Retaining your mobility may be far from mind if you are a young man or woman, but for adults young and old, surprising lifestyle choices and medical conditions can actually put you at increased risk for mobility problems.
Mobility Problem Warning Signs
What exactly qualifies as a mobility problem? You might think that requiring the use of a wheelchair captures the essence of “mobility problems,” however, the truth is much more nuanced than that. Mobility problems are any difficulty with moving around your environment easily and safely. Warning signs of mobility difficulties may present in a variety of ways including:
- Trouble standing for prolonged periods – muscle weakness as well as painful pressure in one or both legs when standing for more than a handful of minutes at a time can indicate future mobility problems.
- Difficulty going up or down stairs – trickier environments which require you to shift weight-bearing legs as well as navigate inclines and declines can reveal potential mobility issues.
- Problems sitting and standing from a chair – unsteadiness and weakness with sitting and rising from a seated position can actually indicate larger mobility problems that need to be addressed.
- Loss of balance – feeling imbalanced, dizzy, faint, or uncoordinated can all negatively impact your ability to stay upright, much less mobile.
- Fatigue – if you feel exhausted after small bouts of physical activity, like bringing groceries in from the car or walking up and down your street, it’s not just your endurance which is suffering but quite possibly your mobility prospects too.
- Frequent falls – even if you feel as though you can walk, stand and sit down without trouble, if you have experienced more than one fall recently, there could be an underlying problem which can hurt your mobility.
Harvard Medical School shines a light on how mobility screenings often get pushed to the background of routine care, however, they can play a critical role in patient health. The Get Up and Go test where a patient rises from a sitting position, walks ten feet, walks back, and sits back down is an easy place for clinicians to start. Depending on the length of time it takes and the ability of the patient to complete the test, doctors may be able to gauge mobility dangers on the horizon.
Risk Factors for Mobility Problems
In addition to a lower leg injury or operation which requires you to use a mobility aid, other risk factors can increase your chances of experiencing mobility problems:
- Older Age – age-related muscle and bone density loss can initiate a cascade of effects where older adults exercise less and are more prone to debilitating bone breaks (like hip fractures from a fall).
- Chronic Disease – chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s increase risk for mobility problems because they can have directly detrimental effects on a person’s strength, coordination, and balance.
- Low Physical Activity – not only does low physical activity make gaining weight more probable, but it also leads to joint stiffness, muscle atrophy, and other conditions which increase chances of experiencing difficulty walking and standing.
- Obesity – in addition to exacerbating the strain and stress on vulnerable lower body joints, being obese limits your ability to exercise and even shifts your center of gravity forward which can be dangerous to your balance and coordination.
Additional smaller risk factors like being female, smoking, excessive drinking, feeling depressed, and even being recently hospitalized can all add up to a higher likelihood of developing mobility problems down the line as well.
Effects of Mobility Problems
Mobility problems can have profound consequences on your mental, social, and physical wellbeing. In addition to limiting your basic day to day functioning (i.e. bathing, getting dressed, walking the dog, running errands, etc), mobility problems can inhibit your ability to exercise which in itself increases your chances of developing chronic diseases like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.
An inability to safely move around may also inhibit your ability to drive, to go out with friends and family, even to hold a job and make money. One 2001 report found that rates of depression were alarmingly high at over 30% for people with mobility difficulty compared to less than 4% of those with no mobility difficulties. Mitigating the negative impact mobility problems has is a matter of finding the right care network, using supportive mobility aids, and continuing a valiant effort to exercise and socialize with others.
Types of Mobility Aids
The good news when it comes to the topic of mobility problems is that advancements in technology and design have engineered state of the art mobility aids which can help those who do experience trouble standing and walking make the most of their effort. Mobility aids are developed to empower and support a person’s movements and balance, not to shine a light on their disability or mobility problems. Mobility aids include:
- Walkers – basic, lightweight frames composed of sturdy materials like aluminum, walkers come in a variety of adjustable heights and are best used with non-slip feet that prevent common falls.
- Knee scooters – knee scooters are 3 or 4-wheeled devices that look similar to a bike without pedals and feature a raised platform to rest a weak or injured leg.
- Crutches – wondering how to choose the best crutch for your needs? Depending on the type of injury you have incurred, or the condition which has impaired your mobility, your choice of crutch may range from axillary (classic underarm crutch) to forearm (elbow) or platform crutches.
- Canes – canes have been around for over a century and still provide great support in both single-tip and quad-tip varieties.
- Wheelchairs – manual and motorized wheelchairs boast loads of new features like adjustable leg rests, lumbar support cushions, and removable head mounts (just the name a few).
Prior to using a mobility aid, your doctor may be able to address any existing difficulties you have before they develop into full-fledged mobility problems. Physical and occupational therapy, smoking cessation counseling, and diet and exercise regimens, for example, can go a long way in helping you strengthen muscles and bones, lose weight, and avoid chronic illness.