It’s a common conundrum among seniors: they have pain, which prevents them from wanting to move around. However, by not moving, they’re creating bigger mobility issues for themselves.
According to occupational therapist Lyndsay Woods at Community Howard Specialty Hospital, seniors should stay as active as possible, even if that just means going to the store or joining a social club.
“Staying active is really difficult when you don’t feel good or you have increased pain, but in doing that, it creates a vicious cycle. When you don’t feel good, you’re not going to do what you normally do, even if that’s getting out and going to church on Sunday or the grocery store,” Woods said.
By passing on getting out of the house once, the therapist said seniors are likely to continue to pass until they’re physically unable to do it due to their body wearing down and losing strength. Movement is key to maintaining strength, flexibility, and mobility, she said.
Also, joining a social club, said rehab manager David Kirubakaran at Community Howard Specialty Hospital, not only gives a senior a reason to get out of the house and stay mobile, but it also gives them a sense a purpose.
“A lot of times what you see in our patients who don’t feel they have the desire or don’t feel a sense of purpose in their lives is that they tend to be more withdrawn. They tend to withdraw themselves from social participation, and that leads to another vicious cycle,” he said.
He encouraged seniors to consider card clubs, reading clubs, travel clubs, or participating in events at the Kokomo Senior Center.
While a number of conditions contribute to decreased mobility in the senior years, such as arthritis, congestive heart failure, fractures, dehydration, cognitive issues, urinary tract infections, and underlying medical conditions, some of it is simply part of the aging process.
According to Kirubakaran, as people age, circulation to their extremities diminishes, and vision also can become impaired. As a result, seniors not only begin to lose some mobility, but they also become at risk of falling. If that happens, the rehab manager said it can cause not only physical issues but also lasting mental issues.
“This is something we see often. If a patient ever falls one time, their confidence gets so eroded, and then from then on they’re extremely afraid to even move. We see that a lot,” he said. “So avoiding a fall is a prime importance because once they fall the potential to get hurt is there, as well as repeated falls, and then a lack of confidence, which leads to lack of mobility,” he said.
Preventing falls, too, is key. Kirubakaran encouraged seniors to make changes to their homes to decrease the risk by cleaning up clutter, keeping chairs and couches free of items, getting rid of area rugs, watching out for small pets, and installing grab bars in the shower and anywhere that there’s a step.
Outside the home, he said to keep the yard and walking paths clear, to have yard waste and snow removed, and if they need a ramp to have one built. If the steps are too big, he suggested getting ADA-compliant steps and installing handrails on the outside of the home.
In order to help boost a senior’s confidence or improve their safety, Woods said they should consider asking their physician about getting an assistive device, such as a cane or walker, which could help them get around.
Using such a device, she said, is better than the alternative of not moving around.
“We’re not recommending that you necessarily go out and just buy a walker because you think that you need it; that’s not always the best choice either. But that’s something that a physician can talk with a patient about and say, ‘OK, you’re not feeling safe. Let’s work on that,’” she said.
Another lifestyle change that can help with a senior’s mobility is adjusting to a healthier diet that’s high in protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables. Seniors also should avoid caffeine and dehydration. According to Kirubakaran, many seniors don’t like to hydrate themselves because it increases their need to get up to use the restroom.
However, avoiding it, he said, causes more issues.
“If you’re not hydrating yourself, the chances of contracting a UTI is higher. Then it affects your kidneys, your brain. Your systems start to shut down. You run into a fever, kidney damage. It just leads to a cycle of all other medical events,” he said.