Mobility in Older Adults
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Mobility in Older Adults

Mobility decline in old age

Mobility issues can arise for many reasons but particularly impact older adults. More than 15 percent of Americans aged 50 to 69 have mobility issues, and 36.2 percent of those 70 and older have problems with mobility. With millions of Americans inflicted each year, it is important to understand more about mobility and how to prevent mobility issues. A loss of mobility can have major consequences for people’s physical and mental health and their quality of life. Mobility problems can stem from a lack of activity or a medical condition that precipitates a more sedentary lifestyle. Older adults and their families need to understand more about mobility, its consequences, and its solutions in order to make decisions about the care that seniors need.

1. What is loss of mobility?

What is loss of mobility

A loss in mobility is a loss in the ability of someone to do what they want and when they want due to a physical issue. Mobility is essential to people’s independence, especially as they age. Strong mobility allows older adults to live alone, maintain their hygiene, stay healthy, and engage socially. For seniors, mobility can make a huge difference in their health outcomes. Exacerbation in this problem can occur with co-morbidities. Conditions like arthritis can make it more difficult for seniors to move, but exercise helps prevent mobility loss. In a circular way, the answer to working through and preventing mobility issues is maintaining an active and mobile lifestyle to the extent possible.

Reduced mobility vs poor mobility vs decreased mobility vs loss of mobility vs mobility impairment: what is the difference?

There are many different terms to refer to problems with impairment. These can run from minor to major impairment, while others are just synonyms. Reduced mobility is also known as decreased mobility or loss of mobility. These all describe a reduction of some kind in someone’s mobility, which can range from minor, mild, or major. Poor mobility and mobility impairment suggest a major reduction in mobility. A person with poor mobility or mobility impairment faces significant problems getting around on their own.

2. What are the signs of mobility issues?

What are the signs of mobility issues

Mobility issues progress over a period of time. Looking out for the symptoms of mobility issues can help seniors access care to improve their mobility before it becomes a major impairment. These are some of the most common symptoms to know:

  • Increased clumsiness that can lead to falls;
  • Preference for the elevator over the stairs;
  • Winded from standing or getting in and out of furniture;
  • Only able to stand for a short period of time;
  • Unable to maintain balance when standing up; and,
  • Avoiding exercise.

3. What are the causes of loss of mobility in older adults?

What are the causes of loss of mobility in older adults

Many different conditions can make mobility more difficult. These are some of the conditions and causes for a loss of mobility in older adults.

  1. Diabetes: Diabetes can lead to muscular atrophy, loss of full functioning, decreased coordination, and nerve pain. These symptoms can make it more difficult to walk and perform other functions that require muscular coordination and strength.
  2. Arthritis: Arthritis can cause inflammation, tenderness, and soreness. Symptoms from arthritis, as well as degradation of the joints over time, make mobility difficult.
  3. Adopting a sedentary lifestyle: People need to use and condition their bodies in order to stay active. Not getting enough exercise when people are young or as they age can create major impacts on mobility in older adults.
  4. Osteoporosis: People with osteoporosis are in danger of fracture, and elderly people could face serious health complications with broken bones. As bones become more frail from osteoporosis, fractures can cause major mobility issues.
  5. Parkinson’s Disease: A common symptom of Parkinson’s disease is loss of coordination and muscle control. As the disease progresses, walking, getting up and down safely, and other actions that require muscle control and coordination become difficult.
  6. Muscular conditions: Muscles are a vital part of someone’s ability to remain mobile. Any disorder that impacts muscle strength, coordination, or flexibility can impact someone’s mobility.
  7. Neurological conditions: Neurological conditions can impact mobility in many ways. Any kind of condition that interfere with the brain’s capacity to signal the body to move can create problems. Dementia, a common disorder in the elderly, often comes with diminished mobility.

4. How do mobility problems affect older adults?

Mobility problems in older adults can lead to poor outcomes that impact both their physical and mental wellbeing. These are some of the primary ways that mobility issues affect seniors.

4.1. Fall Risk

Seniors have a higher risk of injury or death from a fall. A loss of mobility can increase the risk of a dangerous fall. A loss of mobility makes it harder for seniors to avoid hazards in their homes. A loss of mobility also comes with a lack of balance to stay upright.

Learn more about Fall Prevention in Older Adults

4.2 Physically

Mobility problems make it harder for seniors to get the physical stimulation that they need. Even minor mobility issues can make it harder for seniors to get the exercise that they need to stay healthy or to be able to drive themselves to the doctor’s office. As seniors get even more sedentary, they are at risk of exacerbating their conditions and an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and other conditions.

