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Canes with a firm grasp of fashion

Stylish walking aids help balance the need for safety with the desire to look good.

October 27, 2003|Korky Vann | Special to the Hartford Courant

When Peggy Chisholm's mother, a fashion-conscious senior citizen, had trouble walking and needed a cane, Chisholm and her siblings searched for something more stylish than the options available in local medical-supply stores. They came up empty-handed.

Canes with panache, they found, were decorative rather than functional, while most weight-bearing models were available only in basic black or brown or were aluminum.

"Appearance was very important to my mother," Chisholm says. "Just because she needed a cane didn't mean she'd lost her sense of style. We'd planned on getting her several interesting canes she could use for different occasions, but couldn't even find one."

Chisholm realized that she probably wasn't the only cane shopper frustrated by the lack of choices and decided to do something about it. Just back from a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, the 60-year-old created Raising Cane, a catalog and Internet business (www.getacane.com) specializing in attractive and unusual canes and walking sticks from around the world. Customers include teenagers with sport injuries, baby boomers with hip or knee replacements and 90-year-olds in retirement homes.

"All of my customers, regardless of age or infirmity, say the same thing," says Chisholm, a former public relations professional who lives in Minnesota. "They don't want an 'old person cane.' "

And they don't get one. The catalog features more than 100 walking aids, including antique reproductions of 18th century European designs with brass, silver, crystal, porcelain and ivory heads, brightly colored options with whimsical designs, fabric-wrapped models and even the NASCAR Official Racing Stick, complete with crossed black-and-white checkered flags and car numbers. Some have secret compartments for hiding flasks or pool cues while another flips over to become a putter.

"When you carry an accessory that is elegant or sharp or fun, it takes the focus off why you need it," says Chisholm. "People relate to your sense of style, not your infirmity."

Seniors often purchase canes to help stabilize balance compromised by new glasses, medications, inner-ear disorders, arthritis and other medical conditions that can cause dizziness and threaten mobility.

Research shows there's good cause for concern. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, falls are the leading cause of injuries and injury-related deaths among the elderly. Forty percent of nursing home admissions can be traced to falls.

One-third of people older than 65 fall each year, and the resulting injuries can lead to loss of independence. Just the fear of falling can lead to inactivity and isolation among the elderly.

Gait training and advice on the appropriate use of such assistive devices as canes and walkers can help prevent falls.

The Mayo Clinic offers the following tips on making the right choice of cane:

* The traditional candy-cane shape with a curved handle can be difficult to grasp and may not be your best choice if you need to use a cane every day. Several different handgrip styles and shapes are available. Choose the one that feels most comfortable. Canes with four feet offer greater stability than do straight canes but can be cumbersome to use. A lightweight cane is less of a burden than a heavier one.

* Be sure to order the correct length of cane for your height. With shoes on, stand up straight, letting your arms hang at your sides. The top of the cane's handle should align with the crease of your wrist. When you hold the cane while standing still, your elbow should be flexed at a 30-degree angle.

* Use your cane correctly. Hold your cane in the hand opposite the side that needs support. The cane and your affected leg should swing and strike the ground together.

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