Mobility is essential for senior independence. But many people don’t find out about their older adult’s developing mobility problems until they get seriously injured in a fall. When an older adult takes a fall and breaks a hip or develops a health condition like Parkinson’s disease, it’s clear that they’ll be dealing with mobility issues – even if they’re temporary. But it’s not just disease or injury that leads to difficulty standing and walking. The natural effects of aging like muscle loss, balance issues, and joint stiffness all contribute to loss of mobility.
However, your older adult doesn’t have to wait for a fall to find out that they’re developing mobility issues. There are warning signs that can indicate potential or developing mobility problems. To help you take action and improve the situation before an injury happens, here are five key warning signs of mobility issues.
FALLING Even if your older adult seems to have bones of steel and never seriously hurts themselves when they fall, they could still be having mobility problems that need to be addressed before they get worse. As few as two falls in a year could indicate that something other than uneven walkways or cluttered environments is a problem. People fall when they trip and stumble on something, but also when their feet are slow to keep up (and drag on the floor) or when they get off-balance and can’t correct their body position in time. Frequent falls increase the risk for injury, hospitalization, and life-threatening complications. So even if your older adult hasn’t been seriously injured (yet), fall-proofing their home with grab bars, handrails on stairs, non-slip tub mats, etc. is highly recommended. It’s also important to ask their doctor to evaluate their mobility. The doctor can check for health conditions that could be causing problems, look for negative medication side effects, or recommend physical therapy to build balance and strength.
AVOIDING THE STAIRS Is your older adult quick to say “Let’s take the elevator” when you encounter even a small staircase while out and about? Do you notice them spending more time than usual downstairs in their home? Stairs can be tough for seniors to travel up and down because they require extra strength, balance and energy. If your older adult seems to walk around fairly easily, but goes out of their way to limit their use of stairs, you may want to start talking with them about whether they need extra help or a mobility aid. If they don’t have any physical difficulties that are making stairs challenging, it could be that a fear of falling is holding them back. Finding ways to address those concerns will have a positive impact on their long-term mobility.
HAVING DIFFICULTY WITH SITTING AND STANDING Is standing up from the couch a struggle for your older adult? How about lowering themselves into bed? Having trouble with sitting and standing is a strong indicator of potential mobility issues. It’s an essential movement in daily life – used when eating a meal, using the restroom, upon waking and sleeping, and more. Try the quick and simple sit-to-stand exercise with your older adult and notice if they have any difficulties. Do they need to hold on to furniture for support? Are they slow or unsteady? Being aware of a seemingly harmless warning sign like this tells you that it’s necessary to talk with the doctor. You may want to ask about issues like lightheadedness or dizziness that happens when standing up or sitting down or ask about strength and balance exercises.
HAVING TROUBLE WITH BALANCE Dizziness and having trouble with balance can be caused by a variety of factors including medication side effects, low blood pressure, or inner ear issues like vertigo or Meniere’s disease. In addition, issues associated with normal aging like impaired vision, joint stiffness, slower reaction times, and muscle weakness reduce the body’s ability to stay balanced. They can make walking, standing and exercising difficult. To improve mobility, your older adult’s doctor can test their balance and treat underlying problems. Mobility aids like canes or walkers and targeted exercises can help an older adult with balance issues and allow them to get around more safely and confidently.
SKIPPING EXERCISE Exercise isn’t everyone’s favorite activity, but it’s a necessary lifestyle habit that helps prevent chronic diseases and unhealthy weight gain, especially for seniors. But if your older adult is skipping exercise more and more because they’re tired, sore or simply don’t have the energy, they may soon be dealing with mobility issues as well. Weakness, exhaustion and other symptoms that keep them from exercising will make it increasingly difficult to walk or stand as much as they once did.
Article written by Jessica Hegg of ViveHealth.com