4.3 Emotionally

A loss of mobility also impacts the emotional wellbeing of older adults. With a loss of mobility comes a loss of ability to engage socially with others, engage in hobbies, and do other things that keep older adults active in their communities. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation. A lack of independence can also create emotional issues that severely limit someone’s quality of life.

5. How can older adults prevent mobility loss?

The good news is that there are ways to prevent a loss of mobility or even turnaround mobility loss, depending on the cause of the mobility loss. Here are some of the top ways to counter mobility issues.

  1. Walking: A decrease in speed of walking or an inability to walk is a key sign of mobility loss. Seniors can condition the body by maintaining a walking routine. A doctor can determine what is safe and healthy for each individual. The American Heart Association recommends aiming for 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week.
  2. Strength Training: Strength training exercises can improve balance, prevent bone density loss, and improve coordination. Older adults can especially benefit from strength training to counter the loss of balance that comes with reduced mobility. Seniors do not need heavy equipment or a gym. They can do simple exercises, such as chairs and work with resistance bands, at home with the approval of their doctor. Specially however weight bearing exercises have the most benefit for increased bone density and avoiding osteoporosis. Any weight based exercise regimen should be under the direction of a doctor or physical therapist.
  3. Flexibility Exercises: Flexibility exercises, such as yoga, can also help increase mobility and prevent mobility loss. Flexibility can help keep a wider range of motion and agility in older adults. Daily stretching, such as ankle stretches and back stretches, can help improve flexibility.
  4. Weight Loss: Those with a mobility problem can experience weight issues that make their mobility problems even worse. Conditions common in the elderly can make this even more difficult. Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent mobility issues and reduce current symptoms.
  5. Low-impact Exercises: Whole-body exercises other than walking can also help increase mobility and prevent mobility problems. Exercises like yoga and Tai-Chi can engage multiple parts of the body in a way that is still manageable for people with joint or other issues. These exercises also serve the dual purpose of helping with balance and flexibility.
  6. Aquatic Therapy (also known as pool therapy or hydrotherapy): Aquatic therapy is particularly useful for people with reduced mobility since it allows the joints to move in a range of motion that would be too uncomfortable outside the water. Additionally, muscles are strengthened as they work through newly gained range of motion due to the built-in resistance of the water.
  7. Sensory Aids: Loss in vision or hearing can lead to the adoption of a more sedentary lifestyle. This can be due to a fear of getting hurt or even a decrease in social activity. The adoption of aids, such as hearing aids, or other devices can help seniors stay mobile even when facing sensory loss.
  8. Healthy Diet: A balanced and healthy diet can help seniors maintain mobility as they age. Proper nutrition can help seniors maintain a healthy weight. Vitamin deficiencies among aging populations are common and can lead to cognitive and physical decline that restricts mobility.
  9. Home Alterations: As people age, they may need alterations to their home to assist in mobility. Changing shelf heights and the arrangement of furniture to make it easier to navigate are simple changes that can help. Clearing the way for safer walking can improve the ability of older adults to traverse their own homes.
  10. Social Activities: Engaging in active social activities are a great way to prevent mobility loss and improve mobility. It also guards against the social isolation that a loss in mobility can create. Even leaving the house to play board games with others can give seniors the physical and mental stimulation that they need.
  11. Medications: Some medications may have mobility loss as a side effect. Likewise, some medications can help decrease inflammation or pain that might limit someone’s ability to be active. Although no medication exists for mobility itself, seniors can speak with their doctors about mobility loss concerns and what medications might assist seniors with symptoms that can impede mobility.

6. How to help senior loved ones with mobility?

As people age, they may need help in maintaining or improving their mobility. Families and caregivers can play a big role in helping seniors achieve their goals. Below are some of the ways that loved ones can help.

6.1 Home Care

At-home care through a caregiver can provide seniors with additional mobility supports. Fall prevention programs through home care assistants can look for potential fall hazards and assist seniors moving about the home. Caregivers can also provide companionship to encourage seniors to go for a walk or engage in other exercises or hobbies that get their bodies moving. Home care assistants can aid in housekeeping tasks that are too difficult for seniors with mobility problems, such as laundry or cleaning.

6.2 Home Health Care

Due to an injury or condition, some seniors may need medical intervention to assist with mobility issues. Families can hire at-home physical therapists and occupational therapists to prevent deterioration or improve mobility. Physical therapists can work with patients through specific exercises to help them regain their strength, flexibility, and balance. This can help them move around safely.

