking to a healthcare professional to discuss the pros and cons of using a tripod or tetrapod walking stick before you purchase.

Adjustable Height Walking Sticks

Buying a walking stick that can be adjusted to user’s height can be helpful if you are buying a walking cane as a gift for someone and are unsure what size to order. The height adjustment can also be useful for women, if they tend to wear shoes with varying heel heights.

Folding Walking Sticks

Usually made from lightweight metal, this type of walking stick is ideal for occasional use and can easily be folded up and stored in a handbag or glove box of a car when it is not needed. Fixed height and adjustable height folding sticks are available. Folding walking sticks have 3 or 4 sections of shaft, held together by strong elastic which ensures that the stick remains stable when it is in use. This type of stick is great for occasional use, but fixed shaft walking sticks do tend to be sturdier and therefore more stable.

Ferrules

Walking sticks are always sold with a ferrule fitted. However, for long term heavy users of walking sticks or crutches, we highly recommend the Flexyfoot ferrule.

Flexyfoot ferrule 1

Generally, ferrules do not bend and cannot fully grip surfaces, however the innovative Flexyfoot ferrule is made up of two parts – a collar and pleated bellows. It’s the clever design of the bellows that takes the impact out of walking as it’s like having a spring on the foot of your walking aid. Flexyfoot’s unique design works like the suspension system on a 4×4. The flexible bellows absorb shock each time your stick touches the ground, so your step is completely cushioned  reducing the jarring in the arms, shoulders, wrists, elbows, back and neck.

Flexyfoot’s NEW foot tread has been developed to provide improved grip on wet and shiny surfaces, proving to be 50% better at gripping and reducing slips, trips and falls than other ferrule.

Flexyfoot ferrule can be used on crutches, frames or walking sticks. The height of the Flexyfoot ferrule at 35 mm (3.5 cm) is longer than most other ferrules so this needs to be taken into account when buying a new walking stick or fixing to an existing stick that you have already purchased.

Further tips on fixing a Flexyfoot ferrule can be found here

In addition to the ferrule, Flexyfoot have also developed an exciting range of walking sticks which are available from Designed2Enable website here

Product designer David Goodwin, the mastermind behind Flexyfoot, created the innovative bellows design after noticing the challenges that his Sister-In-Law, who has MS, was having using her walking stick.  Flexyfoot has become so popular that it is now sold worldwide.

 

Useful websites:

designed2enable are an online retailer, specialising in stylish daily living products. To view our full range of walking sticks and canes, please visit our website designed2enable.co.uk

For award winning in-home care and companionship visit SeniorsHelpingSeniorsKent.co.uk who can provide advice and support on living well and remaining independent at home.

Move It Or Lose It award winning exercise DVDs for the over 50s. This short video provides a 5 minute exercise plan for improving your balance.

It is possible to find advice about types of walking sticks or aids before you buy at Living made easy  They can provide impartial advice on a wide range of daily living aids on a helpline.