Equipment to help you get around

If your Parkinson’s symptoms affect your ability to move around, there is a range of equipment available that you may find helpful.

Grab rails and handrails for stairs or walls

These are one of the most common adaptations that you may find useful. Extra stair and wall railings can give you more support and guidance in areas of your house where it’s easier to fall, including staircases, corners or entryways. These rails can help you move around the house more independently.

Some people have rails installed to run horizontally across a room. This is particularly useful in the bedroom because you can use the rails to help with getting dressed or getting in and out of bed.

Handrails can be fixed vertically, from floor to ceiling, which you may find helpful for getting in and out of the bath, or beside a toilet where lack of space means other rails won’t fit. You might also want a rail placed somewhere suitable to help you balance when you do exercises.

Getting handrails installed

Speak to your Parkinson’s nurse, occupational therapist or local council office to arrange an assessment from health or social services to see where hand and grab rails would fit in your home. Always get advice before fitting any rails to walls, so that they can be fitted in the best position, safely and securely.

You could also contact your local Age UK office, who may be able to assess your home and install rails at a small cost. 

Walking sticks

Walking sticks are commonly used to improve balance and give extra support. Many people find that a stick helps them to walk independently. Although some people with Parkinson’s actually find that they can walk more safely without a stick, so it’s worth trying them out first.

A walking stick can also be a helpful way to signal to others around you that you need extra room or time to move around. Some people with Parkinson’s find this reduces anxiety caused by people crowding them, which could lead to freezing.

Types of walking stick

Wooden sticks – these have a set height and usually a curved handle.

Metal sticks – these can be extendable (height-adjustable), folding, collapsible, and 3-or 4-footed. They can have moulded or curved handles.

Nordic poles – these thinner, longer, lightweight poles can help you keep a more upright posture and increase your arm swing, especially if you are tall. They often have replaceable tips to suit different surfaces, such as pavements or soft ground.

Elbow crutches – some people find using 2 elbow crutches gives more support than a pair of traditional walking sticks, but crutches may not suit everyone.

Walking sticks with folding seats – these are larger and heavier than most other walking sticks, so may not be appropriate for everyday use. But they might be useful in situations where you want to take lots of breaks, such as for shopping or social events.

Lasercane – these are designed to help people with Parkinson’s who experience freezing. The Lasercane projects a red laser beam onto the ground in front of your feet when walking. This cues you to step over the light when your feet freeze.

Some people find a Lasercane very effective, but it can be difficult to see the laser beam in bright environments, such as outdoors on a sunny day or indoors in bright light. Also, studies have not proved that these canes provide consistent benefit.

For more information on the Lasercane, contact Attainability UK.

Other features – many walking sticks have different tips at the end, which can help with walking on rough, damp or icy ground, and reduce the risk of slipping.

Choosing your walking stick

A walking stick should help you move more independently. If the stick is the right height, you will avoid problems with your balance and posture.

When choosing or adjusting your stick, wear your usual footwear. If you stand with good upright posture the handle should line up with the bump at the bottom of your wrist bone, with your arm hanging naturally at your side. This will mean that your elbow bends slightly when you hold the handle.

If you don’t have much upper body strength, choose a stick that is light and easy to move forward in time with your stride. You may find the heavier 3- or 4-footed sticks are more difficult to move forward and may trip you up. Choose a handle that is a shape and size that lets you grip it as strongly as you can.

Walking sticks are tested to a maximum weight, so check that yours is appropriate before buying.

Buying a walking stick

You might be able to borrow or be given a stick free of charge through the NHS, either from a physiotherapist, a Parkinson’s clinic or your GP surgery. But they may have a limited choice of styles.

You’ll have a much wider choice at most mobility shops and larger pharmacies. Here you can try different styles to find which is most comfortable and offers you the right level of support.

It’s a good idea to look online at the prices of different walking sticks to compare with those you can buy in shops. Websites such as Amazon or eBay will list many sellers and brands of walking sticks. But check that any second-hand equipment is not damaged or unsafe in any way.

You may find it helpful to have 2 or 3 walking sticks, so that one can be kept on each level of your house and another for outdoor use.

Walking sticks should be regularly checked for wear and tear. If the tip of the stick (the ferrule) becomes worn, it must be replaced.

Walking frames

A walking frame or walker is a supportive frame used while walking. It can give you a higher level of support than walking sticks or rails, and can help you keep your balance, preventing falls. Many people find a walking frame helpful for short outings such as shopping.

Different types of walking frames can be used in different situations. Ones without wheels are the most stable, but because they have to be lifted with each step they are usually only used for short distances. Styles with 3 and 4 wheels are better for walking longer distances, but there are different advantages and disadvantages for each.

A walking frame may help you keep your balance when getting up from a sitting position or when preparing to sit down. Using a walking frame can also increase your ability to get around on your own.

