Why Is Mobility Important for the Elderly?
While many of us take our ability to move around effortlessly for granted, a surprising percentage of the elderly experience mobility issues as a consequential effect of aging on the bones. One in five older adults in the US and Canada struggle with mobility, and about 21.9% of Americans above 65 experience mobility issues when walking or climbing.
One can overcome senior mobility issues with effective exercises and an active lifestyle. As a general rule, mobility begets mobility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that regular movement improves strength and stamina in seniors, maintaining good mobility for longer.
But why is mobility important for the elderly? Staying active and moving around freely has numerous benefits to seniors, which help them live longer and happier lives. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the major benefits of mobility to seniors.
10 Reasons Why Mobility Is Important for Seniors
1. Better mental health
Staying active significantly improves fitness and mood and helps in stress management. In addition, studies show that regular exercise among seniors can boost cognitive functions such as memory, hand-eye coordination, and strategic thinking.
2. Better cardiovascular health
Senior mobility directly translates to a more active lifestyle and the ability to exercise regularly. The link between regular exercise and better cardiovascular health is unmistakable. Certain aerobic exercises such as swimming, yoga, or walking are highly recommended for seniors as they improve heart health without straining joints and muscles.
3. Weight control
Statistics show that 41.9% of men aged 65-74 years and 45.9% of women aged 65-74 are obese. Research suggests a strong link between weight gain and mobility, where the two affect each other. Obesity in old age greatly reduces independent mobility where fat infiltrates and inflames the muscular-skeletal structure and deteriorates it. Regular exercises control this inflammation and burn fat cells, leading to a healthier weight.
4. Increased social opportunities
Another reason why mobility is important for seniors is their social health. Seniors with mobility issues tend to go out less and risk being socially isolated. On the other hand, those who remain active and have a regular fitness routine venture out to socialize and participate in various activities. Being part of workshops, classes, and other social activities helps seniors interact with other individuals, gives them something to look forward to, and incentivizes regular exercise.
5. Improved resistance to injury
Mobility reduces the risk of injury. This is one of the most important benefits of mobility. According to the WHO, falls among seniors are directly related to mobility problems in the elderly. Regular exercises that include balance training can help prevent these falls. Being able to move the limbs and joints freely and confidently leads to better balance, coordination, and steadier movements, thereby reducing the risk of injury. Staying active also increases strength and muscle mass, buffering a senior’s body against injury.
6. Improved flexibility
Healthy joints mean better flexibility which is essential in performing most daily tasks with ease. More movement increases circulation around the joints, which ‘warms up’ tendons and synovial fluid to hydrate the joints in preparation for movement. Flexibility and mobility go hand in hand; therefore, warming up and regular flexibility exercises are essential for improving and preserving mobility and vice versa.
7. Mobility supports self-care and independence
When moving around is easy, self-care and independence become possible. Seniors can go to the bathroom, cook, dress up, brush their hair, or get from one place to the other on their own, therefore, enjoying independent living.
8. Enhance Balance
Mobility problems in the elderly limit the full range of motion in their limbs. This has a domino effect on muscle strengthening as well as balance and coordination. Regular activity enhances balance by strengthening every muscle group in the body, especially the core. Balance training focuses on slow, systematic movements that work on each muscle group. Senior mobility can improve balance through a training regimen. Those with mobility issues can also benefit from incorporating assistive mobility devices into their training programs.
9. Mobility helps to regain confidence
Studies by the American Psychological Association (APA) show a decline of self-esteem as people age, owing to the decline in health and mobility. On the other hand, increased mobility opens up the possibilities of seniors getting around and performing tasks independently. Not having to depend on others for basic tasks is a liberating feeling that fosters better self-esteem, confidence and enables them to age in place.
10. Encourage regular exercise
Increased mobility inevitably leads to an active lifestyle that includes regular exercise. When movement is easy and comfortable, the idea of exercise doesn't seem like a huge challenge. Seniors can enjoy hiking, swimming, or golfing, which in turn release those stress-busting endorphins. The key is to start somewhere, and a fun balance training program is a good place to begin.
