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Helping the elderly walk

Updated on August 29, 2012

Helping the elderly walk - ensuring their safety and your sanity at the same time.

I am my 95 year old Mom's full time caregiver, and the job is getting a bit harder post her broken hip on November 11, 2011. After my initial panic at trying to figure out how to help her in her recovery from a broken hip, I calmed down and started to center my thoughts on how to help my elderly Mother walk. I promised my Dad before his death in 2007 that I would keep her with me as long as possible - as long as I could keep her safe and helping her walk is a big part of the latter part of that sentence.

I was with her during all of her nursing home rehabilitation therapy sessions so I got some good training in helping the elderly walk from her excellent therapists. They schooled me in how to assist her while keeping myself safe at the same time.

This Squidoo article is dedicated to all of the caregivers out there who walk in my same path. As thankless as this job may sometimes appear, it's always rewarding and always important.

The picture is of my Mom during her very first therapy session, just 2 weeks after she had a steel plate and screws inserted to fix her broken hip. She amazes me every single day.

helping the elderly walk - mom at her 95th birthday party
helping the elderly walk - mom at her 95th birthday party

Aging backwards -

My take on the elderly and aging

It's dawned on me the last few years the similarities between raising a young child and caring for the elderly. I do the same tasks a young parent does, only our world is operating in reverse. A young child is learning to walk and care for him or herself throughout the years of training from their parents while the elderly are losing the ability to care for themselves. It is in this situation I find myself caring for my aging mother.

Although I chose not to have children, I now consider myself the mother to a 95 year old. When Mom first came to live with me April 8, 2007 (the day after Dad died), at 91, she was able to walk alone, make some of her own meals, stay alone for 4 or so hours at a time and was generally pretty self-sufficient, with just a bit of help from me. Similar, I suppose, to a child of around 10.

The next year, she started to use a walker around the house "just in case", and I started to put her in a wheelchair for outings as her arthritic knees caused her great pain when walking. So, I pushed and she sat - not at all unlike using a stroller with a young child. I was still working so I hired a caregiver for 8 hours during the day to make sure Mom ate properly and to help her with tasks she used to be able to do. I couldn't trust her to stay alone any longer. So, I had to find "Gertie sitters" which she didn't take to too lightly - not unlike finding babysitters for a young child.

And now, she no longer is walking strong and steady, even with the walker. She is fighting for balance when she stands and, sadly, one day would probably be bed bound if I didn't have a wheelchair ready for that moment. She had every tooth in her head until just last year when she lost 2 bottom teeth. She's becoming a younger child by the day. But, I don't mind. She took care of me and here I will sit, for as long as I can, taking care of her.

A child is born helpless, unable to care for itself, not really aware of its surroundings for the first year of life.

And, as my mother faces her last years of life, she is becoming more helpless, is unable to take care of herself any longer, and, although not completely daffy, there are moments when she looks at me in askance about things she once knew easily. Just as a young child starts to make noises to learn words and find his or her voice, my mom is losing hers. Her words are sometimes jumbled, her voice very soft - mostly. She still definitely lets me know her opinions...And, for that, I'm grateful. And, she's kept her sense of humor as I work hard to keep mine...

But, ah, I've digressed from the intent of this Squidoo article. Back to work.

P.S, The photo is of my Mom at her 95th birthday party.

This article earned the coveted purple star on January 25, 2012

For those of you normal folks not living in Squidland, "Purple Stars are awarded sporadically, when we come across editorial excellence, to our very favorite lenses on the site."

It's a very nice pat on the back really.

Speaking of aging backwards - See The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a few years ago when it first came out. It's a great movie about a man who ages backwards - Brad Pitt does a great job portraying this interesting character. It's a must see for caregivers but I would not suggest you view it around your elderly loved ones. It's got a fairly sad ending....

A man growing old

becomes a child again.


Cotton gait belts help you keep a hand on the elderly as they walk

Before my Mom's fall, I instinctively figured out that I had to bunch up her nightgown in the back to keep a hold of her. Why I didn't get online and look for something made specifically for this purpose is beyond me but I'm hoping to save you the trouble.

A gait belt is a sturdy cotton belt that buckles around the waist of the elderly to give the caregiver a good handhold on them. I save my Mom from falling at least once a day with the help of her gait belt.

Read this excellent article about the proper use of a gait belt: How to use a gait belt.

Other cotton gait belts

Cotton gait belts differ in pricing, depending mostly on the number of handles the gait belt has and the type of buckle. The below gait belts are cheaper than the one above which is my favorite. Just click on any picture to get the specifics about sizing and pricing.