Types of walking frame

Non-wheeled walking frame – these may have an adjustable height and can be made of different materials. They are usually a lightweight metal alloy, but make sure the walking frame is light enough for you to lift and move forward easily.

Collapsible or folding walking frames – these are easy to store either at home or in the car when travelling.

Wheeled walking frames – these may have 2, 3 or 4 wheels. Small, hard wheels are lighter and good for smooth surfaces, while larger tyre-style wheels are heavier and better for rougher surfaces.

Other features – wheeled walking frames often have a fixed or folding seat, which may be useful to rest on during walks. But sometimes people find the seat gets in the way or adds too much weight to the frame, making it difficult to push or move around. Some walking frames have baskets under the seat or on the handle bars, which can be helpful for carrying things.

Choosing your walking frame

Make sure your walking frame is at the right height for you. The Disabled Living Foundation guidelines say that the hand grips should be at wrist height when the elbow is slightly bent (see 'Choosing your walking stick' guidance in the section above).

Before buying a walking frame, think about where you will want to use it. For example, will it fit through doorways when you're at home?

If you are of a larger build, it is possible to get wider walking frames. These also come in lightweight versions that are easier to push.

Frames with 4 wheels tend to offer more support than 3-wheeled ones because they are wider and are usually made of heavier materials. This makes them particularly good for taller or heavier people, and also people who tend to fall over more often or who experience involuntary movements (dyskinesia) or tremor. But heavier frames may be more difficult to use, and to lift in and out of cars.

You may find some walking frames more difficult to push than others. If possible, try lots of different styles to see which allows you to walk most naturally. Sometimes a walking frame may ‘get away’ from the person using it and cause them to fall. There are different types of brakes available. Make sure they are easy for you to use, as some can be difficult if you experience rigidity or weakness in your hands.

You may find it useful to have 2 or even 3 walking frames so that one can be kept on each level of your house, and possibly another stored in your car boot for use away from home.

Buying a walking frame

It may be possible to borrow or be given a walking frame through the NHS, either from a physiotherapist, a Parkinson’s clinic or your GP surgery. But they may have a limited amount of choice.

Mobility shops and larger pharmacies will stock a range of walking frames that you can try to find out which is most comfortable and provides you with the right level of support.

Manual wheelchairs

Some people with Parkinson’s do not want to use a wheelchair all the time, but keep one in their home for when they are having a bad day or in their car for when they go on longer outings.

Some people also find wheelchairs a good way of exercising because they can push it, use it as a walking frame, and sit in it when they get tired. Manual wheelchairs may be moved by the person sitting in the chair (self-propelled) or pushed by someone else (attendant-propelled). In both cases, the person moving the wheelchair will need a fair level of strength and fitness.

Types of wheelchair

Collapsible wheelchairs – many wheelchairs are collapsible, with removable wheels. This can help you to store the wheelchair more easily at home and in your car. It is also possible to get a folding backrest with handles that fold down.

Detachable chairs – some wheelchairs have seats that detach from their base so you can slide the seat onto a base in the car. This means that there is no need for the person sitting to transfer between seats.

These are usually quite expensive and heavy, so they require some strength to move between the seat bases. They also require a hoist operated by another person to move the base into the boot of the car.

Power packs – many people attach a power pack to the bottom of their manual wheelchair, which means that less force is needed to push the chair.

This can be a good option for longer outings, but because it can be difficult to attach, it may not be useful for very short journeys. Also, power packs don’t fit all manual wheelchairs, and the pack is attached quite low to the ground, so it can get caught on steep ramps and other surfaces.

Comfort and safety tips

  • Always apply the brakes when the wheelchair is not moving.
  • Adjust the footplates to the correct height so you can sit comfortably and move them out of the way when you are getting in or out of the chair.
  • A suitable cushion can be used in a wheelchair to prevent excess pressure if you feel discomfort from sitting for over half an hour.

Choosing your wheelchair

Look for a wheelchair that:

  • is not too heavy to lift, and collapses easily if you or someone else will be putting it in the car regularly
  • has handles at a height that means the person pushing the wheelchair doesn’t have to stoop down to reach them
  • has large enough wheels to go over kerbs easily
  • has anti-tipping features, if tipping out of the chair is a concern. A lap strap can be a good idea to help keep you safe, especially when going over kerbs or single steps

Buying a wheelchair

Ask your GP or local hospital if they have wheelchair services. You may also qualify for credit towards the cost of a wheelchair if you want to buy one yourself.

Wheelchairs are often available to hire or buy from charities such as the Red Cross. You can try before you buy by borrowing different wheelchairs from mobility centres or shop mobility schemes, where electric wheelchairs are available for short-term hire to use in large shopping areas.

Last updated May 2017. We review all our information within 3 years. If you'd like to find out more about how we put our information together, including references and the sources of evidence we use, please contact us at [email protected].