Why is it important for a senior with limited mobility to get outside as often as possible?

We have always taken our mobility for granted; be it walking around the house, going to the grocery store or simply going for a walk in the park.  As we get older, we find that our muscles ache; also the bones feel fragile and find a lot of reasons as to why we can’t go out. For a senior with limited mobility, life becomes mundane and monotonous making them feel stuck in a routine.

For older people, loss of mobility has profound consequences – social, psychological and physical. The very act of getting out of bed is fraught with difficulty, and one that leads to a vicious cycle of dependence. The more you tend to avoid walking, the more you start depending on other people. Dr.Suzanne Salamon, an instructor at Harvard Medical School says; “If you’re unable to get out then you can’t go shopping, you can’t go out with your friends to eat dinner or go to the movies, and you become dependent on other people to get you places. So you become a recluse, you stay home, you get depressed. With immobilization comes incontinence, because you can’t get to the bathroom, you can develop urinary infections, skin infections. The list goes on.”

Why do older people suffer from limited mobility?

Some common factors include:

  • Low physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes and arthritis
  • Loss of muscle strength and balance
  • Depression, Alzheimer’s
  • Recent hospitalization

Most times, chronic health issues such as cardiac or lung problems take precedence and often, the issue of limited mobility takes a backseat. It is important for older people and their caregivers to insist on a mobility check because the decision about assisted care facility or being able to manage at home with limited assistance often hinges on the person’s ability to walk. Loss of mobility can increase the risk of falling which in turn may lead to a fractured hip.

How can mobility be tested?

  • One type of test is GET UP and GO test. This is a test that a doctor may conduct to check the mobility of a person by asking you to stand up from sitting on a chair, walk 10 feet, turn around, walk back to the chair and sit down. Consequently, this will tell the doctor how long does this activity take to complete and how steady you are on your feet.
  • Another type of test is to watch how quickly you walk. Researchers at the University of Alabama suggest that you can test your mobility by asking yourself two questions:
    • For health or physical reasons, do you have difficulty climbing up 10 steps or walking one-quarter of a mile?
    • Because of underlying health or physical reasons, have you modified the way you climb 10 steps or walk a quarter of a mile?

If you find it difficult to walk or climb stairs, visit your doctor for help in understanding what is causing this limited mobility and how to address this problem before it becomes so severe that you lose full mobility.

Some solutions:

  • Physiotherapy to improve balance and strength training
  • Occupational therapy to improve your ability to handle daily activities
  • Improving your environment with the help of elevated bathroom fixtures and grab bars.
  • Support of your family and friends in terms of transport and assistance
  • Use of devices such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, etc

How does outdoor exposure help a senior with limited mobility ?

It breaks up a daily routine and often provides an outlet for emotions and feelings that the older person may suffer.

  • Vitamin D levels: Spending 15 minutes a day in the sun boosts Vitamin D levels, increases energy and improves their outlook, thereby helping their immunity.
  • Spending time outside and being active helps them recover faster from injuries
  • Besides, breaking a routine and doing something outside helps improve focus, leading to improved mental health.

How can you get started?

Start small. Get them interested in what is happening outside. Make them feel involved in the routine activities of shopping or a visit to friends.

  • Organise a picnic with your family and friends
  • Have pots of flowers and ferns that create a sense of the outdoor
  • Go for a short drive
  • Check whether you can organize for a visit to friends.
  • Talk and find out where he or she would love to go and figure out a way to make it happen.

Going outside on a regular basis also makes the senior with limited mobility feel more energized. Remember, even though you, as a caregiver, may find it difficult and cumbersome to organize the outings, take the help of family, friends, caregivers and other agencies to organize these outings. In the long run, there are multiple benefits for both of you.