How can I convince my mom to start using a cane?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom who is 78 years young, has a lot of difficulty walking and maintaining her balance. I am very afraid that she is going to fall one of these days. The doctor has told her to use a cane and her family has said to do the same. However, she gets emotionally upset over the subject and says " the day that I have to use a cane is the day that I will lie down and die". I don't know how I can get her to use one without upsetting her. Any ideas?

Expert Answer

Bonita Lynn Beattie is the vice president for injury prevention for the Center for Healthy Aging, part of the National Council on Aging (NCOA). She directs the NCOA's Falls Free Initiative, which is developing and implementing a national action plan to prevent falls and fall-related injuries in older adults.

You pose an interesting and far too common question that pointed out individual perceptions of what it means to be old. Or perhaps she is just afraid of using a cane, which is also not uncommon. Let me share a few thoughts about the use of a cane and falls: the [CDC] (http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2009/r090629.htm) released a report in June that noted a large number of falls are related to the misuse of canes and walkers, leading to the recommendation that such devices need to be properly fit to the individual with instruction in the use of that ambulation aid.

The health care provider who can best provide safe instruction in the use of a cane is a physical therapist. For more information go to [APTA.org] (http://www.apta.org/AM/Template.cfm?TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&Section=Media&CONTENTID=62007). A physical therapist can also assess your mom for balance and walking issues that might be improved through appropriate interventions such as exercise, which can be prescribed and monitored as either a clinic or home-based program. Finally, the therapist should be able to help ease your mom's concerns by helping to convince her of the benefits of using a cane. For those reasons, I would suggest you ask the doctor for a referral to a physical therapist.

You might have noticed that cane fashion design is coming of age with hundreds of styles, colors and patterns to choose among. As just one example of the many styles available go to [Walking-Canes] (http://www.walking-canes.net/fashionwalkingcanes.aspx). Canes are becoming more fashionable even in people who do not really need them. You or your mom might already be seeing more people using canes, or know of a persuasive friend who could share the positive aspects of the cane to assist in balance.

When you and your mom are ready to purchase a cane I would recommend you check out your community medical supply outlets or drug stores, most of them now carry an array of adjustable height styles to choose from-ask the therapist for a recommendation. But remember the appropriate fit and safe-use instruction are keys to reducing falls.