Prestige Medical Gait Belt with Metal Buckle

Mabis Ambulation Gait Belt, Large 533-6030-0123

Mabis Ambulation Gait Belt, Cotton, 65" 533-6027-0024

Prestige Medical 621-blu Cotton Gait Belt with Metal Buckle Blue

Prestige Medical 621-spa Cotton Gait Belt with Metal Buckle Stripes Hot Pink

Other articles which may be of some use when helping the elderly walk

When my Mom first started to tottle, I did a lot of research on the best walkers and wheelchairs on the market. The below articles are a result of this research. I stand behind each and every one of the products reviewed in these articles.

Tips to avoiding falls in the elderly

I've done a lot of Mom-proofing of my house to ensure her safety, particularly when she's walking. The below are some good tips that you might think about if you have an elderly loved one in your house.

  1. If possible, pick up any throw rugs. Most of my 160 year old house is hardwood floors but I do have some throw rugs around. I'm caught in an interesting middle between giving my 15 year old 3-legged dog, Hops, traction while keeping Mom upright. If you must have throw rugs in your house, track the edges down with nails; it's a small price to pay to refinish the hardwood floor one day than to spend a month in a hospital with your elderly loved one.

    Another tip is to use the rug gripper pad underneath to ensure the throw rugs don't slip. And, finally, never buy throw rugs with fringe on the ends - Never, EVER! The fringe can easily get caught up in a walker wheel and throw the elderly off balance.

  2. Forget about putting a walker tray on a walker unless you're around 100% to aid the elderly in walking. Having a walker tray sure was handy but, once we were in rehab, it dawned on me that the walker tray kept Mom from using the walker the way it was intended. The elderly should stay in the walker instead of pushing it ahead of them, and the tray prevents this.
  3. If you have a bag attached to the front of the walker, make sure it and its contents are lightweight. A bag which collects magazines, tv remotes, medications, etc can easily become heavy and throw the walker off balance.
  4. Keep one hand on the elderly as they walk at all times!. This means that you should grab the gait belt securely in one hand always. Never let up.


If a walker will not fit through a doorway, simply switch the front wheels so that they're facing in instead of out. This narrows the width of the walker and will usually allow it to go through even the narrowest doorway.

Helping the elderly walk - Use Gripper socks

My Mom frequently slips when wearing regular socks around the house and she doesn't like houseshoes. So, I make sure to buy her Gripper socks - the type that have the little rubber dots on the bottom. These give her traction.

Forty is the old age of youth,

fifty is the youth of old age.

Hosea Ballou

Elderly knees may need some support when walking

My Mom walks bone-on-bone in one knee - there is no cartilage left. It's very painful for her to walk without wearing some sort of supportive knee brace. She has a few that we use, depending on the severity of the pain.

Hinged Wraparound Knee Brace (EA)
Hinged Wraparound Knee Brace (EA)

Make sure to measure around the knee before buying a knee brace. It should fit snugly but should not be tight enough to cause discomfort or cut off circulation.


Other good knee braces

I've had to experiment with at least 5 or 6 knee braces for Mom - some didn't move enough, other knee braces didn't give enough support. Some knee braces were too loose, some too tight. So, if you're looking for knee braces to help the elderly walk, prepare thyself by buying more than one and returning the ones that don't work. This will save you gas!

Body Glove Open Kneecap Breathable Neoprene Knee Support, No Stays

Mueller Hinged Knee Brace

2pcs Protective Sports Bandage Brace Knee Support White

12" Elastic Hinged Knee Brace

Helping the elderly walk means keeping them nimble through exercise

My Mom is not a fan of exercise these days, but we caregivers have to insist that she move around as much as possible. This means that I've bought exercise bands which we wrap around her legs as she sits and stretches them. Moving her legs up and down and side to side helps her stiff muscles stretch. Walking is less painful when she's stretched.

The below items are a few good things you can use to help you getting the elderly a modicum of exercise. And, remember, every single movement is important. It doesn't matter if you can only get your elderly loved one to stretch for 5 minutes - that's 5 minutes more than they had before.

My Mom used the a similar exercise peddler to the one listed below for 15 minutes a day while in nursing home rehab. It made a big difference in her ability to move afterwards.

Deluxe Folding Exercise Peddler With Electronic Display

Essential Medical Supply Exercise Pulley Set

Thera-Band Exercise Bands

Light Resistance Set of 5 ft Bands- Green, Red and Yellow

An e-book on caregiving

mom's 95th birthday party
mom's 95th birthday party

I'm curious as to my reader's reactions of my putting together an e-book which would be about care giving. I personally am not sure that I have a lot to add to the excellent caregiving books already on the market but what do you think (and, I'm really NOT fishing for compliments - I want you honest opinion, please).

