How to choose mobility aids
Zimmer frames and rollators
Article 2 of 5
Zimmer frames and rollators
In this guide we compare walking frames with wheeled walkers, and explain who each type of walking aid is most suited to.
If you or your relative needs a bit more walking support than a stick can offer, there are two types of equipment that can help: walking frames without wheels (commonly referred to as 'Zimmer frames', although Zimmer is actually a brand name), and wheeled walkers, known as rollators.
Many walkers now also fold, making them easier to transport and store.
- If you're looking for something to complement your Zimmer frame or help you travel longer distances outdoors, visit our mobility scooter reviews.
Good for you if: You need a little extra confidence with balance, or to reduce effort.
Think twice if: You need more support or something to bear your weight.
Principal Health Researcher
The most stable Zimmers have four legs and four ferrules (rubber feet), although models with three legs are available too.
Walking frames without wheels require reasonable strength in your arms, as you have to lift the frame every time you step forward. They are usually height adjustable and, as with all walking aids, having the walking frame set at the correct height is important.
You can buy non-wheeled walkers in a variety of sizes and widths. A wider base will generally be more stable than a narrow one, but wider bases may be trickier to manoeuvre around the home – through doorways, for example.
Folding walking frames
Folding walking frames without wheels can be packed into the boot of a car, or tucked into the corner of a room when not in use (potentially useful in homes with less space). However, because these walking frames have several joints, they may not feel quite as sturdy as non-folding ones.
Walking frames with wheels
These walking frames have wheels only on the two front legs – the back legs have rubber feet. They are used by lifting the two back feet clear of the ground as you move forward, requiring less arm strength than a non-wheeled walker, where the whole frame has to be lifted up. The back legs act as a brake when your weight bears down through the frame.
This type of wheeled walker tends to be suited to use around the home. They come in a variety of widths, and folding versions are available too.
Three and four-wheeled rollators
Any walker that only has wheels (as opposed to the two wheels/two ferrules option described above) is known as a rollator. They generally come with three or four wheels and are more suited to getting around outside the home.
Rollators have air-filled tyres and are easier to manoeuvre than two-wheeled walkers. Some models also have an integrated seat and shopping basket.
A few extra things to note about rollators:
- Rollators tend to be used outdoors, as they are generally bulkier than other walkers, and have large wheels that cope better on uneven surfaces. Most rollators can be folded. However, there are also smaller walkers with three or four wheels, designed primarily for indoor use.
- Four-wheeled rollators are more common than three-wheeled versions. Some people find the three-wheeled models easier to turn, but they can also feel less stable.
- While other walkers require a kind of stop-start motion, rollators allow for a more fluent walking rhythm.
Brakes on wheeled walkers
All wheeled walkers have brakes, so it is important you can use them and be in control of your walking speed. There are two types:
- Lever-style brakes are intuitive to use (like squeezing the brakes on a bicycle), but pain or stiffness in the fingers can make it difficult to squeeze them.
- Press-down brakes can suit people with arthritic hands who don't need to lean on their frame too much. But they can be more challenging for people with weak wrists.
If you need more help to get around than a walking frame can realistically provide, read our guide to choosing a wheelchair.
Our Elderly Care website also has advice on improving safety in and out of the home.
Accessories for walkers
There are several accessories that may be compatible with wheeled walkers. These include:
- bags and baskets, especially useful for going to the shops
- trays or caddies, usually used for taking food from the kitchen to the living room
- walking stick holders/clips.
There are fewer accessories suitable for use with walkers without wheels, because they need to be lifted and so are not kept level: trays, for example, aren’t viable.