AARP
Frank Leyhausen and Thomas Appel interview Chief Inspector Joachim Tabath on his successful walker training program in the north western city of Duesseldorf, Germany.

Read full article by Thomas Appel and Frank Leyhausen
"My First Walker: The Need for Walker Training in Germany and Abroad"

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.  Below is an interview conducted by Thomas Appel and Frank Leyhausen:

How did you get involved with this project?

I´m in charge of road safety trainings for seniors at the police Dusseldorf. We consult seniors on all kinds of transportation e.g. pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers as well as front seat passengers and guests on public transportation. When I visited a senior center I was asked if we offer training for walkers. I was a bit hesitant and first thought of a small training based on our pedestrian’s course, but due to the fact that I was asked every week in the upcoming five weeks I started investigating the topic of walkers and road safety. I got in touch with ergo therapists as well as durable medical equipment stores and checked on state and federal level if there was any program so far and found nothing. Therefore I set up my concept of walker training and expected to run the course 10 to 15 times which I thought would  accommodate the demand. But driven by massive press coverage in print, radio and even TV we were overwhelmed by requests for more trainings. Till today we had more than 100 trainings in the wider area of Dusseldorf and we still get enquires for more trainings.

 

Do you feel that it can be exported to other countries?

Absolutely, a lot of societies are ageing and seniors want to stay mobile and a part of the public life. In these days seniors don’t want to be stuck at home and are using walkers to remain connected to the community and enjoy communal life. But the increasing usage of walker frames is not only age related, we also support young men and women under the age of 30 who are dealing with illness or disabilities limiting their mobility. A walker is their tool to stay in touch with others. French TV station “France 2” sent a team over to make a report of our training and aired it in France and Reuters news agency reported worldwide.

What are some of the top safety concerns for older people needing a walker?

When people get in need of a walker they feel shame. They have to admit that their fitness is declining and at the same time people are afraid to seen as an old person, a person in need of care. Regrettably they also fear third parties opinions on using a walker frame e.g. their neighbors. Therefore they start using canes but soon have to recognize that walkers are the better option. By using a walker they are much more mobile, can use the walker for a quick rest instead of searching for a bench and can put their grocery shopping on the walker instead of carrying the heavy shopping bag. At the end of the day they realize that walkers are getting more and more common in our daily life. They also receive a lot of support from other people e.g. when boarding a bus. Walker frames are a part of our society.

Do you feel that this program helps more than just the user? Is it good for the general public and safety of the community?

Absolutely. All feedback we got from third parties shows a positive effect for a lot of stake holders. For example we have a provider of public transportation offering our concept to their clients with focus on boarding and de-boarding.

Since walker frames are part of our everyday life a lot of communities are spending time on enhancing the cities for an easier use of walkers e.g. lowering curbs. There is also a lot of effort on the side of public transportation and public facilities. We team up with community colleagues to stress the topic and we also receive requests from hospitals to do speeches on the topic to get our insights. Due to the fact that we asked seniors to put reflectors on their frames the car drivers are faster in recognizing walkers during periods of decreased daylight or in the evening.

 

Tell me a bit about your corporate sponsor? Have they helped in developing the training?

TORPO got in touch with me n September 2011 during their launch of their latest frame called TOPRO 2G. They discovered our training over the web and realized that we are the only police providing that kind of service. We teamed up and worked together on developing the current enhanced training agenda. At the beginning it was not too easy for us as a public agency to join forces with a for-profit partner.

But due to their competence in this field we were able to join the “Deutscher Rollatortag” alliance.

Our alliance also includes the German Seniors League, the “Reha-Care” fair, the leading group of durable medical equipment stores and the “GGT” the leading institute of age related technology.

The size and the combined competence of our alliance enables us tol drive the topic faster and wider all over the nation.

 
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