Elegant canes take the sting out of needing them

Walking assistance has never looked quite so interesting

Life After 50

Health & Fitness

December 28, 2003|By Korky Vann | Korky Vann,HARTFORD COURANT

When Peggy Chisholm's mother, a fashion-conscious senior citizen, developed mobility problems and needed a cane, Chisholm and her siblings searched for something more stylish than the basic 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, brown or aluminum.

"Appearance was very important to my mother," says Chisholm. "Just because she needed a cane didn't mean she'd lost her sense of style."

Chisholm realized that she probably wasn't the only cane consumer 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 or call toll-free at 888-854-3452) specializing in attractive and unusual canes and walking sticks from around the world. Customers include teen-agers with sports 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.

All Raising Cane products are functional, weight-bearing and rubber-tipped for safety. The catalog also has wrist straps to prevent "runaway canes" and ice gripper tips for better traction on snow or ice. Prices range from a low of $40 for a lightweight folding travel cane to $400 for a solid bronze model, with most at $45 to $75.

"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."

The Mayo Clinic offers these tips on choosing the right cane:

* The traditional candy-cane style with a curved handle can be difficult to grasp and may not be your best choice. Several handgrip styles and shapes are available. Canes with four feet offer greater stability than do straight canes but can be cumbersome to use. Both types can help take weight off a painful joint or leg.

* 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. Wooden canes must be cut to the correct height. Adjustable canes can be lengthened or shortened to fit.

* 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.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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