What type of cane is best for a 90-year-old?

Kwrite13 asked...

My Dad is 90 and living in a retirement apt complex with meals in a dining room. He has been walking unassisted and has no knee or hip issues. But sometimes his balance isn't as good as I'd like it to be. My brother gave him a four prong cane which my Dad doesn't like much. He says he almost fell with it the first time he used it as he got his foot tangled in the prongs while walking. Looking at it I can see that could be a problem. It seems like it would be good for assisting in getting up from a chair or walking short distance but he has a long hallway to walk to dinner, car, mail etc. Inside the apt. I worry that he or Mom might trip over it as their living room is small. On the other hand it stays upright and a sprawling cane on the floor is a hazard too. As of now he only uses it if my brother is around. Would another type of cane be better for him? I saw one with prongs but a narrow base that looked safer to me but was expensive so I would like to know I am getting something that is right for him. It seemed like it would be the best of both types of canes. Stay upright but not have legs sticking out so far and you could step on the base and get it upright if it did fall over instead of having to bend over. Or would a regular can be a better choice?. He isn't going to ask his Dr. for a reference to physical therapy like other sites suggested. He'd prefer not to use it at all. My Mom uses a walker in the hallways but nothing in the apt.

Expert Answer

Julie Kardachi is an occupational therapist, and Celeste Carlucci is a professional dancer and fitness expert. With more than 60 years of combined experience in the field, they created and run Fall Stop"¦MOVE STRONG, a joyful, dance- and education-based fall-prevention and strengthening program that keeps older adults active and safe at home and in their communities. They have been teaching this program since 2004, and the program DVD has been sold since 2008.

If he is having trouble with his balance and mobility, then he needs to be properly evaluated and treated - there might be other solutions instead of or in addition to a cane that could help him, e.g., exercises for balance. But until he is properly evaluated it is impossible to say what is the best thing to help him.

Having family members buy canes, especially those with four prongs, causes exactly the problems you describe. If he needs a cane, it is better that he be evaluated and trained by a physical therapist, so he can use it safely and correctly. It sounds like he doesn't want a cane, however he might benefit from using one in the long hallways.

In our experience, we have found that people often resist using a cane because it makes them feel, and look, old. However, we have had success encouraging these people to use canes by suggesting to them that the cane acts as a reminder to others to be aware of them.

Perhaps recommend going to a PT to work on balance and strength, a good reason in and of itself. Once there, the PT will be able to evaluate your father and the "best cane" issue might arise naturally.