Mobility is defined as the ability to leave one’s home and walk around without assistance. As we and our parents get older, our mobility may decline due to a variety of factors. It is important when taking care of the elderly to take certain precautions and stay on top of changes in their bodies which can lower their mobility.
In this article, we will discuss the causes of mobility problems in the aging body, the importance of mobility, and some possible solutions and precautions that can be taken by those who are affected by mobility problems, or have to take care of loved ones losing their mobility.
Why is Mobility Important for the Elderly?
Mobility is a crucial factor in the general mental and physical wellbeing of our senior population. To be able to leave one’s house independently is vital for self-confidence, keeping up with social relations, and a feeling of self-sufficiency.
The American Center for Disease Control has stated that “Out-of-home mobility is necessary for accessing commodities, making use of neighborhood facilities, and participation in meaningful social, cultural, and physical activities.” The CDC has also identified the following reasons why it is important for seniors to be aware about their mobility.
- One in four Americans who are now 65 years old will live into their 90s.
- Planning for mobility changes in the years to come is important for older adults who want to stay independent in their own homes and communities.
- Falls and motor vehicle crashes, which are related to mobility, are the leading causes of injury and injury death in older adults (age 65+).
- When older adults stop driving or fall, they often experience reductions in their health, social interactions, and the ability to get around .
Mobility is also important because it is an indicator of many other aspects of mental and physical health. Physiologically, walking is the result of the functioning of the musculoskeletal, cardio-respiratory, sensory, and neural systems. Studies have shown that interventions aiming to increase muscle strength will also improve mobility. Therefore, mobility promotes healthy aging as it relates to the basic human need of physical movement . Additionally. our ability to perform the most complex and demanding tasks are affected first as we age. Sometimes people cope with declining functional capacity by making changes in their way or frequency of doing these tasks, thus avoiding facing manifest difficulties .
Lastly, the inability to walk steadily and a loss of balance can lead to injurious and fatal falls. These are especially dangerous for the elderly as the physical repercussions of falls becoming harder to bear as we get older. Hip fractures can be quite serious, and even fatal, for many people. Falls may also accelerate the worsening of walking difficulties even further.
What Factors Are Responsible for Mobility Issues In Elders?
Mobility is impacted as we age by injuries, illness, and changes in our hearing and vision, making our elders more sedentary as they age. This can lead to further disability and health problems, greater dependency on others, and a significantly higher chance of dying. Briefly, the most common risk factors for mobility impairment are older age, low physical activity, obesity, strength or balance impairment, and chronic diseases such as diabetes or arthritis .
There are many reasons why mobility declines as we age. One of the major reasons why mobility declines in the elderly is due to reduction in mobility itself. This is to say, that mobility operates on a “use it or lose it” logic . There are some factors why confidence and regularity of mobility may decline:
- Aging reduces bone density and causes joint stiffness. This stiffness causes friction while walking and in due course this can result in less mobility.
- Problems with vision and hearing can also reduce confidence and safety in movement, and should be checked regularly
- Pre-existing medical conditions like Arthritis, Alzheimer, Parkinson’s, hip fractures, or diabetes which are common in old age can influence walking and exercise habits
- Diminished motor function, physical strength, and balance also discourage the elderly from exercising more frequently.
- Less common red flags included symptoms of depression, problems with memory or thinking skills, being female, a recent hospitalization, drinking alcohol or smoking, and having feelings of helplessness. Individuals with one or more of these factors is at risk for immobility .
How to Identify Mobility Issues at the Earliest?
Mobility is typically assessed either with standardized performance-based tests or with self-reports of perceived difficulty in carrying out specific mobility tasks.
The simplest test to test mobility is the Get Up and Go Test, where an expert sees how long it takes for a person to stand up from sitting in a chair, walk 10 feet, turn around, walk back to the chair, and sit down. A mobile individual should walk faster than a yard per second. If you walk that or faster, you are normal; if you’re slower, you have a gait problem, which increases your chances of falling .
Researchers at the University of Alabama suggest asking these two questions:
- For health or physical reasons, do you have difficulty climbing up 10 steps or walking one-quarter of a mile?
- Because of underlying health or physical reasons, have you modified the way you climb 10 steps or walk a quarter of a mile?
Thankfully, one does not have to go to a doctor to get these answers. You may already know already if the elders in your family are having trouble climbing stairs. Roughly, a quarter of a mile is one lap around a medium-sized mall’s upper level.
If climbing stairs and walking are difficult for a senior in your life, it is an indication that they are on the road to less travel, and should see their doctor. The good news is that a physician can help them address what’s causing the difficulty before it progresses to a loss of mobility.
The Get Up and Go test can be found online, as well as the Performance-Oriented Mobility Assessment. It is recommended that one take the test with a friend or loved one who can help them if needed. One should not try it at home if they are unsteady on their feet . As a reminder, falls can exacerbate loss of mobility.
What to Do When Elderly Parents Lose Mobility?
According to the Harvard health website, a variety of solutions are available for mobility decline. They can include:
- Physical therapy to improve balance and strength training. Specialists can help elderly citizens retrain their bodies to perform certain movements and postures.
- Occupational therapy can help improve a person’s ability to perform daily living activities and the living environment with tools such as elevated bathroom fixtures and grab bars. Improving independence and dignity of life is crucial to mental health and confidence.
- Social support can help eliminate mobility barriers such as lack of transportation.
- Referrals to subspecialists may be needed to treat medical conditions that can lead to immobility. Finally, the use of devices such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters can open the door to greater mobility .