6 Warning Signs of Mobility Problems
With an estimated 20% of the US population estimated to be 65 or older by 2030, the topic of senior living has become a prevalent one not just for healthcare providers but for fitness, technology, and lifestyle industries too. When it comes to aging, few things matter as much as retaining one’s mobility – it is the key to independence and potentially even your longevity.
Surprisingly, seniors often think that mobility problems only accompany a disease or result from an injury or accident. The truth is, however, as the body ages, bones become weaker, muscle mass is lost, joints become stiffer, and mobility can naturally become impaired. If you are a senior or help provide care for one, make sure to keep an eye out for these warning signs of potential mobility issues:
Skipping the stairs and opting to use an elevator instead? If this seemingly harmless habit becomes a long-term trend, you may be dealing with more than an affinity for elevators. Stairs are often the most difficult environment for people with mobility issues to traverse; walking up and down stairs requires extra strength, balance, and joint support. Avoiding the stairs because they seem harder to walk up and down, or because you have a fear of falling and hurting yourself, can indicate underlying mobility issues worth addressing with your doctor.
Choosing not to take your daily walk because it’s becoming more and more exhausting? Avoiding invitations to yoga class or physical activities with friends and family? While exercise certainly isn’t always the easiest or most fun way to spend time, it does play a critical role in senior health and longevity.
Skipping out on regular exercise could be a red flag that you are experiencing mobility difficulties that are inhibiting more intense physical activity. Rather than facing them head-on, mobility issues could be the reason you are finding excuses to miss this week’s bike ride or duck out of the family walk-a-thon.
Difficulty Standing for Long Periods
People so often picture mobility problems as simply being unable to walk or run when in fact, many mobility issues stem from difficulty staying on your feet for more than ten minutes at a time. Leg weakness, trouble balancing, fatigue, joint pain . . . all of these symptoms may be manageable on their own, but when they culminate on top of one another, they can create a recipe for impaired mobility.
Trouble Sitting Down or Standing Up
The seemingly simple task of sitting down in a chair or standing up from a sitting position actually requires more strength and balance than you may think. If you are hurting for added support to stand up or sit down, leaning on someone else more and more for help, or forgoing getting out of your chair as often as you typically might, this could serve as an important clue that something bigger is going on with your mobility.
Seniors, healthy or not, are simply at increased risk of falling due to their age (1 in 4 adults over 65 experiences a fall every year). Frequently tripping over your feet, stumbling, and falling, even if you catch yourself, can be an indicator that your mobility isn’t as strong as it once was. Falls can lead to dangerous injuries, even hospitalization and death, so recognizing a trend in frequent falling before it leads to a broken hip or worse is a must.
Balance issues affect seniors for a variety of reasons – from vestibular (inner ear) issues to medicine side effects. Remaining physically active, much less walking upright, requires a strong sense of balance and coordination. Dizziness, lightheadedness, disequilibrium, and other problems that throw your balance off can quickly inhibit strong mobility.
Finding the Right Mobility Aid
When it comes to managing mobility impairment, in addition to potential diet modifications and exercise, your doctor will likely recommend the use of a mobility aid. Mobility aids aren’t the proverbial “crutch” to lean on as your mobility declines, but rather assistive devices that can help you regain confidence and strength to remain mobile and keep moving!
Mobility aids include:
Cane – this somewhat basic mobility aid has been around for centuries, but has evolved to be more lightweight and ergonomic, as well as offer single and quad-foot tips for added traction and support.
Walker – the variety of walkers available is astounding, from a standard four-foot frame you can support yourself on and slide, to a euro style rollator, a type of walker with safety features like wheels instead of smooth tips on the legs, a chair, and a basket for carrying personal items.
Knee Scooter – this advanced version of a walker also has wheels, but maneuvers more like bike handles would and features a raised platform on which to rest one’s leg (i.e. after a lower extremity injury).
Wheelchair – wheelchairs can be used in conjunction with other mobility aids to provide an easier way to traverse longer distances or trickier environments (crowded malls, long ramps, etc). Manual wheelchairs are self-pushed, motorized wheelchairs offer mechanically controlled movement, and transfer chairs allow people to be leaned back or stood up for easier transfering to a chair or bed, for example.