Did you know that walkers weren’t invented until the 1950s? I shudder to think how mobility-challenged people managed to get around, or didn’t, before that time. And it wasn’t until 1978, when a woman in Sweden (who had polio) added four wheels onto her walker, creating what is now known as a rollator.
Most of us who use rollators don’t really care about its history; we are just happy they exist and that they help us walk with balance and confidence. But, in the beginning, I’ll admit I wasn’t happy at all about having to use one.
Oh, I had many friends who used a walker following their knee or hip surgeries, but those aluminum-framed, hospital-issued devices were temporary, representing recovery and a return to normal active life.
For me, having ALS and being told I needed a rollator represented acknowledgement that I wasn’t in recovery. My condition was permanent and for me, a new normal.
At first I noticed all the negatives. For instance, it was intrusive; it was (I believed) the first thing people noticed when I entered a room. It showed up in photographs, and when hugging a friend my rollator became a third party in the entanglement.
But when out and about I learned my rollator was actually a helpful visual “alert” to others not to bump into me. It also acted as a safety barrier, saving me from wayward children running past.
I soon discovered several alternate uses. For example, at the bathroom sink, I swing my rollator directly behind me and lock the brakes. This transforms it into an emergency landing pad I should happen to teeter backward.
Besides helping me walk, it has become part of my daily exercise routine. I stand directly in front of a sturdy chair with my rollator parked in front of me , with its wheels locked in place. I can perform any number of simple calisthenic movements, knowing that if I should lose balance the chair is behind me and my rollator is an easy grab in front.
It’s even become my ever-present silent buddy. Whether I’m at the computer, eating a meal, or by my bedside at night, it’s never more than an arm’s length away. I’ll even feel twinges of separation anxiety whenever restaurant staff stow it in a far-off corner away from my line of sight. I imagine the scenario of it being stolen and having to either crawl out of the place on my hands and knees or, be hoisted overhead and carried out like the Queen of Sheba!
OK, OK, if we’re being honest here, I’ll fully confess that after living with a rollator for the past six years, I now cannot imagine my life without one. In fact, I’m the proud owner of three. One is designated for indoor use only, another sits on the back porch, and the third is stowed in our van for use on-the-go. The whole set-up makes for seamless travel from one end of the house to the other — my own “pony express of rollators!”
But I haven’t found the ideal rollator, yet.
Knowing that rollators were invented nearly 40 years ago and the few design modifications made since then were mainly for the elderly market, I think it’s time for a system-wide update. How about a “Smart Rollator?” Here are a few suggestions I think should be included:
- Wi-fi accessibility. A simple push of a button on the handle would turn answering a cell phone while walking into an easy maneuver.
- Rather than squeezing the hand brakes, let the brakes be controlled by an on-off button accessed via the handles. Plus add a dial for easy braking down an incline.
- Offer more color choices beyond black, red and white (or the gratuitous pink).
- The existence of hoverboards, Segways and classy compact luggage shows me that someone could design a stylish rollator.
Looking back, I realize that the evolution of my mindset from initially disliking rollators to now thinking of ways to improve them, has come a long way. It’s all part of learning to “live well while living with ALS.”
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