BACKGROUND: Walking difficulty is common in old age. Simple and inexpensive interventions, such as walking aids, provide considerable assistance. However, older people's views on walking aids are likely to affect their uptake, and we have little knowledge about older people's motivations for using walking aids. AIM: To explore older people's views on their use of walking aids. METHODS: Longitudinal qualitative study comprising in-depth interviews with a purposive sample of 24 men and women recruited from a UK national cross-sectional population survey of older people. Participants were 69-90 years old at the first interview, 15 were followed up a year later, and 12 were followed up again a year after that. Analysis was conducted using constant comparison methods. RESULTS: Of the 24 people interviewed at the start of the study, 12 used walking aids, mainly walking sticks. These aids came from a range of sources, including informal ones. Over the course of the study, some participants adopted walking aids or changed the types of aids that they used. As time passed, participants' initial misgivings about the use of aids subsided, and walking aids were described as improving confidence and facilitating activity and participation. Decisions to start using walking aids were influenced by both gradual and sudden changes in ability and by culturally informed views about ageing. Views on ageing initially acted as barriers to the use of aids but then acted as facilitators to use. CONCLUSIONS: Walking aids enable continued activity and participation and it is likely that they provide benefits of health and well being. Health care providers can draw on the knowledge about the impact of beliefs about ageing to help them reach shared decisions with older patients about the use of walking aids
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