Mobility challenges are an unfortunate fact of life for many people as they age. Nearly half of Americans older than 75 and 30% of 65- to 74-year-olds report physical challenges in at least one area, such as walking, standing or lifting. And as a nation, we’re certainly not getting any younger. In 2014, 15% of Americans were older than 65. By 2060, that percentage is projected to be 24%—nearly one in four people. Of course, age is something that happens to all of us, if we are lucky. So it pays to plan ahead when it comes to preparing for some of the common mobility challenges faced by older adults. Battelle’s Aging & Gerontology team worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to evaluate a mobility planning tool designed to help people do just that.
Why Mobility Matters
Maintaining mobility is a critical aspect of quality of life for older adults. Mobility challenges that prevent people from performing activities of daily living—routine activities including eating, bathing, dressing, toileting and moving safely—are among the most common factors triggering nursing home admission or hiring of in-home health aides.
Reduced mobility also interferes with the ability to participate in family activities, enjoy hobbies, take care of the home and get out into the community. This can lead to depression in older adults who find themselves isolated from friends and family, thereby further reducing their ability to continue the activities that are most meaningful to them.
What Does It Mean to be Mobile?
Mobility means more than just the ability to walk. In fact, a person who is dependent on a wheelchair or walker to get around may actually be more mobile than another person who can walk without difficulty, but who might have other significant impairments.
It’s helpful to think about mobility in three domains.
- Self: the ability to perform activities of daily living
- Home: the ability to safely navigate the home environment
- Community: the ability to go where one needs to go outside the home
There are many different factors that can lead to reduced mobility for older adults. Physical problems such as muscle weakness, poor balance, restricted range of motion or chronic pain all contribute to reduced mobility. Dementia and other cognitive impairments, vision or hearing problems, and other factors may also be involved.
But mobility is not about the presence or absence of specific disabilities. The heart of the matter is whether those limitations interfere with people’s independence. Do impairments prevent people from navigating their environments and doing what they want or need to do? We are all likely to face physical or cognitive challenges as we get older. That does not necessarily mean that those limitations will unduly restrict our mobility, given some advanced planning.
Planning Ahead to Stay Mobile
There are many actions that people can take now to improve their chances of remaining mobile as they grow older. These actions may include:
- Starting a physical activity regimen to maintain strength, balance and flexibility
- Making changes in the home to reduce trip-and-fall hazards or make commonly needed items more accessible
- Looking into transportation resources that will be available if driving is restricted
CDC put together a mobility planning tool to encourage older adults to think about and plan for future mobility needs and adopt mobility-protective behaviors. Targeted to adults ages 60 to 74, the brochure includes helpful advice for maintaining mobility and independence for one’s self, one’s home and in one’s community.
Battelle worked with CDC to evaluate whether the planning tool was effective. The study determined that people who received the planning tool were more likely to say they had taken mobility protective actions (such as starting a physical activity program or removing rugs from the home) or started planning for future mobility needs. CDC used the results of the study and feedback gathered by Battelle researchers to refine the tool.