August 14, 2008 | Back to: Local News

Mel Walsh: Another leg to stand on


I kiss my cane. At least I used to when it helped me get out and about instead of stuck at home with a bum hip. I also once loved a walker, though my relationship with crutches after a ski injury was more love-hate.

What these things have in common is that they are assistive devices. But, if ever good things have a negative image among the populace, it's assistive devices. People don't like the thought of using them.

I hear this a lot: If I use a cane or walker, people will think I am old. Given that a recent national poll indicates there is more prejudice against older people than any other group, I can see the reasoning behind not wanting to look old. Who wants to get run over by a heavy stereotype?

But and however, it's time the stereotyping of older people got zapped by the reality that older doesn't mean done in or finished. It means experienced. And my hope is that experience will teach smart older people that it is far better to use assistive devices to get out of the house than to stay home watching TV re-runs. First-run living is better than re-run fiction.

A few ideas for regaining physical freedom

Canes: If you need a bit of help maintaining stability or taking weight off a limb, consider canes. They worked for Fred Astaire. Today's canes come in more fashionable styles so they lose that sour medicinal look. Still other canes fold " great for travel " and some are gorgeously carved. Or, you can do what I did when I once needed a cane: buy a plain one and decorate it yourself. I cut out travel images from wrapping paper and used a little glue-like Hodge Podge to glue the pictures onto the cane. I could have sold that cane dozens of times to people who loved its jauntiness. For more ideas and products, go to www.fashionablecanes.com or www.houseofcanes.com.

Walkers: These have gone the way of baby strollers. They used to be plain, functional and cheap, but have now gone upscale " almost into the lifestyle statement category.

The original design still does a good job " supporting people on three sides as they get out and about. If you ever used one of these after surgery, you know how helpful they are. With just two front wheels, they are also light, fold easily and can be tucked into a car without effort. But they are almost all designed to be dull. Rich, rich will be the first manufacturer that wakes up and smells the Boomers. There will be Elvis walkers, rainbow walkers and walkers with green leaves on them.

Some of the newer walkers " aka rollators " are far better looking " think Racing Green " have four wheels " think off-road " and added functions. Most of all, they have a seat, a great boon, for it means one's walking range is extended. A person can get out to a fair or festival and have his own seat with him when he gets tired. There's also a basket for a purse, sweater, water or small groceries, so you can take your stuff along. Very cool.

Heads Up: People need to be sure to set the brakes on the newer walkers before they sit down, so the more advanced walkers with brakes may not be the best choice for an older person who can't remember things. Also, many walkers are adjusted too low, so the people using them are hunched over, squishing lungs, ruining posture and making them look like what they don't want to look like " old.

Warehouse clubs carry walkers as do some pharmacies that stock heavy duty medical supplies. Online, check out www.planetmobility or www.cane-n-able.com.

If You Want to Jazz Up Appearances

People who get around regularly in wheelchairs have learned how to dress and accessorize to show they are not dead to the world. Those using other assistive devices might follow their lead. So forget the stereotypical older person's wardrobe. (Those wearing beige cardigans will be sent to the principal.) Instead, wear a baseball cap in a bright color. Sport a tee shirt that proclaims something funny or eye-catching. Cranky Pants sports one that says Older Than Dirt. Who knows what he'll escalate to if he ever gets a walker. Wear a bright bandanna. Hang a license plate on the back.

Try a little outrageous geezer behavior. If not now, when? Flirt with the sex of your choice. Nobody arrested an old person for winking. (I never understood why older men are called "dirty old men" for behavior that makes younger men "studly".)

Last, use everything you can to keep on keeping on. Whatever it is or whatever it looks like, your assistive device is doing you a favor. You don't have to kiss it, but "appreciate" may be the appropriate word.

Mel Walsh is a gerontologist and certifiable geezer. Her book of advice for older women, Hot Granny, is available at The Book Seller in Grass Valley and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Mel Walsh


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The Union Updated Aug 14, 2008 08:14PM Published Aug 14, 2008 08:14PM Copyright 2008 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.