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Life is miles better on the move

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Making life easier: Walkers, canes, wheelchairs and scooters can aid seniors’ mobility, as can elevated bathroom fixtures, bed rails and grab bars

Mobility, or the ability to get around, is essential for getting through the day. Even simple tasks such as getting out of bed, going to the bathroom or getting food out of the refrigerator require mobility.

Young, healthy people take their ability to get around for granted, yet the loss of mobility is common among older adults and seniors.

Decreased mobility can affect all aspects of life, and this process is much like a domino effect. Someone who is unable to get around cannot go shopping for food, which could lead to malnutrition.

Without mobility, one could not visit friends and may become lonely and depressed.

Difficulty getting to the bathroom could result in incontinence and urinary and skin infections.

Loss of mobility also puts one at a greater risk of falling, which often causes a hip fracture — an injury that could have serious complications.

Older age by itself is not the only reason for reduced mobility. Low physical activity, excess weight, impaired strength and balance and chronic diseases such as diabetes and arthritis can also play a role.

Other risk factors include depression, problems with memory or thinking skills, being female, being in hospital, drinking alcohol or smoking, and having feelings of helplessness.

To check mobility, a doctor may perform a “Get Up and Go” test. During this exam, a person would stand up from sitting in a chair, walk 10ft, turn around, walk back to the chair and sit down.

A doctor may judge mobility based on how long that takes and how steady the person is.

Another way to test mobility is to watch how quickly people walk. Faster than a yard per second is normal. Slower speed could imply a gait problem, which increases the chances of falling.

One can also assess mobility without doing any test at all. University of Alabama researchers suggest asking these two questions:

• For health or physical reasons, do you have difficulty climbing up ten steps or walking one-quarter of a mile?

• Because of underlying health or physical reasons, have you modified the way you climb ten steps or walk a quarter of a mile?

A “yes” answer to either one of these questions raises concern for impaired mobility.

If you are beginning to have difficulty getting around, the good news is that your doctor can treat the cause before it gets worse.

Available options include physical therapy to improve balance, as well as strength training. Occupational therapy can help improve a person’s ability to perform daily living activities.

Referrals to specialists may help to better treat medical conditions that can lead to immobility. Getting help from family and friends can ease lack of transportation.

With the help of your doctor, you should also address your personal risk factors for mobility decline.

These include being overweight, sensory impairments, falls, or physical inactivity. To optimise mobility in old age, also consider rehabilitative measures.

Physical exercise is one of the most important tools for maintaining and increasing mobility.

It is important to recognise and address financial or physical barriers that may keep seniors from exercising — communities should be accessible, neighbourhoods should include resting places or green areas.

It stands to reason that adding resting places and proper lighting to walking routes would increase seniors’ opportunities for walking.

The living environment can get better with tools that increase mobility.

Elevated bathroom fixtures and grab bars can make personal hygiene tasks much easier and safer to perform.

There are many additional products which can help make any home much easier for an elderly person to move through and increase their independence.

Canes, walkers, bed rails, handles and other products can customise a home to make it easier and safer for any senior to get around in.

Devices such as wheelchairs and scooters can also increase mobility.

Loss of mobility is a common and significant problem, but one that is often preventable, treatable or at least manageable.

Do not just accept loss of mobility as an unavoidable part of ageing.

Take steps now to make sure that you can get around and enjoy life for a long time to come.

• Mike Serebrennik is a physician by training and now a full-time entrepreneur, investor and writer. He is also a director of product development and sourcing at Lighthouse Medical Supplies, Ltd, a local company dedicated to helping patients and healthcare providers lower the cost and increase the quality of care.

Mike Serebrennik MD