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"It's not that I can't walk" : older adults' experiences of using canes and walkers Korotchenko, Alexandra

Abstract

Despite the high prevalence of walking difficulties and widespread use of walking aids in later life, to date, there has been minimal scholarly interest in the study of canes and walkers. Building on the existing literatures in rehabilitation, social gerontology, and geographies of disability, the present study aimed to gain a fuller understanding of older men’s and women’s perceptions and embodied experiences of having walking difficulties and using a cane or a walker. The study was informed by an interpretive approach grounded in feminist disability theory, and was guided by the following research questions: 1. How do older men and women perceive and experience having walking restrictions in later life? 2. How do older men and women perceive and experience the use of a cane or a walker in their everyday lives? 3. How does the social and environmental context of mobility shape individuals’ use of canes and walkers in later life? Using a qualitative descriptive method, I conducted a combination of sit-down and walk-along interviews with six male and 18 female cane and walker users aged 67 to 98. The men and women each took part in two sit-down interviews, during which I asked them to discuss what it was like to have walking limitations and to regularly use a walking aid. In addition, participants completed one walk-along interview, during which I accompanied them on an outing to a location of their choosing. In the findings, I discuss the men’s and women’s embodied experiences of having walking limitations and utilizing canes and walkers in the context of the ableist, ageist, and gendered organization of everyday life. In particular, the findings examine the social and spatial practices that organize older adults’ use of their canes and walkers; the cultural meanings attributed to canes and walkers in later life; how these meanings are shaped by the embodied experience of aging and impairment; and how in turn, the use of walking aids may inform older adults’ views of their bodies and identities.

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