Last week I was assessed by Occupational Therapy for adaptations in my home, due to my lowered mobility from chronic pain and radiculopathy. At the time I had a lovely chat with the therapist that came out, chatting away about the family and pets (although she wasn’t keen on the tarantulas!). As part of this friendly banter, the subject of my falls outside came up. I told the therapist how at that point I was using two elbow crutches to get around, but that I was falling despite them. She offered to have a physiotherapist come to the house to assess my mobility needs. I had known for a while that I wasn’t going to like the next step in mobility aid, the “rollator”. I was in two minds about accepting the help, one half telling myself I am only 35 not 95 and it isn’t fair (imagine stamping 3 year old), and the other telling myself to get a grip and get over it. In the end my husband talked me into it by making the valid point that anything that got me out of the house was worth a shot. My (teenage) son piped up that we could always call “Pimp My Ride”.
The next day the physiotherapist came out. Putting aside the fact that he was very dishy and looked to have recently qualified if age was anything to go by, he was extremely professional if a bit quiet (a 35 year old woman on sticks swooning at you has that effect I’m sure!). My husband helped him into the house with the rollator and I got my first look at my new wheels, the Drive Lightweight Rollator: Lightweight Aluminium Rollator – Drive Medical.
Well, I wasn’t expecting anything fashionable, I don’t think there’s such a thing when it comes to rollators, and I was just grateful for the help, especially considering this was covered by the NHS. That said, my gut did lurch at the idea of using it, but I think many people must go through the same. I don’t want to be reliant on mobility aids, but then I do want to keep mobile until the doctors work out a way to make my legs function normally. The physiotherapist urged me to let him show me how to use it in my driveway outside and we had a pootle about for a couple of minutes after he fitted it to my height. He attempted to show me how to fold it, but it wouldn’t budge, even with my husband’s help.
The Monday after the physiotherapist dropped the rollator off, I was admitted to hospital. I had to go as an emergency by ambulance and because of the rush I and my husband forgot to bring my crutches with me. The next morning, I was stuck in the hospital bed, unable to get up and move about. When my husband came to visit that morning, he brought the rollator, and we used it around the ward and for my short walk home. That was my first “proper” go with it and my initial thoughts were that in general it was handy to have a rollator to be able to sit and break a walk up into manageable portions. However, that wasn’t specific to this model, nearly all rollators have seats. The hard wheels were skiddy on the smooth floors, which meant the rollator often got ahead of me, or swung from side to side like a trolley, but I expected them to fare better outside. They did indeed have more traction/grip outside, but the hard wheels and lack of suspension meant that even the smoother outdoor pavements made it vibrate and judder about like an old shopping trolley. I was quite surprised at how poor it was in this respect as even the cheapest prams and buggies have some sort of system in place to make the ride smoother (whether softer wheels or a bit of suspension), it’s not new technology.
This model has two methods of braking – one is to squeeze the handles to the degree you need to slow down, and the other is to click the lower half of the handles down as a full brake for sitting. I found that even with the full brakes on, when I sat on the rollator, it sometimes moved a bit, and seemed unsteady. This was worse on smoother surfaces and I found I couldn’t rely on it to sit on in the ward due to the smooth floors. That said, the squeeze method of braking came in handy for slowing the rollator if it started to get ahead of itself while I was trundling along.
Another more major downside to this model was having to fully lift it up kerbs and over even small obstacles. At the entrance to the ward was a slight lip to the floor, this was only a matter of a centimetre or so, and yet the rollator’s small wheels repeatedly “jammed” on this and nearly made me fall. On larger kerbs (such as outside, crossing the roads), my husband had to help me lift it up over them. This added time to the crossing, meaning at one point I was stopping traffic (makes a change!) and also meant I wouldn’t be able to use it alone. Although the rollator is classed as a “lightweight” model (weighing in at “less than 7kg” according to the manufacturer’s website), it’s still a hefty weight for someone to lift when they’re wobbly on their legs. Many other models from other brands have “kerb climbing” ability or accessories, although in fairness these models are more expensive and were not available to me in my area on the NHS. That said, I would not feel safe using this model alone, and this would restrict my ability to get out and about, and so if I continue to use a rollator, I would have to buy a model that did not have the pitfalls of this model.
In summary, I hope this review is helpful to those of you considering a mobility aid, and to make things a bit easier, here are the pros and cons of this model:
- Available in my area as a free longterm loan, funded by the NHS (please contact me if you have experience with other areas’ NHS provisions).
- Cheap to buy – from around £49.99 online.
- Storage for a small amount of personal items under the seat.
- Can be unstable to sit on when locked if parked on smoother surfaces.
- Small wheels mean going over even small thresholds is difficult, kerb climbing is impossible without lifting.
- Hard wheels and lack of decent suspension make a juddery ride, which could be bad for arthritis sufferers in particular.
- Very difficult to fold and not freestanding when folded. Would need someone with you to fold it as it can be a two person job, or at best a two handed one.
- On smoother surfaces, handles like an out of control shopping trolley.
If any manufacturers have a product they would like me to review for them, please get in touch. I would love this blog to become a tool for those with chronic pain to aid them in finding the right products and services for them. I will always review fairly and on personal experience. Many thanks!