What are zimmer frames and rollators?
If you need a bit more walking support than a stick can offer, there are two main types of equipment that can help:
- walking frames without wheels – commonly referred to as ‘Zimmer frames’ (although Zimmer is actually a brand name)
- wheeled walkers, known as rollators or mobility walkers.
These can be a good option if you need a little extra confidence with balance, or to reduce effort. However, if you need more support or something to bear your weight, you may want to consider other options, such as a mobility scooter or wheelchair.
Walking frames / Zimmer frames
The most stable walking frames 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.
Walking frames without wheels require reasonable strength in your arms, as you have to lift the frame every time you step forward.
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.
Two-wheeled walking frames
These walking frames are very similar to a Zimmer, but they have wheels on the two front legs – the back legs have rubber feet. They’re 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.
When Dad had a stroke that reduced his mobility, we were encouraged by social services to move him into a home all on the same level. So he moved into a flat attached to sheltered accommodation. This eased his loneliness too.
Three and four-wheeled rollators
A walker that only has wheels is usually 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’re 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.
Rollators have air-filled tyres and are easier to manoeuvre than two-wheeled walkers.
Brakes on wheeled walkers
All wheeled walkers have brakes, so it’s important you can use them and be in control of your walking speed. There are two types:
- Lever-style brakes: these are intuitive to use (similar to squeezing the brakes on a bicycle), but pain or stiffness in the fingers can make this difficult to do.
- Press-down brakes: these 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.
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 aren’t kept level: trays, for example, aren’t viable.
Where to get walking aids
If you are interested in buying or renting walking aids or other mobility aids, the best place to start is usually to discuss the options with your GP, or with an occupational therapist or physiotherapist.
You can also find lots of advice on how to choose and buy mobility equipment in our guide:
Fall detectors and alarms
If you’re concerned about the possibility of suffering a fall, you may want to consider wearing a fall detector. These devices sense if you’ve had a fall and can send an alert to a call centre or a carer.
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