Safety for Older People: Best Practices to Improve Mobility 

Mobility can become a significant issue for individuals as they grow older. Mobility issues can significantly impact the safety of older people. For this reason, a consideration of the best practices to improve mobility is useful, if not vital, for older people … and, frankly, people who know older people (which is practically everybody).

Causes of Mobility Issues Among Older Individuals

There are a variety of underlying diseases, conditions, illnesses, and the like that result in mobility issues for older Americans. Among the most commonplace are:

  • Arthritis
  • Vision problems
  • Vascular disease
  • Neurological disorders
  • Brittle bone disease
  • Weakness issues

Arthritis: Degenerative joint diseases (usually referred to collectively as arthritis) are common causes of mobility problems in seniors. These include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. When the joints become painful and inflamed, a person may have difficulty rising from a seated position, experience morning stiffness, and develop severe pain when walking. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause both local and systemic symptoms. These may lead to chronic fatigue and weakness, further impairing mobility.

Vision problems: Many people experience vision problems as they age. A good many of these problems can be corrected with glasses and different types of procedures or treatment. The key is making certain that a person obtains appropriate care and assistance. Left untreated, vision problems can significantly impair an individual’s mobility. Individuals with vision issues are at a far greater risk of falling and suffering injuries, sometimes significant injuries. 

Vascular disease: What medically is known as peripheral vascular disease is more common in older adults and people with diabetes. Peripheral vascular disease results in poor circulation and can lead to leg weakness, ambulation problems, and severe pain. People with peripheral vascular disease can develop stasis ulcers on the feet and ankles. These ulcers can also impair mobility.

Neurological disorders: Neurological disorders can also cause mobility limitations in older individuals. A prime example of a neurological disorder that can negatively impact an older individual’s mobility is Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease can be the cause of gait problems as well as balance deficits. These issues can raise the risk of falls. People with Parkinson’s disease often have a shuffling type of gait, and they may also hesitate between steps.

Brittle bone disease: The National Institutes of Health provides concise information on brittle bone disease: Also known as osteoporosis, brittle bone disease causes bone thinning, weakness, pain, and limited mobility. Osteoporosis often causes spinal pain, but it also affects the hips and other joints. This condition causes mobility problems in a couple of different ways. Bone pain causes loss of mobility, decreased flexibility, and diminished range of motion.

Weakness issues: Finally, weakness issues can be the cause of mobility problems among older people. Weakness results from a deterioration in muscle strength as well as weakening of bones in an individual’s body. This weakening can impact mobility for an older individual in a significant way. 

Early Warning Signs of Mobility Issues With Older Adult

  • Difficulty rising from a seated position
  • Repeated dizzy spells or feeling unsteady when walking
  • Problems with climbing stairs or stepping over objects
  • Difficulty keeping up with house cleaning or personal hygiene

Five Best Practices to Assist Older People in Improving Mobility

When it comes to the best practices to assist an older individual in improving mobility, there are five key best practices to consider:

  • Keep them active
  • Use mobility devices
  • Identify safe routes in public areas
  • Simplify basic daily tasks 
  • Monitor changes in abilities

Keep them active: When older people begin to experience mobility issues, many of them become less active. They believe that this is the best course to take in order to keep themselves as safe as possible. In fact, cutting back on activity likely will further aggravate their mobility issues. A best practice to improve mobility is to keep an older individual active. This does require utilizing appropriate safeguards, of course.

Use mobility devices: While it may take some coaxing, another best practice to improve the mobility of an older individual is to encourage the use of mobility devices. The National Institutes of Health notes: Using a walker or cane comes with a learning curve. Your loved one may need help figuring out how to move his or her body with the device. Certain devices, such as wheelchairs, may also require building upper body strength. Provide assistance during the first few weeks with a new mobility device to reduce frustration.

Identify safe routes in public areas: When older people begin to experience mobility issues, some have a tendency to plant themselves at home. An older person with mobility issues doesn’t need to be confined at home. For example, if you want to go out to dinner with an older person with mobility issues, scout out the restaurant before the reservation. In this way you can plot or identify a safe route to the table. 

Simplify basic daily tasks: As a result of mobility issues, some tasks of daily living might become more challenging. If that is the case, consider whether or not there are anyways some tasks can be simplified. In the alternative you might want to engage the services of a homecare aide to provide assistance as needed when an older person has some mobility issues.

Monitor changes in ability: Many of the underlying issues that can result in mobility challenges can worsen over time. This can result in mobility issues becoming more significant. It is crucial for you to monitor an older loved one’s mobility on a consistent basis to ascertain if mobility is becoming a greater problem.

Keep in mind, however, that there are also instances in which a person’s mobility can improve. For example, by making good use of mobility devices, an individual’s capability of getting around might actually improve.