Mobility’s impact on Successful Aging
by Felicia Juntunen, MA, CMC, ECM Director of Care Management
Among the many things that change as we age is our mobility- or the ability to safely change and control the position of our bodies. Mobility directly influences a person’s ability to accomplish activities of daily living- bathing, dressing, toileting, food preparation- those essential functions which support independence. Care managers encounter older adults who are aging at different rates yet most express awareness about changes in or threats to their mobility. An astute care manager is sensitive to deficits in mobility that can limit a client’s functioning and place their client at risk for a fall, which can begin a cycle of decline in the client’s overall well-being. A balance evaluation is in order if a person uses furniture to steady themselves, has difficulty rising from a sitting position or sitting down, has fallen within the last 6 months, or has a history of falls. A care manager can guide a mobility-compromised client toward a proper evaluation and rehabilitation and, if needed, the use of assistive equipment.
Complications from immobility in older persons who become chair or bed-bound include edema, contractures, incontinence, and pressure wounds- any of which place them at increased risk for falls and the need for placement in a higher care setting. A care manager works with families and caregivers to ensure those individuals are monitored carefully to limit their risk.
A care manager’s goal is to help clients avoid the complications of immobility and maximize their safety and independence by guarding and supporting their mobility. While multiple threats to mobility can’t be predicted, proactive and preventive activity is some of the best insurance for maintaining mobility. Walking is considered one of the safest, most effective fitness activities for older adults. A moderately paced walk for 20 to 30 minutes daily can have positive effects on cardiovascular health, bone health, core strength, and balance.
Some options for fitness activities that support mobility include classes held at senior centers, fitness DVDs, recordings on YouTube, and Silversneakers.com which offers online classes from home or at many gyms, some covered by Medicare plans. Identify places in the community conducive for walking, many malls indoor and outdoor have wide and safe walkways. Many bike trails in communities function nicely as walking paths. A walk around the block in your neighborhood can provide exercise and connection to the community. Social isolation can limit mobility so there’s also tremendous benefit in the support of others while pursuing fitness. Cultivate relationships that will encourage you to stay active and mobile. If you need an incentive, invest in a step counter (use a smartwatch) and buddy up with a friend or family member for accountability. Always consult your physician before starting any fitness program.
Preventive care also has a critical influence on mobility. For example, foot health can drastically impact a person’s balance. Good nail care, wearing properly fitting shoes, and attending to medical conditions that cause neuropathy (pain or numbness in the feet) are essential for good balance. Likewise, regular eye exams and wearing glasses with the right prescription lenses help ensure that mobility restricting obstacles (like electrical cords, or sidewalk curbs) are better seen and avoided. If a balance evaluation determines it is time to use adaptive equipment like a cane or walker, consult a physical therapist or specialist trained in the correct fitting of those devices and DON’T delay in using them. If an injury or illness impacts your mobility, pursue rehabilitation under your physician’s care by seeking outpatient or home health services. Finally, adjust your activity as needed, as you age. Whether it’s walking to the mailbox, walking on grocery errands, using a stationary bike, or doing chair exercises- any activity aimed at maintaining mobility to safely navigate in the home and community is one of the best investments an older adult can make in their health and wellbeing.