How to Improve Mobility in Older Adults
While it's true that a certain extent of mobility loss occurs as part of the natural aging process, such as the effects of aging on bones, it doesn't mean that seniors can’t improve and maintain their mobility with the help of regular physical activity. The right combination of exercises that focus on strength, balance, and coordination directly helps in improving mobility in the elderly.
Some of the safest and most enjoyable exercises for seniors and older adults include:
Walking strengthens most muscle groups in the body and improves posture and gait as it becomes a regular exercise.
Adding regular stretching to the exercise regimen helps improve flexibility and pushes the body a bit further than its normal limit of motion, thereby improving mobility.
Yoga is an age-old practice where one challenges their body to hold certain positions that strengthen muscles and joints without too much strain. Those with severe mobility issues can try chair yoga as a starting point and slowly move to more intense yoga poses once mobility improves.
- Tai chi
This low-intensity practice tremendously benefits balance and flexibility. Furthermore, the mindful and relaxing aspects of the exercises are good for mental health too!
- Balance Training Exercises
Specific exercises designed to improve balance and coordination are perfect for seniors to work on as part of a training regimen to improve their mobility. In addition, seniors can use assistive mobility devices such as a bed step stool or a grab bar that provides extra support if they need it.
Slow dancing, like the ballroom style, is an enjoyable, low-impact way to improve mobility and coordination.
Those who have arthritis or osteoporosis can greatly benefit from swimming due to its minimal impact on the joints. It improves mobility by strengthening the core and leg muscles.
This is a great form of aerobic exercise which has minimal impact on joints and strengthens the lower body. If outdoor cycling is too daunting for seniors, they can also try stationary cycling at home.
- Light aerobic exercise such as slow-pace jogging
Those who can take on something more physically challenging can try light jogging, which improves heart health, and increases bone and muscle mass.
Pro Tip: It’s important to follow a multi-faceted approach to improving mobility in the elderly. Seniors can also greatly benefit from assistive mobility devices such as canes, walkers, bed step stools, and wheelchairs. The key is to ensure you choose the right mobility device that perfectly fits your loved one’s needs.
Better mobility and an active lifestyle not only improve a senior's overall health but greatly enhances their quality of life, including social relationships, mental health, and the ability to age in place without any apprehensions. Seniors can choose from a variety of low-impact exercises that are effective and enjoyable to improve their mobility. The good news is that it's never too late to start, and seniors with varying degrees of mobility have a place to begin.
If a senior happens to lose his/her step during the process, this video can help know how to get back up.
If activities such as swimming or yoga seem a bit too much to begin with, try some fun balance exercises that your loved ones can do at home instead.
1. How does mobility affect the elderly?
Better mobility increases a senior’s overall quality of life. Moving around without pain or discomfort enables the elderly to lead a more active life, exercise regularly, and age in place independently. A range of benefits associated with mobility include;
- Better cardiovascular health
- Better resistance to injury
- Prevention of falls and accidents
- Better balance and coordination
- Enhanced social opportunities
- Better mental health.
- What is the Elderly Mobility Scale?
Developed in 1994, The Elderly Mobility Scale or EMS is a standardized tool used to measure the level of mobility in seniors. It essentially measures how frail seniors perform seven functional activities, including;
- Bed mobility
- Transfers and bodily reaction to perturbation
- Walking speed
- Speed from sitting to standing positions
This 20-point ordinal scale measurement is useful in detecting individuals who are at a higher risk of falling.
2. How do you help someone with mobility problems?
As a family member or caregiver, there are several things you can do to assist your loved ones who suffer from mobility issues. Some of these things include:
- Surveying the home or living space and doing a risk assessment for falling.
- Making changes/ home modifications. Installing assistive devices such as grab bars and rails and removing any hazards or obstructions.
- Getting the right mobility aids such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, risers, bed step stools.
- Renovating the bathroom to make it senior-friendly and fall-proof.
- Encouraging regular exercise to improve mobility.
- Hiring an occupational therapist or caregiver to assist in the right kind of exercises.
- Providing or being a part of a support group that helps overcome frustrations with limited mobility.