Dear Family Advisor

How can I convince my mom to use her cane or walker instead of being embarrassed about them?

Last updated:

February 16, 2011
parkinson's_walker

My mom, who's in her early 70s, has Parkinson's and is starting to have some mobility problems. I've bought her a cane and a walker, but she refuses to use them in public. She's well established and respected in her community -- everybody knows her in the small town where she lives -- and I think she's embarrassed about having to use a walking aid.

How do I convince her that people love her for who she is and that her safety is more important than her pride?

You may have to try multiple strategies to get your mom to use a walking aid: flattery, compromise, reason, begging, or possibly even downright confrontation. Every family is different and only you know what might get your mom to agree. Think back to other issues in her life -- how did you (or your dad or another family member or friend) get her to do something she didn't want to do?

I'd start with finding a friend or neighbor in a similar situation -- one who has adjusted to life's changes -- to show her that a cane or walker isn't the end of the world. All of us have a need to fit in with our peers. We relax when we see people just like us: our age, gender, ethnic background. Use the connection this gives to convince her that other people her age also use walking aids. Encourage her to talk to someone who has recently fallen, and let her see for herself what it's like to have to recover from a broken ankle -- or worse, a broken hip. Try not to be preachy, but let her see this and figure it out for herself. Sometimes we have to pull out the big guns: She may realize that if she's embarrassed walking with a cane, she'd be mortified in a body cast!

Most of us have a knee-jerk rebellion button we push when we think we're being pressured, so try not to force her into a corner if you don't have to. Just stand back and let her see that these are the same friends she's always had, and that the walker doesn't change who they are.

Another strategy might be to compromise. Ask her to use the cane or walker around the house, and maybe at the grocery store. If she doesn't want to use it at church or a social gathering, then ask whether you or another more mobile friend can discreetly accompany her. Let her save face for now.

Know too that she may just need to put up a good fuss before settling in. Let her. Let her rail against aging and disease and having to use a walker or cane. Let her fling her arrows at you. She'll eventually run out of ammunition.

It's hard to let go of who we were and embrace who we are, and our society isn't good about giving our elders the seat of honor they deserve. Tell her all the time how beautiful her hands are, how regal she looks, how beauty and purpose never fade, how character only gets deeper. Ask her for advice. Ask her to teach you how to age, how to love and be loved. Be vulnerable yourself. You can't expect her to open up and share her fears if you aren't willing to do the same.

Meanwhile, be practical at home. Be sure to remove throw rugs, chairs with legs that jut out, and other home hazards that can trip her -- even if she does use the cane or walker in the house.

You'll have to be creative and persistent, since your mother sounds like a strong woman. Use humor, be patient, be stubborn, fight with her and for her -- but remind her over and over that this has nothing to do with how much you love her, and nothing to do with the amazing woman she is.