Mobility limitations can hinder seniors in multiple ways from enjoying a full life. New research in JAMA Sept. 18, shows that when health care providers take steps to recognize those limitations at an early stage, successful interventions can occur to ward off functional decline, enabling seniors to live independently for as long as possible.
Through data accessed from PEDro and PubMed, gerontology researchers from the University of Alabama evaluated mobility limitation and interventions in community-dwelling older adults from January 1985 – March 31, 2013. The researchers found the most common risk factors for mobility impairment to be: older age, low physical activity, obesity, diminished strength or balance, and from chronic diseases such as diabetes or arthritis.
According to Cynthia J. Brown, MD, mobility can serve as a key indicator of how well a person ages. “Mobility limitations are the edge of that slippery slope that leads to loss of function,” said Brown in a UAB report from Sept.17. “A decline in mobility seems to quickly lead to an across-the-board decline, including the routine activities of daily living.”
However identifying older adults at risk can delay the beginning of such a decline and can be accomplished through routine screening. “Asking the right questions can tell a clinician a great deal about the level of mobility in their older patients,” said Brown who recommends health care providers ask all senior patients two key questions:
· Do you have DIFFICULTY climbing 10 steps or walking a quarter of a mile?
· Have you MODIFIED the way you climb 10 steps or walk a quarter of a mile due to health or physical reasons?
A positive answer to either should lead the provider to dig deeper to identify the physical, social or environmental barriers impacting the patient’s ability to function at normal mobility levels. Then steps to address those limitations should be taken through physical therapy services and/or prescribing appropriate ambulatory devices so as to improve function, safety, and patient quality of life.
According to Brown, the study “confirmed that increased physical activity and exercise are extremely important for healthy aging.” The study included strong evidence supporting resistance and balance exercises over therapeutic exercise for improving mobility-limiting physical weakness and balance disorders.
As the older population in the United States increases, it is important to continue to focus on ways to help older Americans continue to live independently as long as possible. Studies such as this are important as they help to show that the major barriers that exist due to lack of physical activity may be successfully overcome with appropriate treatment and assistance.
Mobility Limitation in the Older Patient A Clinical Review- The Journal of the American Medical Association September 18, 2013, Vol. 310, No. 11, Cynthia J. Brown, MD, Kellie L. Flood, MD, Birmingham/Atlanta VA Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center, Birmingham, Alabama, University of Alabama at Birmingham
UAB paper suggests mobility is key to healthy aging, University of Alabama, Sept. 17, 2013, by Bob Shepard