My First Walker: The Need for Walker Training in Germany and Abroad
Publish Date: October
By Thomas Appel and Frank Leyhausen
In 2010, Germany’s population count was 81.7 Million, 51,000 less than in 2009.
Germany’s population is aging and shrinking. One of the most visible signs of an aging population and at the same time one of the most stigmatizing goods for aging people are walker frames. By using a walker the individual has to admit that he or she has mobility deficits and is in need of a supporting device. Not an easy task for someone who was an independent person for several decades.
Industry experts estimate that 2 million walker frames are already in use today and each and every year there will be at least 500,000 new walker users in Germany. That means that not far from now we will have more new walker frames than baby strollers on in Germany’s streets.
Looking at the kids in Germany there is a tremendous effort to give youngsters a safe start into their lives as cyclists, e.g. mandatory bike training in elementary school, a very highy appreciated concept by each and everyone.
On the other side of our age range there are hundreds of thousands of seniors who are confronted with the situation of using a walker for the first time in their life. What is our society offering this group of people to deal with their new situation? Unfortunately not much.
Walkers are usually prescribed by doctors and the cost for basic frames will be covered by their health insurance
. More sophisticated models, which often come with better adjusting options top the given maximum price from the health insurance and seniors have to cover these extra costs themselves or by family support.
Depending on the quality of the durable medical equipment store receiving the prescriptions and handling out the frame there can be a detailed introduction or no introduction at all into the product. Introductions should include the fitting of the frame and a demonstration about the most relevant tasks e.g. how to negotiate steps.
The necessity of walker training has a very low public awareness compared to the public pressure on biking training for kids even though these changes in mobility are comparable challenges for both age groups and their relatives.
There is even an option for doctors to prescribe ergo therapy training for seniors on “how to” use the walker in different situations and giving the frame the fit that matches personal needs. But only a minority of seniors are treated to that training because of the cost.
It is a common misconception that using a walker is not that complicated so seniors should do well on the road after a short briefing. But research shows a different picture. In their 2009 report on Unintentional Fall Injuries Associated with Walkers and Canes in Older Adults Treated in U.S. Emergency Departments the authors found that an estimated 47,312 older adults were treated in US emergency rooms due to fall injuries with canes or in most cases with walkers. The authors stress the necessity of looking for effective strategies to prevent fall injuries of people who use assistive devices like walkers.
There are no statistics so far in Germany but the notion of a similar situation has been brought up.
Based on complaints from the aging population and on own observation the police of the north western city of Duesseldorf started walker trainings in April 2010 headed by chief inspector Joachim Tabath. (See interview with inspector Tabath).
The key situations causing problems are the boarding and de-boarding of public transportation e.g. metro or buses. Tabath´s two hour class covers (de)boarding and road safety in addition to helping individuals adjusting their frames, often giving participants a much better control over their frames. The session ends with a test drive on an obstacle course or in the local neighborhood.
Unfortunately police activities such as this are driven by the regional police authority and are not binding for other police forces. Therefore the walker training of Duessdorf is just a good practice example and not the standard of other cities or even states in Germany.
Due to the huge success of Mr. Tabath´s trainings and the obvious need of walker trainings in all of Germany an alliance of experts including the German Seniors League and the Norwegian manufacture TOPRO rolled out a nationwide tour of walker trainings in May 2012 called “Deutscher Rollatortag” the German walker day.
Based on Mr. Tabath´s original concept the alliance added facilities, hand outs, information and regional communication on top of the training and provided local partners with the relevant equipment to set up a training course free of cost. After running a loop on the course the participant receives feedback as well as a certificate of completion.
There is also a technical check up. An expert will test all relevant functions of the used walker e.g. breaks and will make a report of the walker´s current status and recommendations for enhancements.
Trainings are currently scheduled in more the 70 cities all over Germany in 2012 and we are looking forward to add more cities in Germany and “exporting” the concept to other countries.
The need for walker training is global.