Do you think I should put together an ebook on caregiving?

See results

My Mom and I love to read comments so please let us know you stopped by. This guest book is open to all visitors - you don't have to be a Squidoo member to comment.

Thank you so much for visiting!

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    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      6 years ago

      I am so impressed by all of this! It is very important to keep everyone ambulatory, especially the elderly. I sent this to my son who is a design major, he is trying to design glamorous products for people who are impaired. ( I need orthopedic shoes and he is truly to design some foxy ones for instance.) Pinned and blessed.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Our house is so very dangerous for me and I keep telling my husband that one day as he ages he will understand. The tiniest little bumps, stairs, or hill is a potential for a fall. Come winter I pretty much lock myself in till spring as our driveway is on a slant so prone for ice. Being elderly or disabled very much has it's own unique set of challenges. (It's a good thing our sense of humor gets fine tuned as we age as well).

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting lens you have here. It's a noble act you have here of taking care of your mom rather than putting her at an old age center. Taking of an aging mother is extremely difficult because you have to make sure that she wont get fractured as her bones are already deteriorating. DePuy Pinnacle Lawsuit

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Gertie, you are just blessing my heart today as I read about you and see your smile in every picture...even in your first therapy session 2 weeks after surgery, you are an inspiration and I can clearly see why Lori takes such delight in making sure everything in your life is just as good as it can be. Blessed! I think I'll declare today Gertie and Lori day!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Gertie is so beautiful. She is always smiling. I'm glad she's recovering. Well done, Lori. You truly are an angel! Blessed.

      I remember leaving the house more than once and forgetting I still had a gait belt around my waist. People must have wondered. But it was the only place I could keep it so I knew exactly where it was when I needed it. It became a part of me.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hey, Gertie! I love seeing yoru beautiful face and encouraging smile in Lori's articles! I wish I could come give you both a hug in person!

    • pajnhiaj profile image


      7 years ago

      A lot of information. Nice lens. Blessings.

    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 

      7 years ago

      Hey, Gertie! Hug Gizmo for me!

    • Susan300 profile image


      7 years ago

      Lots of great first-hand information here. Thanks for sharing your experiences and expertise. :)

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      As always you've explained things quite clearly. Gertie did her job well also, posing for the pictures.

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 

      7 years ago from USA

      We have a lot in common on this topic, and you have provided a great resource for those who find themselves helping their elders learn to walk again.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Lori, Though the information may be available elsewhere on line, the convenience of having it all in one place via your ebook would be invaluable. NOt to mention, that you are personally familiar with the articles you write and have "been there and done that." Your personal "take" on things is worth everything to someone who is just beginning your journey. Give Gertie a big ol' HUG and KISS from ME! My respect for you increases every day.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a great page, very informative and i'd definitely recommend it. And i've also given you a 'like'

      I'm new to this but i have 2 pages up so i'd appreciate it if you could go onto the link, like and comment, and share the link if you like it. I hope you enjoy reading through my poetry.Thanks I wrote all the poetry myself so feel free to 'like' it if you enjoy the read :)

    • TheBaseballCoach profile image


      7 years ago

      Helping the elderly to walk will become more and more important as the population ages. I went through the lack og good caregivers with my father before he passed away.

    • Showpup LM profile image

      Showpup LM 

      7 years ago

      I really enjoy your caretaking lenses. Your mom is blessed to have you and I've fallen in love with your mom through your lenses as well so you are also blessed! What a great lady she seems to be! Love how you are sharing your experiences together to help others.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent Resource Indeed! Your mom's pictures are delightful!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      This is a wonderful resource for any caregiver. I love the pictures of your mom. Great work!

    • M Schaut profile image

      Margaret Schaut 

      7 years ago from Detroit

      Caretaking is a very challenging role! Yet taking care of the ones you love really deepens the relationship. You've done a beautiful job, from one caretaker to another. Best to Gertie- she's lovely!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      7 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Oh, I really like this article, Lori. Your progression of your mom's very own "Benjamin Button" life (sort of) was so fun to read. Love the quote about 40 being old to the young and 50 being young to the old. And yes, compile that ebook, girl!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a wonderful lens. My husband and I moved in with my parents a few years ago. We know that someday soon we will be needed to be much more than now. My dad has trouble getting around, but he is stubborn and won't use a walker or a cane. That will change soon. Your lens is great and I love reading how you are taking such great care of your mother. Thanks for sharing your tips. I need them.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 

      7 years ago

      Excellent lens! Your mum looks like a real trooper. I have a great aunt who is 101 this year. She is still going strong, and thankfully hasn't reverted to second childhood.


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