6.3 Home Modifications

Modifications in the home can also aid seniors who experience mobility problems. Families can make sure that rugs are secure on the floor to prevent trips. Installing slopes instead of front stairs can make it easier to go in and out of the home. Grab bars, increased lighting, and keeping a home clean of debris can all help seniors with mobility problems.

7. What are the mobility aids for the elderly?

What are the mobility aids for the elderly

Aids or products for elderly mobility can make it easier for seniors. These are some of the products that the elderly can find helpful for mobility assistance, especially for those who experience major mobility problems.

  1. Mobility scooter: A mobility scooter is a mobility vehicle for the elderly that can assist with those who have major problems walking. Scooters are electric, which benefits those who would find wheelchairs too exhaustive due to hand or arm issues. They are meant primarily for outdoor and lengthy excursions.
  2. Mobility walker: A mobility walker can help seniors move around while walking. This is an assistive device that helps elderly people walk around while preventing falls. Some people using a walker may also need caregiver support.
  3. Mobility beds for elderly: A mobility bed can make it easier for the elderly to get in and out of bed by providing mechanical adjustments to the bed. This can include raising or lowering the bed and a rising backrest. The use of the bed can also reduce pain associated with sleeping in a bed without mechanical adjustments.
  4. Mobility chairs for the elderly: Mobility chairs or power chairs are electronic wheelchairs. While mobility scooters are mainly for outdoor use, power chairs are for indoor use and general mobility. These are easier for seniors to navigate manual wheelchairs.
  5. Mobility pole for elderly: A mobility pole is also known as a security pole or transfer pole. The pole attaches at strategic points around the home ceiling to the floor. This assists seniors to pull themselves up or help them sit down easier and safer than without assistance.
  6. Mobility steps for elderly: Mobility steps offer additional leverage for seniors who need mobility assistance. An additional lower step can make it easier to climb a set of built-in steps. The mobility step offers a slight raise to make climbing stairs easier.
  7. Lift chairs: Lift chairs angle forward electronically at the push of the button. The slight shift helps someone with trouble getting in and out of chairs. Seniors who need more ability assistance getting up and down safely can simply press a button on the chair to shorten the distance between the sitting and standing positions.
  8. Stair climbing chairs: Stair climbing chairs or lifts are either permanently installed in the house or a portable device. This can help older adults who cannot climb stairs. The installation model includes a chair with a motorized system on the wall of the stairs. The portable version is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use and requires operational assistance from a mobile person.

8. Conclusion

Mobility problems can mean major consequences on someone’s physical and mental health. As people age, many older adults encounter mobility issues, but they do not necessarily need to do so. Many seniors can enjoy active and mobile lives as they age. Maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle can go a long way in preventing mobility problems. Once mobility issues do arise, specific exercises, at-home care, and mobility assistance devices can help people maintain their independence.

Sources

1. Functions of a mobility bed and who they can benefit – Invacare 

2. Benefits of Using Mobility Scooters – Harmony Home Medical Supply

3. Plan to Stay Safe, Mobile, and Independent – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

4. Nutritional Interventions for Elderly and Considerations for the Development of Geriatric Foods – National Library of Medicine

5. Promoting Mobility in Older People – National Library of Medicine

6. How to Improve Mobility in Older Adults with Exercise – Salmon Health

7. The complexity of reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight – the experience from adults with a mobility disability – BMC Obesity

8. Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability – National Institute on Aging

9. Growing Stronger – Strength Training for Older Adults

10. Keeping Mobile Is Good For Your Mental Health – Careco

11. Older adults with limited mobility may lessen heart problems with activity – Science Daily

12. Online & Hybrid Professional Education at Baylor – Baylor University

13. Mental, physical and speech abilities in later stages of dementia – Alzheimer’s Society

14. The importance of physical function to people with osteoporosis – National Library of Medicine

15. Sedentary time, lack of activity tied to seniors’ loss of mobility – Reuters

16. Muscle dysfunction in type 2 diabetes: a major threat to patient’s mobility and independence – National Library of Medicine

17. Two questions can reveal mobility problems in seniors – Harvard Medical School

18. Prevent Falls With 5 Warning Signs of Mobility Issues in Seniors – Daily Caring

19. Plan to Stay Safe, Mobile, and Independent – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

20. Mobility Difficulties Are Not Only a Problem of Old Age – National Library of Medicine

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