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The Walker Waltz: An O&M Teaching Technique for Traveling with a Walker

elderly lady using walker

From the AFB Press book O&M for Independent Living: Strategies for Teaching Orientation and Mobility to Older Adults, edited by Nora Griffin-Shirley and Laura Bozeman

When older adults who use walkers are unable to visually maintain their safety or to use a cane to reliably probe the environment, they risk tipping the walker at cracks or drop-offs. To use the walker as a probe for the environment, older adults should adopt a gait pattern referred to as the “Walker Waltz.” As always, it is important for the orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist to consult with a client’s physical therapist to ensure the highest degree of safety for teaching a new technique.

1. With feet planted at shoulder width, the client moves the walker forward, stops the walker, and then gives the walker a little wiggle to make sure all four feet are on the ground. (If a drop-off is approached at an angle, it may be difficult to detect if one of the feet of the walker is dangling off the edge. Wiggling the walker is the best way to test for this.)

2. If the walker is stable, the older adult then steps forward with one leg. (If the client has a weaker side, he or she should step forward first with that side, unless a physical or occupational therapist has directed otherwise, so that the individual’s torso is further into the walker and has more support when the weight is on the weaker side.)

cover of O and M for Independent Living: Strategies for Teaching Orientation and Mobility to Older Adults

3. The older adult then steps forward with the other leg. It can be a “step, together” type step (as in a two-step dance). Some people may be able to pass the first leg with the second, while others may need to keep the second leg just behind the first leg. Once the second leg has moved, the older adults will need a moment to reestablish balance before moving the walker again.

The older adult then repeats steps 1, 2, and 3 (hence the waltz reference) until the drop-off, curb, or other obstacle is located. The traveler should advance the walker slowly so that he or she has time to react to tilts and level changes. Some older adults will need to use this technique anytime they are in unfamiliar environments or in familiar environments with known obstacles and hazards.

To learn more about orientation and mobility tools and techniques for teaching older adults losing their vision, read O&M for Independent Living: Strategies for Teaching Orientation and Mobility to Older Adults, available in the AFB Store at www.afb.org/store.

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