When it comes to selecting a walker vs rollator, it is easy to make a wrong choice because most people mistakenly confuse them. This is because they are, after all, mobility aids. Rushing to buy one of these mobility aids without adequate research to understand the differences between them based on functionality can cause more harm for the user. They could even have disastrous consequences.
Walker Vs Rollator – The Key Differences
The number of older adults reporting use of a mobility aid use is increasing and use of multiple types of these aids is common among users (Gell et al 2016). Furthermore, the study found that mobility device use was not correlated with increased incidence of falls compared to users who were not using mobility aids.
Other than the more sleek and fashionable design of many rollators, there are four key differences between a walker and a rollator. These are
- How they are used or operated,
- Whether they have a seat,
- If they have wheels (there is some overlap between both) and,
- Whether they have hand brakes
A rollator is simply a walker which can be rolled around.
Mode of Use – Walker Vs Rollator
The Standard or Traditional Walker
Walkers are made from metal frames. They can either have four, three, or two legs and are used to provide balance, support, and stability for the elderly and the frail.
Walkers are often referred to as medical walkers because they are generally plain and “medical-looking.” The solid frame has four legs that all make direct contact with the ground and usually do not have wheels. How then are they used to move around?
It is a cumbersome exercise to move around as the user must lift the walker frame with its four legs before each step is taken. Movement is therefore stilted and more like a “crab crawl”, but it helps to stabilize the user as they lean on the frame.
The main disadvantage is that a lot of energy is expended to move from point A to point B because of the lifting of the frame, causing the user to tire quickly and therefore not able to progress far.
Traditional Walker with Gliders
Many modern walkers are designed with gliders at the tips of the legs that slide across the ground making them ideal for those who cannot exert as much energy lifting their walker.
The Standard or Traditional Walker as Rolling Walkers
Rolling walkers have two front wheels and two backsliders. They are used for patients who have gait instability and do not need to exert a large amount of weight on the mobility aid (Arizona Center for Aging 2015). One of the main advantages of rolling walkers over standard walkers is that they allow for a more normal manner of walking since they do not need to be lifted off the ground with each step.
In addition, the wheel-and-slider combination makes it easy to maneuver over different terrain.
All standard walker types can be easily collapsed for transport.
These walkers are relatively new to the market and have been developed to address a specific issue left unaddressed by other walkers and rollators. These mobility aids do not encourage upright positioning of the back and spine while walking.
An upright walker focuses on promoting correct posture, allowing the user to walk tall and straight, without having to bend over or hunch down. Using an upright walker, seniors can maintain an upright position without tiring themselves.
A rollator has a similar design to a walker but comes with wheels. Because a rollator has 3 or 4 wheels at the bottom of the legs depending on design, it is operated differently.
The user no longer needs to lift the mobility aid providing greater ease moving around. Many designs include seats to allow the user to take a short rest after moving for some time.
The three-wheeled rollator is an effective mobility aid for users who are experiencing difficulty moving their foot forward. It shares the same features with the four-wheeled rollator except that it does not have a seat that allows the user to sit down.
The Rollator has four fully rotating wheels, brakes, a seat, and in many cases a storage basket or a pouch. It is used for patients who need a walker solely for balance and not for weight-bearing. It is easier to move than the traditional rolling walker and also easier to maneuver around turns and corners because it does not need to be lifted when turning.
Wheels and Handbrake
These are only found in rollators. Mobility aid rollators have 4 swivel wheels that roll forward easily and allow easy maneuvering. However, because they are usually much bigger and wider than a traditional walker, navigating tight areas can be difficult.
They are generally recommended for people with diminished arm strength, as the lifting of the mobility aid is no longer required. They are viewed as less stable than the traditional walker because of the wheels which could become a safety hazard.
Rollators are not recommended for seniors and the elderly that require considerable balance support as they may lose control and fall. They also require a higher level of cognition to control the wheels and the handbrakes.
Almost all walkers on the market do not have seats. The few walkers that do come with seats usually have seats that can flip up to the side when the user wants to walk around. This allows the user to step inside the frame to use the walker regularly.
Rollators, on the other hand, are always equipped with a seat, except in the instance of the 3-wheeled rollator. Most rollator seats are padded for increased user comfort.
Walker Vs Rollator – Types and General Use
Standard or Traditional Walker
The standard walker is often used most by patients with mobility issues when they are first discharged from the hospital. They are very good for after-surgery and post-care. The aim is to get the patient moving around again.
This type of walker is a simple Grey paddle-style walker or one that may have glides (golf-sized balls placed over the tips of the legs to make movement smoother).
Another popular type of traditional walker folds up tightly like an umbrella.
Both walkers are options that may be used by individuals who require the most balance and stability possible in a walker.
There are two general designs of rollators to choose from – a standard design and a bariatric design.
Standard rollators can accommodate people weighing up to 300 lbs (almost 150kg), while bariatric rollators support people weighing up to 500 lbs (almost 250kg). Specifications and other criteria for selecting a rollator are discussed in greater detail in a separate article on this website.
Many people will often progress from the traditional walker through to a rollator with three or four wheels causing for a little faster movement and thereby requiring handbrakes.
Three-wheel rollators are lighter, easier to handle, have a narrower turning angle, and generally do not have seats, backrests or storage space (wire basket under the seat or zip-up pouch).
A four-wheel rollator has a seat and hand brakes although it can also serve a similar function as the traditional walker. The user holds onto the arms and walks behind it – this time without expending as much energy in propelling the mobility aid forward.
It should be noted that while the rollator provides balance, it does not provide as much stability as a traditional standard walker because of the potential for the user to lose control. The rollator requires a high level of cognition and is not recommended for the elderly.
This article provides information to address the limited understanding of the differences between a walker vs rollator. Aging brings mobility-related issues into the lives of seniors and the elderly, and while there are various mobility aids on the market, this lack of knowledge can hinder the selection of an appropriate mobility aid.
Arizona Center for Aging (2015) Elder Care – Choosing the Correct Walker https://nursingandhealth.asu.edu/sites/default/files/walkers.pdf
Seniors Mobility (2021) What Is a Rollator? Complete Guide to Types, Benefits, Safety & More https://seniorsmobility.org/getting-around/walkers/what-is-a-rollator/
The Chair Expert (2021) Best 4 Wheel Rollator Walker With Seat 
January 8, 2021 https://www.thechairexpert.com/best-4-wheel-rollator-walker-with-seat-for-seniors/
Gell, N.M. et al (2016) Mobility Device Use Among Older Adults and Incidence of Falls and Worry About Falling: Findings From the 2011–2012 National Health and Aging Trends Study (NIH.gov) J Am Geriatr Soc 63(5): 853–859.